PS4 Camera: Press Start or Game Over?

Should you be picking up a camera for Sony’s console

Less than three months ago I picked up my PlayStation 4 on launch day with enough excitement to make Kristin Stuart show some emotion. In this flurry of excitement I found myself tearing through the cardboard cases and polystyrene that surrounded my new console and its accessories, ignoring the fact I had no idea what I was doing with one particular accessory, the camera. My overwhelming sense of anticipation had blinded me to the fact I had bought a camera for a games console, something that I had not done since the Eye Toy was released for the PS2. After a couple of weeks of bathing my self in next-gen bliss I finally calmed down and stopped acting like a 15 year old at a Justin Bieber concert. It was then that I realised (just like the Bieber fans) I may have made an error. I noticed that my camera had been collecting dust alerting me to the fact I hadn’t really used the device apart from the satisfying, but fairly basic function of logging into the console. However, despite my apparent lack of usage, the demand for the camera had outstripped the available supply and led to people selling them for triple the retail price on sites like Ebay. So what keeps this peripheral so popular when I can’t seem to utilize its potential?

My first real encounter with using the camera, other than the two minute set up tutorial, was the use of the playroom, a gaming app designed to familiarise players with the mechanics of the camera and new PS4 features such as the Dualshock 4 touchpad. The playroom is a fun set up and makes gaming appear more accessible (easy to get the parents involved when they come around to visit) in a similar manner to the Nintendo Wii. The issue here, of course, is that there is very little for the hardcore gamer to sink their teeth into. After the small collection of trophies have been obtained no new challenges present themselves, giving the Playroom a short lifespan of playability. The Playroom also ends up feeling more like a gimmick due to the lack of any goal orientated gameplay and the rather cheesey elements such as the family friendly nature of the AR bots. The heavy association that exists between the gaming app and the camera can then lead to the latter feeling like a gimmick too, especially with no other games apart from Just Dance 2014 (the most awesome example of what I don’t want from a game – exercise) making any real use of the camera.

Despite the lack of games that use the camera, the accessory is still widely used thanks to the PS4’s ability to allow players to stream their gameplay. Before the latest consoles the need for a capture card, editing software, and a camera was too high a cost for most of the gaming community. However, the PS4 is ready to go with twitch and Ustream already integrated with the console, all you need is a camera to show the world your lovely face. Being able to show people the real you has its own advantages as viewers can relate to who you are and take sadistic pleasure in watching your expressions of pure fear when you play Outlast. The camera also picks up your voice through the microphone so you can narrate your stream or talk over gameplay that you plan on uploading later, just don’t expect audio studio quality, the features are easy to use but not as advanced as the more famous youtuber’s kit will be.

For those of you now thinking that streaming is the main purpose of this tool you may be wondering what else can it do, if anything? Well you can sign in by using the camera’s facial recognition technology that registers the players face and the controller they are using which is a bit clever ey? Unless you just press the X button on your profile. A feature that is more useful would be the voice commands. So far the commands that are available are basic, but very useful allowing the player to select apps, take screenshots, open games, return to the home screen, and power off the console. These commands help restore some parity between the PlayStation and Xbox, with Microsoft’s Kinect leading the way in terms of console innovation.

So we know what we can do with a camera but what will it do in the future? Personally I would love to see more voice commands added to the system allowing the user to easily navigate the menus and settings while in game. The ability to send messages (text or voice) and game invites to friends without stopping the on screen action would be immensely welcome. Hopefully the sharing software will also be updated to include the use of overlaying video and narration in the video editor after taking a gameplay recording. In terms of games the future of the camera could rely solely on the sales of PlayStation cameras and how many PS4 owners have one, as the game needs a market to sell to in order for a launch to be viable. Unlike the Kinect, which was packaged with the Xbox One, the PlayStation needs to convince developers that a market exists for games that take advantage of the camera and microphone technology available. In the end the potential for exciting new ideas and features is there, but in order to fulfil it someone will need to take the leap of faith. It is a big ask, but given that over 4 million PS4s have been sold and the camera is proving very popular there is ladder up to that leap.

The final point is simple, is it worth the money? The simple answer is that unless you will use it to stream and share videos no it isn’t. For the £50 plus you will spend on the camera you could get yourself an extra controller which you will see instant benefits from, such as, being able to charge the second controller while using the first or actually socializing with your human friends and playing games together. If you do still decide to purchase a camera remember that the long term investment may be well worth it, with a whole new host of possible features coming online during the next few years. It is important to remember we are using the next-gen machines and the power they could provide these features would be far more spectacular than the Eye Toy I loved so much over 10 years ago. With this in mind it may be pertinent to remember Sony’s branding for the PS4… ‘Greatness Awaits’.

Thanks for reading,

jBAM out.

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