Ever since Sony unveiled the PS5 UI to the world, I’ve been torn on one of its most widely praised and innovative features: ‘Cards’.
On the surface, the PS5’s Cards are designed to help you quickly interact with a game or the PS5 system in a variety of ways. You can see key information at a glance like updates from developers, your recent screenshots, and even have the ability to jump into specific activities in a game.
And in practice, the new PS5 UI accomplishes this goal. Horizontal-scrolling aside, which never feels particularly efficient, I can see how this feature will be useful in certain situations.
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My biggest concern, however, is how Sony believes its Cards system, specifically ‘Activities’, will help save you time. I just don’t see it that way, and I’m worried that playing some games will feel more like a part-time job than ever before.
Do your chores
In the PS5 UI demo, we saw that players will be able to jump to different levels in Sackboy: A Big Adventure with almost instantaneous load times. This is clearly where the strength of Activity Cards lie, and being able to boot straight into a game’s multiplayer mode, for example, will certainly shave off a few seconds than navigating to it from the main menu.
What I don’t like, though, is how granular each Activity Card is and the checklist-like approach Sony is taking. Do I really need the PS5 to tell me the individual progress of each level, or provide hand-holding tips on what needs to be done? Half the fun of playing video games is the joy of discovery, not just working through a do-to-list. The thought of being bombarded with constant progression stats and things to tick off is enough to make me want to take a digital detox.
Some players already dislike Achievements and Trophies for creating needless arbitrary tasks and, while I don’t necessarily share the same opinion – mostly because they’re entirely optional – Achievements and Trophies are still fairly unobtrusive and you can even turn off notifications. From the glimpse of the Activity Cards in Sackboy, you’ll be encouraged to play, try and do more things than ever every time you hit the PlayStation home button, and it’s a little exhausting to look at.
Cards are also prime for finding more ways to draw you into busywork, which is already a problem in the age of busy quest logs, endgame content and endless map icons. I really hope developers actually find a way to use them in interesting ways, rather than just giving you more ways to measure progress.
The fear of missing out, or ‘FOMO’, is already a bit of a problem in games. Developers will do whatever it takes to encourage you to keep playing or return to a game, whether that’s offering new skins, limited time events or in-game challenges. It’s also why pre-order bonuses exist so you don't "miss out".
Having the ability to promote this type of information directly at a player in the console's UI is pretty powerful, then, and we've already heard how some developers will use it.
2K Games has announced that it will promote ‘MyTeam Challenges’ in NBA 2K21 using Activity Cards – that’s the mode where you build a dream team using players you earn through card packs you earn, but which can also be bought with real money.
In a post on the PlayStation Blog, 2K Games said: “Each new MyTeam Season, through the Activities feature, will bring about a unique Challenge Activity that’s akin to our Moments and Spotlight Challenges: complete special objectives within set game scenarios and get rewards for hitting them.” The fact developers can now put these Cards right on the home screen surely pleases the executives at major publishers.
Can’t get no satisfaction
It’s easy to see how this system could be used to target players, then, and I sincerely hope that there are enough customization options available that you can tailor which Cards pop up during a game and block others. I look forward to finding out when I get my hands on a PS5 in the near future.
Having quick links to access certain game modes is where Activity Cards will shine, but as a means to promote, advertise or pester players into doing something? Honestly, no thanks.
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