As the internet dissolves into another day of crazy rumours, speculation over when Sony will announce the PS4 continues afresh. The twilight years of any console generation are generally the same, of course, but this time it’s a little different, and it’s fair to say that we’re unlikely to find ourselves in this situation ever again.
Why? Well, for starters the PlayStation 4 and the next Xbox are highly likely to be the final ‘consoles’ as we understand the term – weighty, expensive boxes are surely on their way out and whatever happens this year there’s every chance that the following generation will be all about streaming data to a dumb terminal, rather than pouring billions into R&D to ensure the chipsets are as future-proof as possible before being outdated in a year by a modest PC.
Games consoles will become a service, rather than a singular unit.
The way we consume games is changing, the way publishers are publishing games is changing, and the perceived value we attach to games is changing too. We’ll see these shifts over the next few years, starting with the consoles released (as many expect to be the case) in 2013.
But until then, let’s look at why Sony shouldn’t be too hasty to start shouting about the PS4.
Unlike the Xbox 360, Sony has a number of top tier exclusives still to run this generation. The likes of God Of War, Beyond and The Last Of Us might not be system sellers in the true sense of the word, but they’re solid, AAA games that’ll lock nicely into the PS3’s existing userbase. They’re not alone, either – there’s a good handful of really great games yet to roll out.
The Last Of Us – out in May – in particular, is seen by many to be the PS3’s swansong. A highly regarded developer, masses of carefully managed hype and publicity and a great concept that’s had gamers talking since it was first outed. Every showing has been positive, and in the absence of one last Uncharted it’s good that Sony has something tangible to really focus on for the next few months.
For Sony to announce a successor to the PS3 before The Last Of Us is released could be disastrous for the game. Unless Sony have been working on the title with the idea that it’ll work on both PS3 and PS4 (with considerable visual boosts) all a next-gen announcement would do is take away from the game. And whilst core gamers are well aware that there’s something around the corner, Joe Public, the vast majority, won’t be.
They’ll want to know they’re investing in a game that’s running on the latest hardware. And unlike the Xbox 360, where big name exclusives are very much dried up, the PS3 still has stacks of such games to get out of the door. By revealing what they’re working on next they risk splintering that market and ruining the chance for the games to really sell.
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Technically, Microsoft have the upper hand just now. They’ve little to lose by starting to shout about the next Xbox, and by doing so may well force Sony’s hand. Hence the secrecy, and what is presumably a very careful, tactical game of cat and mouse between the two companies. If Microsoft didn’t want to show anything last E3, why would Sony?
While we’re on that subject, E3 is another question that muddies waters. The big trade show runs from June 11th to the 13th this year and the world’s games press, PR and big chain buyers will be under one roof, clamouring for the Next Big Thing to pour their free publicity, marketing expertise and money over.
So why wouldn’t Sony wait for that opportune moment? Because everyone else is shouting into the same space, competing for the same attention. The biggest announcements in technology and gaming are moving away from that kind of arena now – from Apple or Google’s single-company trade events to Nintendo Direct’s more individual web streams. Sony’s Move reveal was somewhat overshadowed by Microsoft’s smoke and mirrors show with Kinect and Milo. Move was the more useful tech but almost all of the world’s games press, and arguably plenty of developers too, bought into the performances on Microsoft’s stage. Sony would likely choose to avoid a similar situation on what has become Microsoft’s home turf.
It’s an interesting predicament because it doesn’t leave either platform holder with a great deal of time to really ramp things up, assuming a May announcement window and a Christmas release. But Microsoft could kick things off right before The Last Of Us launches, and start showing games – games that’ll make Naughty Dog’s title look relatively old hat. What would Sony do then?
What Sony need to be doing now is making the PS3 as appealing as possible to the casual market (further price drops and bundles are just the start) and yet simultaneously convincing core gamers that there’s still life in the old dog yet.
And somewhere by the wayside is the PS Vita, seemingly forgotten of late, that needs at least an occasional nod from the platform holder. Sony have – essentially – got their hands full as is. May’s four months away, and I really can’t see anything coming from Japan within that timescale. It just doesn’t make any sense.
I’m guessing that if the PS4 does release this year, it’ll only be in Japan, with a Western release early 2014. Microsoft are unlikely to follow that timescale, with the Western markets massively more important to the Redmond company. It’s a tense, uncertain year ahead, but I’m fairly sure that nothing’s really going to emerge until at least May.
After all, unless Sony are forced, such a move would be crazy.