How Sony could make a cheaper PS4 and other companies could come [back] to making hardware

 

I woke up this morning, the day after the events of the Sony press conference in NYC to announce some specs of the PS4 and another press conference. I wasn’t in attendance as I had other pressing matters, but after reading what seemed like the opinion of every game journalist on the internet I was left feeling dissappointed and relieved at the same time. I, like everyone else, wanted to see a prototype console at the least, but was given a spec sheet and shown what the yet-to-be unveiled system could possibly do. On the flip side, I got some actual work done around the office and home.

Upon waking up this morning, I had a revelation. Not just about the PS4, but about the entire video game console industry. It’s an idea that could change the landscape of video games as we know it, or it could be just noise coming out the side of my of my neck.

I’m assuming that most gamers know that there’s an PC emulator for nearly every console system that has ever been made with the exception of current-gen hardware. While the legality of older emulators, and more importantly the acquisation of the game roms and the system’s BOIS files might be less than legal, more recent systems that use disc-based games generally require the actual disc at some point and for the end-user to copy the BIOS files from their own system. They’re much more legal than emulators of older systems. The PS2 emulator PCSX2, for example, requires you to have the BOIS files from a system you own along with a game for it to work. Based on that and the system specs I read last night, I had an idea-

What if the PS4 wasn’t a physical system, but an emulator that ran on PC?

Think about it. Let that sink in for a minute. If Sony didn’t have to spend money on actual hardware and just focused on the software of the system, how much cheaper the “console” could be. Sony could even give the emulator away and just sell the BIOS files and the controller.

I kept thinking about the use of an emulator and realized that it would be an extra step in developing a new system that would cost more money to get it to run under another company’s software. If there’s one thing I’ve seen over the years is that companies want to spend as little as absolutely possible on everything. Not only that, but the emulator wouldn’t be able to run the hardware at full capacity due to the OS using up valuable resources in the background to keep the system running. With that in mind, I came to a new conclusion-

Make the PS4 an OS.

It’s not like they weren’t going to make an OS for the hardware anyway, so why not just skip the hardware manufacture part and just sell an OS? It worked for Microsoft. Again, just sell the software bundled with a dedicated controller.

The crux of both of these ideas is the hardware, which I’m sure you’re wondering what it would be if you already haven’t figured it out. Hardware for this “console” would be an x86 PC supplied by the end user. Since the specs of the PS4 read much more like mash up of mid-range desktop and higher-end laptop than a console, why not let users put the software on hardware that is as good as this or even better that they already own or purchase elsewhere? The price to build a PC like the specs listed below would cost an user roughly what Sony is probably going to price the PS4 at, roughly $500. Speculation on the net has the price range from $400 up to $530 from what I’ve seen.

ps4 specs
That reads way more like a computer than a console to me.

Now spending $500 or more on a game and entertainment system might be a steep price to pay for some people. I would ask though, does that price seem as steep if you could do work on that system as well? A few people make a living with video games and other media, but a far greater amount make a living using a computer and other software. What if the difference between the work computer and the gaming system was a simple reboot into a different OS? Wouldn’t that make buying a higher priced system more feasible knowing that you’ll use the same hardware to make back all of the money spent on it?

I also spent some time thinking about how the business model would work for Sony and presumably any other company (Sony will be my example). Sony would engineer the PS4 OS to run on x86 hardware, just like they have up unit this point. Then instead of developing a full system to run it though, they develop just the controller, and a way for the controller to connect to the system. The OS would be encrypted and put on disc and sold with a decrypting USB profile key.

Before anyone gets their panties in a bunch over how difficult that could be, look at Neowiz’s DJ Max Trilogy for Windows. This game does exactly what I just said, in that the physical discs come with a USB key that needs to be plugged into the machine anytime the game runs. The USb key doesn’t show up as a drive either, so copying it would be rather difficult.

