Courtesy The Escapist
Courtesy The Escapist

Last night saw the big announcement and unveiling of Sony’s next generation of console, the PlayStation 4. Actually, ‘unveiling’ is a misnomer, as the console itself was a no-show. The crowd in the room and people who managed to watch the stream got a whole bunch of specs for the new device, a look at its controller, and previews of its launch titles, including a new Killzone, a racing game, and Diablo III, among others. We know it will be available for sale by the end of this year, and we know its price point will be between $429 and $529 in US currency.

Now, I am not a games journalist. I don’t have the experience or clout or wherewithal or following to adequately fill that role. Many people I admire professionally, and some I’ve met or know personally, already work very hard and often thanklessly to keep scrubs like me informed. So what follows is not so much an editorial spiel on last night’s presentation, but more a from-the-groundlings reaction to this and other recent stuff in the video games market.

To me, the hoopla over the PS4 is a lot of sound and fury signifying very little. Glimpses of the presentation left me unimpressed, and what visuals I saw looked more like a tiny step forward in graphical quality, rather than a giant leap. The integration of social media sharing and other features like friends being able to take control of your game if you let them just strikes me as somewhat gimmicky, and seems like an avenue for others to exploit the hardware. On the other hand, built-in streaming and recording are good things for folks looking to break out as pro gamers, or who just want to share their gaming experiences with others, without tying them to a PC.

It’s entirely possible that I’m somewhat biased. I’ve been building my own desktop PCs for a long time, and I’ve always done so with an eye on gaming hardware and ensuring I can play new releases for at least a few years. I have yet to build a hardcore gaming PC with dual graphics processors or liquid cooling or anything fancy like that, but this latest rig especially has been very good at putting console graphics to shame, for the most part. The PS4 does not look to be light-years ahead of what I already have under my desk, and what’s more, I have the sneaking suspicion that its new hardware and features may not work as smoothly on release day as they seemed to last night.

I only recently purchased a PS3, and it works well. It plays its games easily, and there are plenty to choose from. But this is years after its release. I did not pay the markup inevitable with a hot new product, I didn’t deal with early bugs or account hacks, and I have never felt comfortable buying something like a gaming console on the promise of what’s to come. I want to know what I’m investing in before I invest, which is why I watch MTG Salvation like a hawk whenever a new Magic set is announced. I’m sure some businesses are eager to capitalize on the early adoption dollar, but I’ve never seen the logic behind such behavior. This is especially true when it comes to video games, especially given what we’ve seen lately.

I was interested in Aliens: Colonial Marines, as a fan of the franchise and someone eager to see the days of shooters like Doom and Painkiller come roaring back to this generation of dull modern military “spunkgargleweewee” titles. But that interest has evaporated. Not only have the reviews of the game been abysmal from both professional critics and knee-jerk groundling gamers (like me!), but the demo that got everybody so hyped for the game turns out to have been entirely fabricated. And now, thousands if not millions of gamers are stuck with a game they pre-ordered that completely took them to the cleaners in promising something that it simply refused to deliver.

If I put in a pre-order for something, I want to have a decent idea of what to expect. I pre-ordered Cold Days on the merits of Jim Butcher’s previous work. I’ve put in to get boxes of Magic cards on the street date because I know what’ll be in the box, or at least what sort of mix there’s likely to be in the boosters. Video games, unfortunately, have neither the track record nor the transparency to give me the confidence I feel is required to justify a pre-order. I don’t care what DLC is on offer, I’m not as taken in as I once was by kitsch in the box, and I get suspicious when a game is hyped too much in the days leading up to release. There are games I’m interested that are coming out, to be certain, but with my age and awareness has come a growing sense of suspicion and cynicism when it comes to being sold such things. As hopeful as I am that BioShock Infinite will rock my world, the failures of BioShock 2 are enough to give me pause before clicking that ‘Pre-Order’ button on Amazon, to say nothing of what’s happened to Aliens fans and the broken promises of games like Duke Nukem Forever and Killzone 2.

The phrase caveat emptor has not gone anywhere, and it’s as true in the 21st century as it was back before the 1st. Know what you’re going to buy before you buy it, and take the time to ask serious questions about what you’re going to invest your time and hard-earned money into before handing it over to a third party who’s more interested in a fancier boat or hat than they are in delivering what they promise or ensuring you’re a satisfied customer. I’m not an early adopter, and I’ve stopped pre-ordering video games, because this sort of swindling and smoke-and-mirrors behavior has got to stop. And they only way we can really tell these people how we feel is with our wallets, by keeping them closed.