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The PS4 is a dream gaming console, that could be a problem

Sony has a history of over promising.

When Sony laid out the promise of the PlayStation Portable in 2004, it called it the Walkman of the 21st Century, a PlayStation 2 in your pocket. When the company unveiled the PlayStation 3, it talked about gaming across multiple screens, the ability for gamers to buy and sell in-game items and showed off a boomerang-shaped controller.

When those systems hit, they delivered a feast of new playable content and edged forward the boundaries of gaming innovation, but both were shadows of the promises that Sony original made.

Where Sony often promises the heavens, it's typically delivered the earth.

Last week's PlayStation 4 unveiling seemed to be an event designed around this premise. While there were some hard promises made — we saw six games in development, some of the locked specs for the system and a controller packed with possibility — much of the two-and-a-half-hour show was filled with a sort of dream-fueled rhetoric.

The company talked about a online store powered by artificial intelligence that could help determine the games you might want to buy and then pre-load them onto your console for you. But it didn't offer details about how that would work.

It said games would be playable before they finished downloading, but later said that it wouldn't require third-party developers to deliver on that promise.

Sony said it hopes to make PlayStation 4 games, or some version of them, playable on the PlayStation Vita.

They talked about wanting some form of interaction between tablets and smartphones and the new console, but not what that would be exactly.

The company sketched out the concept of using both real names and screen names when using its PlayStation Network. But it hasn't talked about the very real concerns surrounding real ID.

It said every significant third-party game maker was making content for the PS4, though only two took to the stage during the event.

The company said it hopes to create a service that will allow gamers to stream PlayStation, PS2 and PS3 games to the PS4, but didn't promise it would happen.

Even after the event, Sony officials weren't exactly clear on some of the chief points of this new philosophy. Whether used games will play on the PS4, a point of contention and concern among many gamers, seems still unclear, with the head of its game studios saying that his "expectation" was that they would be playable.

Most noticeably, Sony's PS4 unveiling never featured the actual console, due to launch this holiday.

The console is just a box, a Sony exec later told me, what really matters is what's inside it. But the thing is, we're not sure about that either.

Last week's "PlayStation Meeting" seemed more collective dream than the launch of next-generation gaming.

Don't get me wrong, the concept roughed out during the over-the-top presentation is inspired: Sony wants to deliver a console that is accessible to everyone, offers the immediacy of gaming on a smartphone, is as social as Facebook and Twitter, is an integral part of your life and that will be consummately personal to every gamer.

The promise of Sony's PlayStation 4 is a smart response to a future of gaming that has to compete with iPhone game impulse buys, Kickstarter consoles, top-tier, free-to-play games and computers turned living-room gaming machines.

The question is: Can Sony deliver?

Good Game is an internationally syndicated weekly news and opinion column about the big stories of the week in the gaming industry and its bigger impact on things to come. Brian Crecente is a founding News Editor of Polygon.

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