Now that the OS and USB key are one package, Sony could then bundle it with a controller and be done. The minimum and recommended system requirements for the PC would then read something very similar to the spec list of the PS4.

Now for the great (wishful dreaming) part. A strategy like this could allow other gaming companies to step (back) into the hardware game, namely Sega. From my sources, Sega hasn’t made a new system since Dreamcast because after its demise, some papers were signed stating that the company wouldn’t make anymore hardware and strictly stick to software. This strategy could allow for the coveted idea of the Dreamcast 2 to become reality. Without having to manufacture any actual consoles, they could make a triumphant return that many fans would truly enjoy seeing.

So, what do you think? Am I on to something? Is there some huge, fatal hole that I’m missing? Maybe you have you’re own idea on how this could work? Well, sound off in the comments below or catch The Marduk Report on Twitter @themardukreport.

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Written by Sean-Paul Adams

Growing up the son of a West Coast Video Manager, Sean-Paul has literally been playing video games for as long as he can remember. Starting as a wee little boy in his room with a 7” black and white TV and his Atari 2600 with Tank Plus, not much has changed, just the room and television have gotten bigger. When not gaming, Sean-Paul is usually cooking, watching anime, or riding his bike around Singapore and dreaming up his next computer build.

11 thoughts on “How Sony could make a cheaper PS4 and other companies could come [back] to making hardware”

    1. Exactly! And that’s what gaming consoles are all about anyway-the software. Let hardware manufacturers deal with transistors and processors while letting users deal with installing the physical upgrades. Companies like Sony and Microsoft should save their energy and money for what truly sets their products apart – the software.

  1. I’m having a hard time building a frame of mind in which this idea doesn’t sound completely retarded. You do realize that PCs can already play video games too, right?

    1. Well aware of that fact.

      As console specs get closer and closer to traditional PC wouldn’t it be cheaper for everyone if gaming companies like Sony and MS to just released an OS of their consoles that would allow for any x86 system to be turned into a dedicated gaming machine. Upgrades to hardware can finally keep up with new tech instead of coming around once every 5-10 years.

  2. If people wanted a computer they would buy one. People want a box they can buy off the shelf, plug it in and play games on it. That’s the difference.

    Also, assuming the PS4 is profitable some day Sony gets the profits from selling the hardware and the software. In your scenario, they would only get the software profits where the hardware profits would go to some PC manufacturer.

    1. Being a PS3 owner, the only difference I see between the PS3 and a computer in this scenario is that users would have to install the OS themselves. That could be made as painless as inserting a disc and pressing a button.

      I agree that hardware profits would go to another manufacturer, but so would all of the development cost. The PS3 is only recently profitable due to the tremendous hit Sony took to develop its hardware. If they didn’t have to spend all of that money of hardware, then they could have broken even on the PS3 much earlier.

  3. You got the idea right, but emulator with the performance of a “bare metal” 2 teraflop platform would require a realllllyyyyy expensive machine. Virtual GPUs are on their way but not quite there yet. But fundamentally I agree with your thinking, PS4 won’t satisfy hard core gamer, that’s a November 2013 console released with a November 2012 mid-range PC performance level. Add to this that:
    *

    1. That’s why I moved on from the emulator idea to an OS. Even trying to emulate a PS3 or Xbox 360 right now would require a fairly expensive system.

      It would be similar to Steam. Actually now that I think about it Steam is trying to be the next Sony/MS by trying to get into the “console” market.

      I agree with your parts vs performance level and the first thing I see getting cut is 4k gaming too. Which is a shame because 4k TVs are going to be coming from so many companies this year and next.

        1. Depends on the brand. Samsung, Sony and their ilk will cost probably more than most people are willing to spend. I met with Vizio and Westinghouse during CES and they wil have affordable 4k TVs. Especially Westinghouse, who’ll have 4k sets starting around $1800 this year.

  4. Not to mention … x86 PC game ports should surpass console native titles … if only there was a gaming PC that could decently fit in a living room … errr … oops 😉

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