September 24, 2021

So… The PlayStation 5 “DevKit”…

I do sort of like the PS5 Devkit design. It also kind of annoys me.

Maybe that’s a little bit of my… personal issues creeping in. I totally get the “V” design, as in the Roman Numeral for “5”. That’s clever. Witty even. But – even as a developer, people who have a slight obsession with code and order… how can you not look at the inverted numeral and think it’s not the most annoying thing in your otherwise ordered existence? In normal use, that’s how it would be. It would get to me so much that I’d pretty much lock it behind a cupboard door and hope that “out of sight, out of mind”.

But there’s another creeping thought that runs deeper…

Devkits are, ostensibly, tools. They rarely if ever reflect the final design not because of some grand secretive conspiracy, but because those Development Kits need to be produced quickly and in volume because… well… developers need them to actually start making the games that they plan to sell on the console. This is why, in the past, devkits have normally been simple, large boxes with a few bells and whistles bolted on. When you’re selling to consumers, yes, the aesthetics matter somewhat… but when it’s something necessary for your job, you just want something that has the hardware and works and can facilitate in your actual job of making games.

The PS5 Devkit isn’t simple in the slightest. One might even consider calling it a little overdesigned; it’s not just that thought went into it, but someone thought that it was funny and clever.

Let’s not pretend that Sony’s humour is faultless either…

Consider the volume in which Sony needed to make these kits; now ask yourself, why would Sony go through the expense of such a witty design if no-one but the developers were destined to see it? Why go through the time and effort of getting those shells into manufacturing if they weren’t destined to be mass produced? Not to mention the cost – making complex designs of that type in moderately large batches would be quite prohibitively expensive if you weren’t planning on reducing costs by extending or even normalising the design to reduce the overall monetary expenditure.

Normally I take these things with a grain of salt because as I said, Devkits are tools at the end of the day. They’re not meant to be flashy or showy, they need to work and have the necessary software – like the OS, which I pray to the Nine Divines they’ve changed.

But this… this is ringing alarm bells in my head.

Now, having said that – consoles tend to go through numerous changes even when they’re on the market – see the PS3 Mini, or the Switch Lite or the litany of other Nintendo handhelds that change design and shape enough times that even Apple would consider it ‘a bit too much’. Someone might eventually suggest a simpler design (there’s still about a year before it lands)… or even within the first year or so of the consoles life, it might get a redesign and bits will get shaved off.

This isn’t unheard of; the PS3 lost its backwards compatibility in such a shuffle, for example, largely to cut some costs. And the XBox 360 had to be redesigned and re-released because of Red Ring of Death. And again, Minis come out in the first two to three years of a consoles lifespan. The “V”-Shaped design is neither final, nor even if it currently is would represent the console that people buy when it becomes a more mass-market product down the road.

Nothing is final in this industry. Look at the Switch – it’s just a slicker Wii U at the end of the day, but hey, it worked out great, didn’t it?

Clean lines and simple designs go with everything.

Still, I see people laughing about this “Not being final”. They’re right to be cautious, and not jump in and get worked up over it, but they also miss the real problem – if this isn’t the final design, then it’s little more than an expensive frivolity at a time when the PlayStation brand needs to be a little bit more than that.

Not just that, what did they think people would say when they finally got a look at these pictures – or even the patent, which has been doing the rounds for a while. What I see is a very large, possibly heavy and potentially deafening console if the whole idea is “cooling”, which tells me the fans inside are likely large, noisy and energy-suckingly expensive. This is why Microsoft and even Nintendo spent a ton of time and money on more efficient, cost-effective cooling solutions for the XBox One X and Switch/Switch Lite.

That also tells me Sony is cutting costs on this front and for a console that’s likely inching above the £500 and might even broach the £600 mark, the last thing I want to be thinking is that the people making the damn thing were cutting costs.

Still, I’ll go back to what I said at the start – as a joke, as a witty punchline, I like it. Sony does have a sense of humour – bleak and black and occasionally offensive, sure, but it’s there and I do appreciate it. And if all this is is a marketing stunt, then it’s a good one. It has lots of us talking about the PlayStation 5.

However, as I said… this should be just a devkit. A box. A tool. A means to an end. It shouldn’t matter what it looks like, just that it has the hardware and it works.

That Sony went to such extraordinary lengths to manufacture these shells for the purposes of “cooling” suggests to me this might end up the final design.

And that’d be a no from me…


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