When Sony announced that PlayStation 4 would be priced at $399 to an uproar of applause from the audience at its E3 press conference, it secured a critical edge over the Xbox One. But the advantage came at a cost: the PlayStation 4 camera (formerly known as the PlayStation 4 Eye). According to multiple sources, in the months leading up to E3, Sony nixed plans to include the camera add-on with every system and shave $100 off its originally planned price of $499. Most importantly, it did so quietly, informing its retail partners only of the removal of the camera, not specifying the lower price so as not to tip its hand to Microsoft.
But in its efforts to undercut the Xbox One, Sony has damned the accessory to a future of fragmented consumer adoption and inconsistent software support. The decision has also rendered a major design element of the DualShock 4 controller â€” the built-in LED Move tracker â€” largely useless.
Microsoft's decision to bundle a Kinect with each Xbox One and require it for use may be unpopular, but it guarantees that every user will have the option to try Kinect-enabled games and experiences. For developers, it means that Kinect integration is no longer a costly gamble on a small subsection of Xbox owners â€” motion-detecting and voice-sensing elements can be anything from a small optional game enhancement or the primary control method.
By relegating the camera to a $59.99 add-on, Sony has ensured the opposite â€” a climate of codependency wherein PlayStation 4 camera adoption will hinge upon compelling software, but compelling software will only arrive after PlayStation 4 camera adoption.
What's worse, the DualShock 4's integrated LEDs are now good for little more than visual flair. Per Sony, the light-up panels will help indicate the player associated with each controller and, when supported, react to in-game cues, such as blinking red when a player is low on health. Ultimately, the limited functionality of the LEDs without the aid of the Eye won't impact the player experience or even drastically diminish the overall battery life of the controller, but it's a lingering reminder of Sony's failure to support the tech.
It's possible that Sony has long-term aspirations for the PlayStation 4 camera and the DualShock 4's integrated Move technology â€” the PS4 is likely to be a 10 year console, after all â€” but launch window support is likely to be non-existent. The device was little more than a footnote at the console's debut in February and of the more than 40 demos Sony showcased at E3, none of the PlayStation 4 titles were Eye-enabled.
At present, Sony's abandonment of the Eye in favor of a lower priced PlayStation 4 seems to be paying off â€” the company claims to be boosting internal sales estimates and online retailers are reporting record breaking pre-sales â€” but will it be able to incentivize consumers and developers to adopt the device in the future? The odds are seemingly stacked against it, but perhaps Sony has a killer app waiting in the wings.