The PS4’s prosumer appeal

The PS4 has record sales and gained significant mind share among gamers. Yet among game journalists and core gamers, there’s disappointment. Kotaku’s Kirk Hamilton recently ran a positive yet tempered post on the PS4, calling it an “unexciting video game console.” Kat Bailey at USgamer finds this console generation “disappointingly conservative”. And I see similar resentment all over popular gaming forums like NeoGAF.

I’m a big fan of both Kirk’s and Kat’s writing. But I suspect their enthusiast perspective is coloring their viewpoint. For those of us that are more casual gamers, the PS4 has been great, a big improvement on previous console generations. It feels tailor made for what I’d term a “tech prosumer” market.

Tech prosumers nestle somewhere between hard core enthusiasts and casual players. They might play more than a few games a year, but aren’t racking up lengthy gaming sessions on a regular basis. They may follow gaming sites, and maybe read some online reviews. Yet they don’t have the time or budget for multiple dedicated gaming devices. I’d put myself in this demographic, and I suspect there’s many others that fit it as well.

In short, prosumers are tech literate and play games, but they do so mostly on a single platform. The PS4 excels in this scenario, with several advantages over the Xbox One and Wii U for this audience.

One standout PS4 feature is the diversity of its game library. Prosumers get a lot of choice on a single device. You get requisite AAA sports, shooter, and action games (MGS V, Call of Duty: Black Ops 3). There’s popular indie fare also released on or ported from PC or iOS (Rogue Legacy, Transistor). And there’s some quirkier higher budget titles (Until Dawn, LittleBigPlanet 3, Guilty Gear Xrd).

Looking at PS4’s release schedule in early 2016 underlines the platform’s range. Over three months, the PS4 will add a massively popular fighting game (Street Fighter V), a third-person action sequel (Uncharted 4), an explore-heavy adventure (Firewatch), and a freeform indie puzzler (The Witness). At this point Sony’s library feels much more diverse than the Xbox One or Wii U. And offerings are especially broad compared to previous console generations.

Admittedly the PS4’s library isn’t nearly as diverse as what’s on PC. But unlike a PC, consoles are already in the living room and cheaper than any serious gaming PC. Given its lack of customization, there’s also a far lower learning curve.

And the “unexciting” single focus on gaming on the PS4 isn’t a hinderance for prosumers. They already have many tech devices for entertainment. Smartphones, tablets and set top streaming boxes are commonplace. It makes catching up on Twitter or Netflix just another screen away. Prosumers rely on other tech devices not just out of familiarity, but convenience; a modern smartphone has a more refined interface and wider functionality than any console.

The common criticism of many PS4 titles merely being PC ports with lesser graphics and higher prices becomes moot. These “console exclusives” feel like genuine exclusives, because prosumers rarely own gaming-level PC hardware.

Granted, I agree with some of the PS4 complaints. The system gets less UI updates than I’d like, and PSN isn’t as reliable as Xbox Live or Steam. And I’m envious over several exclusives elsewhere like the Forza series and Rise of the Tomb Raider. But when I consider the feature set and library over the past two years, the PS4 is a satisfying device. It delivers a lot of value for prosumers.