It’s about gaming, not dancing: Why losing support for our own music in next-gen console sucks

It’s about gaming, not dancing: Why losing support for our own music in next-gen console sucks

Sony surprised many console gaming fans by releasing what amounted to a long list of things that the upcoming PlayStation 4 will not be able to do. You can’t use the console to stream content from your PC, for example.

There is also no support to listen to any form of your existing music. You can’t put in a CD, nor can you access any of your music in any form. Your only option is to use Sony’s proprietary platform for music streaming.

The counter-argument is that physical media hasn’t been important for a while, so gamers don’t lose that much by not being able to use their discs. Fair enough. The other debate is whether these features mean anything in a gaming console at all, since almost all of us who would purchase a $400 piece of consumer electronics at launch likely own a variety of devices that stream or play music.

That all makes sense, but it doesn’t change the fact that we’re missing out when gaming consoles can’t access our music.

The power of choice

The best reason for supporting different audio formats is the ability to create your own custom playlists for games. There are few things in life better than setting up a handpicked selection of your favorite songs that also match whatever game you’re playing.

I have fond memories of my favorite mixes for racing games, and certain arcade-style first-person shooters such as Serious Sam come alive when you create your own punishing mix for the background. I used to spend hours going through my music collection to find just the right mix for each game. Heck, I used to sometimes record my own music just for the game, although it was never very good. It’s just neat to be able to race to the sounds of your own playing.

Sony and Microsoft both handled this very well in the past: You could hook up your existing mp3 player to access the music that way, and the system could even rip your own CDs so you could make your own mixes. It’s not about just listening to music. It’s about using that music to enhance your game while you play.

Both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 used compatibility with your existing media as a selling point, and offered a variety of ways to use that content or to bring it into your gaming experience.

This is a hell of a thing to lose, and if a multiplatform release comes out that supports custom playlists on one console but not the other, that’s a serious selling point for many gamers. You can also forget about games like Audiosurf 2 that can use your own music; you’ll need to either pay for Sony’s proprietary solution or not use that feature if such games ever come to the PlayStation 4. That’s a massive bummer.

Right now we don’t now if these limitations also exist on the Xbox One. “One more thing: Seeing some questions re: Xbox One & support for CDs, MP3, DNLA etc. I'll track those answers down,” Microsoft's Major Nelson tweeted yesterday.

I also contacted Microsoft, and was told that it may be a day or two before they have a definite answer about what audio formats, if any, the Xbox One will support at launch. If this is a feature that both platform holders reject in favor of making us pay a second time for content in order to use their proprietary services you can expect some major grump from potential customers.

On the other hand, whoever implements this sort of thing first, or reverse their decision not to, will be able to add another advantage to their list of bullet points. This is one of those situations where competition could be a very good thing for players.

It’s also worth pointing out that nothing is set in stone here. These are all features that Sony could add in a later software update if enough players request them.

There is already some evidence that Sony may improve the situation.Thanks for the feedback to the lack of MP3 and DLNA support at the launch of PS4. I'll share with the PS4 Dev team for future consideration,” Sony's Shuhei Yoshida tweeted, and then later noted that he had “a very good discussion w the PS4 Dev team today. We're happy & appreciative to learn so many people use and like PS3's media features.”

Heck, if it’s a question of licensing they could even make a “music upgrade” download available for a few dollars. I know I’d pay it. My custom mixes help me enjoy games, and anecdotal evidence from Twitter shows that I’m not alone. Losing our music as we move to next-generation consoles wouldn’t be tragic, but it would definitely be a very real loss.

This isn't about doing things other than gaming, this is about a feature that made gaming better, and I want to urge Sony to bring these features back, and for Microsoft to keep them intact.