Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: the PlayStation 5 is poised to “fail”, and op-ed writers around the world are scrambling for the hottest take. One article published by financial site CCN – not to be confused with American news network CNN, to be clear – was bold enough to declare the device “dead on arrival”. The author’s reasoning? Sony’s targeting hardcore gamers.
The scepticism takes me back to the halcyon days of 2013, when there was strong chatter that the company was on the cusp of bowing out of the industry entirely. Its response: to laser target hardcore gamers with a PlayStation 4 marketing campaign which celebrated its 20 year legacy. As it now approaches 100 million units, the success of the company’s current console cannot be questioned.
It doesn’t take a genius to decipher CEO Kenichiro Yoshida’s recent comments about the Japanese giant’s next-gen plans. He described the incoming console as a “niche product”, expanding that the firm will be focusing on its most profitable patrons first and foremost. But this is the trajectory of almost every tech product: the early adopters come first, and serve as tastemakers for everyone else.
Look no further than Nintendo: this week the organisation announced a smaller, cheaper, more convenient version of its wildly successful Switch system. There’s no doubt that the hybrid hardware has tapped into the mainstream market, but with a new Pokémon game on the horizon, you’d have to be a brave analyst to argue against the House of Mario having a hugely successful holiday.
This, though, is an example of the company widening its horizons, after it focused on its biggest fans first. Sony is not going to abandon smaller publishers or indie game developers in the slightest, but it recognises that in order to sell a premium piece of hardware like the PS5, it’s going to need to spotlight the software that sets it apart. That’s always going to be the tentpole AAA titles.
Look at this way: the platform holder has iterated on multiple occasions now that it sees a future for the PS4 beyond the launch of its next-gen console – it’s part of the reason why we believe it should introduce a cheaper hardware revision later this year. But if its current-gen console is to persist, then it’s going to need to ensure its latest and greatest box differentiates itself.
There will be some of you in the comments section who will argue that graphics don’t matter, but this is a visual medium, and Sony’s going to want to showcase headline features like raytracing and lightning fast loading times. The best way to do that is with big budget software designed specifically for the device – both from its stable of first-party developers and from third-party partners.
It strikes me that the Japanese giant is going to be incredibly aggressive with this launch: don’t be surprised if it signs publishing partnerships with independent studios such as Remedy, and also buys up timed exclusivity like it has done with Final Fantasy VII Remake. These may be controversial moves, but a cursory glance at traffic trends on sites like this illustrates that they’re the right ones.
The thing is, Sony will not target hardcore gamers forever – it will eventually widen its scope, just like it has done on the PS4 with projects like PlayStation VR, PlayLink, and even its range of PlayStation Hits games. The strategy is all about converting the most profitable gamers first and foremost; the people who have been subscribed to PS Plus for years, and purchase practically every major game.
From my perspective, I think everything that’s been said about the PS5 has been spot on so far. There is concern about the price, and I understand this – but I don’t think you’re going to be paying anywhere near to $800 like Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter has speculated. Hardware is merely the entry point to the more profitable ecosystem these days, and I think the executives at PlayStation understand that.
The only wildcard is the impact that streaming may have, but I’m just not convinced it’s ready for primetime. Even if platforms like Google Stadia eclipse all expectations, though, it’s perhaps worth keeping in mind that Sony is still the only major player in the fledgling sector with PlayStation Now; it actually has more experience in this category than any of its competitors do.
As far as I’m concerned, the company is going to ace this transition. There’s a lot that could go wrong between now and launch, and the manufacturer shouldn’t count its chickens just yet – but the mere insinuation that the PS5 may be dead on arrival seems laughable right now. I expect the company to come out swinging harder than it did with the PS4, and we all know how that went.
What do you make of the latest round of scepticism surrounding Sony’s next-gen plans? Is this the underdog mentality at play, or is it just a tired narrative that seems to recur with each new hardware cycle? Give us a high PS5 in the comments section below.