There was one feature—should Sony actually deliver on their lofty promises with the PS4—that left me feeling rather excited. It wasn't the games, or the hardware.
To Sony's credit, that stuff seems cool—I'm digging the new triggers on the controllers and Watch Dogs touches on great subjects—but not as cool as a feature that is a button press away on the new DualShock controllers.
I'm talking about the social features on the system, which enable players to share moments from their games. To quote Gaikai's David Perry on what the Share button, pictured above, allows you to do:
First, what we're using is that Share button on the PlayStation 4 controller. With that one button, you can broadcast, from your game, live, 100% real-time to your friends. (...) Your friends can actually look over your shoulder virtually and interact with you while you're playing; and if you allow them, your friends can also post comments to your screen; you can solicit support from them, or you can just trash-talk with them. (...) You can ask your friend on the internet who's finished that game, to take over your controller and assist. We're building this capability into the PS4 and the PlayStation Network.
To me, all of that is huge. Let's talk about why.
First off, there are millions of people out there that use streaming services such as Twitch, and that scene is only getting bigger. Streaming, the rise of e-Sports and Let's Plays, nevermind the popularity of gaming YouTube videos are proof that people like watching other people play games.
Some would argue that watching games is a little like watching performance art—and the better or more entertaining the player, the more of a joy it is to watch.
A game doesn't even have to be good thanks to this, watching a personable player go through an awful game can be worthwhile.
I look forward to spectating games under that lens; to consume them as a spectator sport. PC gaming has been there for a while, consoles are only now catching up. I'm glad I get to see what that's all about (hopefully.)
But when it comes to friends, the feature feels more personal. You have an investment in the person, after all. When it comes to being unable to actually sit next to someone on a couch, being able to watch them play is the next closest thing we have (for now, until we get like, game systems that display holograms.)
Beyond that, I noticed that many seemed cynical when they likened being able to take over someone's game to backseat gaming. To me, compared to having a game change itself because I'm sucking (like some newer Nintendo games do), the feature seems like a good alternative solution to making a game more accessible to players.
At least personally, I'd rather pass through a difficult bit with a friend more than I want to let the computer do it for me like in New Super Mario Bros Wii. Letting a friend do it can be a bonding experience, and actually talking to someone about what they're doing and how is more useful than a hands-off solution to what you're having trouble with.
Admittedly, the allure of sharing your experiences with others may sound strange at first. Prior to owning a PlayStation Vita, or even just playing games on Steam, I couldn't have imagined just how great the ability to have a built-in function to take screenshots was (and that's not even as robust as what Sony says the PS4 can do). Now I feel compelled to share great moments or things people might've missed all the time.
Will Sony be able to make the sharing functions on the PS4 do everything they promised? I can't say, and I wouldn't blame you for being skeptical about it.
I'm skeptical, too: a lot of these features sound too good to be true. We need to see how they're going to make the features happen before we can start banking on them being a thing.
What I do know is that having the ability to share what I play started out as a small thing I didn't even know I wanted. Hell, it seemed like an obtrusive feature that would get in the way of focusing on the game I'm playing.
Now I've come to expect robust sharing options as an element that newer consoles must have if they're serious about using "social" as something more than just a buzzword, and I look forward to seeing how companies deliver on that front.