Talking Point: Sony's PlayStation 4 Poses a Fresh Challenge for Wii U in the 2013 Holidays

A festive dust up

If you live somewhere with no internet access or connection to the outside world, it may be news to you that Sony unveiled its PlayStation 4 console in New York on 20th February. Over the course of two hours it confirmed a Holiday 2013 release, showed off the system's user interface and social functions, a new version of the DualShock controller and a host of games and graphics engines. Third party developers were reeled out and Sony made a big play of the graphical power and multi-functional social aspects of the system, with generally positive reactions around the web.

Naturally, Nintendo will have been watching. Wii U has just passed its three month birthday and is currently gearing up for a Spring and Summer offensive of games to renew momentum in a system that, as sales figures show, has lost steam after a thoroughly decent launch week in various territories. Around three million Nintendo fans had willingly forked over a fair bit of cash when the system arrived up until the end of 2012, but Nintendo has admitted that the system is now struggling to get off the shelves, reacting with a broad range of big retail releases for the rest of the year; some of which start to arrive next month.

Although it will have known that new competitors from Sony and Microsoft would be moving onto the scene during this campaign to win consumers over to Wii U, Nintendo now has one half of its traditional rivals out in the open for all to see. With Microsoft rumoured to be saving its big reveal for E3 2013, Nintendo now knows it has a big fight to seize the market and gamers ahead of a vitally important Holiday season.

So how does PS4 stack up against Wii U or, perhaps more accurately, how does its offering differ most significantly from Nintendo's? For one thing, it's clear that it possesses graphical power and resources beyond Wii U's capabilities - eight core processing and a somewhat daunting 8GB of RAM stand out in the known specifications. Many of the presentations from developers focused on new graphics engines being put together to utilise that power, while some did take the opportunity to show games on the way for launch or 2014. Some of the results were undeniably stunning, with some visuals arguably comparable with the best seen on high-powered PC rigs; this is a reality that Wii U can't avoid. There was some positive news for Nintendo fans that, despite a PS4 version being unveiled, Watch_Dogs from Ubisoft is coming to Wii U (as well as PS3 and Xbox 360), while comments suggesting that future Need for Speed releases for the system will arrive promptly are also cause for optimism — perhaps lower dev costs and increasingly scale-able graphics engines could help Wii U compete for multi-platform games, but some developers will surely opt solely for the greater visual fidelity available on PS4 and (in all likelihood) Microsoft's successor.

Next up we have the PS4's social aspects, which we can broadly compare to Miiverse and online capabilities seen so far. While Miiverse is easily the best social element that Nintendo's ever produced, Sony made big promises about its own equivalent component. The company will be leveraging its strengths in other technology industries to help bring PS4 accounts and socializing onto devices such as phones and tablets, though Miiverse should be available on other devices as a browser app in future. Integration with Facebook means that the PS4 service won't be quite as insular — whether that's good or bad is down to personal preference — while the most fun feature will be the ability to hit a button and instantly record gameplay video to share, going beyond the intuitive screenshot capture on Miiverse.

And then we have the gaming itself, or what we've been shown. The new DualShock controller seems to be dividing opinion online, with some being fans and others being unsure of the shape and relevance of the small touch-pad located in the middle. This touchpad isn't significant in size, with the controller not far off the dimensions of the PS3 equivalent, while a Move-style strip on the top will allow some motion detection to be picked up by a new enhanced PlayStation Eye camera bundled with the system. Of the games shown, most used standard controls without much manipulation of either the touchpad or motion sensor, so clearly developers are figuring out how to use this best. Those developers were out in force, however, with Sony stating that the number of companies committing to the platform is well into three figures.

In these stakes we suggest that control input is the biggest distinction and unique-selling-point that Nintendo has up its sleeve — alongside its own IPs and games, of course. Technology from streaming company Gaikai — acquired by Sony last year — will power Remote Play to Vita handhelds, with the goal of any PS4 game being playable on the portable system, mirroring the game. This may be a threat of sorts to the GamePad concept, but it's unclear how much this Vita link will be able to go beyond mirroring the main action, and whether the experience will match the almost non-existent latency and multi-screen variety seen on the Wii U setup. In addition, it also requires a hefty investment for gamers to buy both Sony systems, and due to that it's possible that many developers will opt to include the minimal mirroring and little more. Finishing with Gaikai, backwards compatibility will come through the streaming service, placing a reliance on strong broadband services rather than popping in an older disc, such as with Wii on Wii U.

Ultimately, both consoles offer different experiences, and once again Sony's system will bring a range of functionality and raw power beyond some equivalents on Wii U, with Nintendo once again focused on delivering a different kind of play through its GamePad and innovative software. Parallels can certainly be drawn between the Wii and PS3 head-to-head, though we'd suggest that the online infrastructure of Nintendo's system isn't lingering far behind as it did in the last generation.

This Holiday, then, Nintendo and Sony console values and concepts will go into a big head-to-head, no doubt joined by Microsoft's successor.

This Holiday, then, Nintendo and Sony console values and concepts will go into a big head-to-head, no doubt joined by Microsoft's successor. Sony didn't give prices, it must be said, but some rumours suggest a basic SKU close to the price of a Wii U Deluxe, and others expect a second model to be quite a bit more expensive. We suspect Sony will try to match Wii U's 32GB system pricing with a basic SKU — or at least get close — though by November/December we'd be surprised if Nintendo's system isn't fighting back with attractively priced bundles; even if an official price cut isn't made. Nintendo's recent Wii U Direct showed some big games on the way, and we'd bet a lot of eShop credit that a favourite such as Mario Kart will hit the console for Christmas, and possibly one other big first-party title.

The question will be whether Wii U's year-old library, Nintendo first-party games and the GamePad concept will be enough to take on challenges such as that posed by PS4. It'll be intriguing to watch, and once again we're likely to see a clash of priorities and strategies; we'll have to see whether the gaming market and consumer base are big enough to ensure successful sales for everyone. Nintendo and its rivals will need to bring their A-game.

Have you looked at the announcement of PlayStation 4? What do you think of Sony's system, and after seeing what it has to offer are you confident that Wii U will enjoy a successful year and Holiday season? Let us know what you think in the comments below, and don't forget that the best coverage of all things Sony can be found on our sister-site, Push Square.