When and what will Sony bring to the table for their next gaming machine? We have already seen Nintendo’s Wii U and rumors are rife about a possible new Xbox reveal at E3 next year (I’ve read a few articles not long back) and possibly a 2013 release (all speculation). I myself would not be surprised if this became a reality, a couple of those reasons are; I can see the 360 coming towards to end of its life soon, whereas I think the PS3 hardware has the legs to last longer than the 360 before its age really shows. The majority of 360 news was also announced at E3 2005 and with E3 being pretty much the biggest event in the industry I think its likely E3 will be the venue for its reveal. So where does that leave Sony?
We have been reminded and told countless times the PS3 will have a 10 year life cycle. Does that mean the PS3 will be Sony’s only console for those 10 years or will they continue to support the platform while also releasing the PS4? The PS2 lasted 6 years before its big brother the PS3 came along and Sony are still supporting the PS2 now, 11 years later! Realistically I think it would be incredibly difficult for Sony to hold out for those 10 years, the PS3 is 5 years old now and the technological advancements in the computer games and CGI industry are clear to see; High end PC games are looking stunning (Battlefield 3) and films (a la Toy Story 3) look mind-boggling. I know games have a LONG way to go to look like films, but surely that’s the ultimate goal. So in another 5 years who know what the ‘industry standard’ could be. Along with the freight train movement of the industry, Microsoft’s next Xbox could also play its part. If MS does release a new machine within the next 2 years it could be make-or-break for Sony. I honestly can’t see how a 7 or 8-year-old PS3 could compete with a brand new Xbox(720?). Allowing a new more powerful machine to have a head start while Sony still try to push the PS3 would be an incredibly annoying repeat of this generation. I know lots of my friends who owned a PS2 bought a 360 because of the superior graphics and the pricing put them off waiting for the PS3. However, on the flip side, a new MS machine could be a blessing in disguise. The power of the PS3 has been widely praised by many (often possibly over hyped) but personally I think it still has more to offer in the future. With that said, if MS do release a new Xbox before Sony moves onto the PS4 and it doesn’t blow the PS3 away it could be a great time for Sony to go for the jugular. With a price drop and good marketing Sony could really shift a load of units, buying them time for the arrival of the PS4 and sticking to that 10 year cycle. This could potentially be a high reward strategy for Sony but I think the risks would be too great (I can’t realistically see the PS3 being comparable to a new Xbox). I’d really like to think that Sony would take the lead and release the PS4 before or shortly after a new Xbox. This to me seems like it would be the best option, but with PS3 sales now nearly equal to the 360’s coupled with Sony’s desire for a 10 year life cycle, something in the back of my mind is telling me that Sony doesn’t mind Microsoft having a lead. They are confident in their product and I believe it will be a few years yet before the PS4 emerges.
Pricing, the PS4 need to be priced more competitively than the PS3. Everyone is tightening the purse strings at the moment and although gaming hasn’t been hit the hardest, I don’t think Sony could aim for the top of the market like they did with the PS3. With that said, if they did mimic the PS3 release price with the PS4, they could market it as ‘ giving you even more power for the same price (as a release PS3)’. Another thing to consider is Wii U. With its increased specs compared to its predecessor, one would imagine that it wont be so much of a bargain when compared to Microsoft and Sony’s efforts. This will give Sony a great opportunity to fight Nintendo’s sales with clever pricing. I expect Sony to wait for MS to make the first move then price accordingly, a £300.00 (~$500.00) to £350.00 (~$575.00) pricing would be good and achievable. Sony invested a lot in the tech of the PS3 and us, the consumers, paid for it (happily though). I think lots of what they learnt and brought to the PS3 could be viable for the PS4, so hopefully reduced production costs can be passed onto customers.
Visually I really can’t see any radical changes in design. The original Playstation/PS1 was a rectangular cuboid, PS2 was a rectangular cuboid stood on its end and the PS3 was nearly the same, just with a curved face (fundamentally). Therefore I can’t see any futuristic designs coming in, no circle pods or all-in-one ideas. Like with its predecessors, I’d anticipate a slight redesign on the PS3, smaller (hopefully) and including some small mod cons of the time; like the touch sensitive buttons on release model PS3’s. I expect the usual ports on the front and back, HDMI (1.4 or higher) and USB ports, I personally like the fact my original PS3 has 4 ports on the front, so hopefully Sony will keep the numbers up for the PS4.
The Playstation Network will no doubt be even more important in the next generation. I love the PSN and the fact that it is free, however, I think it’s difficult to argue that it has a better community than Xbox Live. The main aspect of the PSN Sony need to address is the speed. The Friends list needs to update faster and there is definitely room for a lot of improvement on the user profiles; with that said, I’m not sure I’d be happy with the Wii inspired avatars Microsoft have adopted. If Sony can expand the online user profiles, make comparing trophies easier or have the interface redesigned along with an increase to the overall speed, I think they could really challenge Microsoft’s XBL in all area’s of the park. One thing that might not seem important to many was Microsoft’s inclusion of a headset with the 360. This small detail, I believe, played a big part in building the XBL experience. Having a headset included with the console gives you that gentle nudge to get online and be a part of the community. To help promote and enrich the PSN experience I really hope the PS4 will come with a headset, it will get more people chatting and creating an even greater number of matches.
The overall approach Sony takes with the PS4 will no doubt be interesting (for fans anyway). They could go for all out power like they did with the PS3; make a loss to start then bring in the money in the late game. Or, they could go the PS2/360 route, aiming for affordability to maximise initial sales. After the massive success of the PS2 I think Sony could afford to push the boat out with the PS3. It is full of modern features like Blue-Ray and Motion Sensing, it may even be too ‘future-proof’ (many people weren’t ready to pay for the tech when it launched). Sony aimed for the top of the market then but I can’t see them repeating this with the PS4. Not only because economy’s all over the world seem to be fluctuating more than an obese celebrities weight, but, with moderate-to-good sales of the PS3 I don’t think it would be good for Sony’s bank balance to repeat the same strategy.
No one really knows what is going to happen, I’ve just tried to write down some of my thoughts and opinions. Sony could throw a massive curve ball and release news tomorrow, who knows? Hopefully some of what I’ve said seems logical and makes sense to you to. Thanks for reading and please comment with your views.