It was when I was 150-starring Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions (again) on PS Vita, that it hit me. There were several occasions when my performance was either astonishingly good (smug face), or 'out-in-5-seconds' bad and, in both situations, I reached for the Share button, only to feel smooth Vita shell instead. It was at that moment I realised the button's impact. For anyone moaning that this generation offers nothing new over the old one, I hold the Share button rudely close to their face. This is the difference. This is what the generation will be remembered for.
At the announcement of the feature at E3 in 2013, I was initially slightly concerned that the Share button would merely flood YouTube and Facebook with low-res footage of absolute banality. The modern equivalent of calling your mum into the room to look at your fastest lap on Virtua Racing. She didn't care then (even though she made approving noises at the time - mums are great like that), and you would think nobody would care now, but Let's Play videos on YouTube, and Twitch's popularity, prove otherwise. Indeed, my own Facebook feed proves otherwise. The truth is, people are sharing some genuinely great stuff.
As I mentioned in the best of #PS4Share last week, what really surprised me was the overwhelming sense of fun that came through as I took the time to look through the hashtag's live feed. Scrolling through, you see thousands of glimpses into people's lives and the enthusiasm for their hobby. Incredible achievements like a ranking screen full of S grades in DMC, or funny player names people have come across in Rocket League, not to mention beautiful, frameable images from Journey and Driveclub. It's actually quite comforting to see that fun is still very much at the heart of our common interest – it's the best side of humanity, and there isn't enough of that on the internet.
Even the unflattering images like ragdoll glitches or flying NPCs are somehow turned into a positive thing for PlayStation by this simple act of sharing. I took a picture of one of the F1 2015 cars, which somehow had eight wheels instead of four. It's a glitch, sure. But when shared, it becomes a community talking point. There's laughter, enjoyment, camaraderie… and all of this is accompanied by that ‘PS4Share’ hashtag, making it absolutely clear that people are having this fun because of PlayStation.
Options or Prime? *Snaps fingers and exclaims loudly* WAIT I'VE GOT IT #PS4share F12015 pic.twitter.com/1YSaTB5badJuly 14, 2015
Crucially, the whole process of sharing your gaming is devastatingly simple to use. That is of paramount importance because in order for it to feel that way, a lot of very complicated things have to happen, invisibly. PC capture rigs have been available for a few years now, so technically you could have shared everything without the Share button, given the appropriate equipment. But with Share, you don't need to worry about scratch disks, dropped frames or input lag as you record your clip of Trevor sniffing his fingers. It 'just works'.
Believe me, I appreciate the need to be careful when bringing Apple's ethos into any argument, not least because Apple is certainly not accepted as a universal bar of quality. But PS4's OS is the most Apple-like interface in the platform's history, not because of how it looks, or even its notification system, but because it always gives the impression of being ready to work for you, taking the hassle out of the equation. If the process were ever to drag or frustrate, the gaming session would no longer be fun. That's why little things we take for granted, like background uploading, are invaluable.
Took this seconds before performing a brutal melee takedown on this guy, and stealing his exotic scarf. #PS4share pic.twitter.com/Xdk6UwvXMlJuly 23, 2015
Similarly, the standard editing system could have been very complicated, but the reality could not be simpler. You can watch it back to make sure it's what you wanted, then title it and send it. From a user standpoint, I couldn’t ask for a simpler process, short of the PS4 reading my mind and doing it automatically.
It's this simplicity that has made the act of sharing so instinctive. You see something in your game like a dead Wyvern levitating in The Witcher 3 and you take a screenshot… because you can. It's exactly the same as the way mobile phones have turned everyone into amateur photographers. Whenever you leave your phone at home, you can be damn sure there will be something you want to take a picture of to show the world on Twitter.
It's funny, in hindsight, to look back at what we thought Sony was going to do with its acquisition of Gaikai in 2012. At the time, Sony splashing $380 million on what appeared to be failing technology - cloud gaming - seemed like madness. Gaikai's rival, OnLive, was floundering, Sony itself was the subject of countless stories of financial trouble. Who could have imagined what the tech would actually be used for?
Remote Play, Share Play, screenshots, DVR, Twitch streaming, PlayStation Now… it's all possible thanks to the Gaikai tech. Gaikai is the Share button and it's deeply ingrained into the DNA of PS4. Suddenly that $380 million doesn't look like a risky investment - it looks like an absolute bargain. To say Sony has made the most of that acquisition is a massive understatement.
At this point, I have to address the elephant in the room. I bought both PS4 and Xbox One and it's simply a fact that that the process of getting screenshots in particular out of your Xbox and onto Twitter is massively cumbersome compared to PS4. One Drive is decent, but painfully slow. Individually uploading files, then visiting a website to get them onto Twitter is mind-numbing. It's all still possible, but just comes back to that point about how effortless it needs to be. On Xbox One, it isn't.
The Share button's functionality is beautiful. It enables you to share the amazing imagery, experiences, triumphs, failures, achievements and humour from the very personal experience that happens to you on your gaming journey, with anyone in the world who has access to a ‘net connection. It's perfectly labelled with five letters denoting its function: Share. It truly brings the community closer together, through sharing. And now it's here, I doubt it will ever go away. It's this generation's most important contribution... so far, of course.