Last week Sony showed the world the PS4. Or, at least, what the PS4 was capable of. But that’s just the start.
Sony, by showing their hand first – or, at least, before long term rivals Microsoft – appear to have rekindled some of their long-lost confidence and verve. Their 20th of February press conference was engaging (some might even say exciting at points) and focused, and although it was a little flabby towards the end with the seemingly endless trickle of slightly disinterested third parties, it delivered much more than most people reasonably thought it might.
An early victory? Possibly.
Except, of course, for the glaring omission of the console itself. An omission that has, ironically, seen more column inches about its absence than the unit itself would have received. The Future Of PlayStation might well be wickedly powerful specs, shiny new iterations of existing franchises and an all singing, all dancing ‘share’ button but the overwhelming sense that the company was just holding back a little rings true, especially after having a few days to reflect.
So while few can deny that Sony managed to tick almost every box last week (remember, this was the platform holder ushering in the start of a brand new console generation, no small feat) it’s clear that there’s more to come. The question is: when?
- Super powerful PC-like spec.
- New IP and returning favourites.
- Heavy emphasis on social networking.
- Controller with an integrated touchpad.
Let’s review what we know. The PlayStation 4 is going to be released “Holiday 2013” – as vague as that is – and it’s unlikely to see a global release before the year is out. Previous rumours pointed to a 2014 drop for Europe and that’s almost certainly the case – Fergal Gara, PlayStation UK boss, said that although the PS4 will “launch this year” he wouldn’t confirm in which territories. “For exact dates, exact regions, is it all or some of them? We don’t know.”
“Which regions in 2013 – is it all of them, is it some of them?” he said. “Is there some degree of phasing? We’ll reveal that in more detail later but we can’t yet.” The PlayStation Vita suffered a similar pause with regards to a global roll-out: the Japanese release was in December 2011 but it was a couple of months before the console landed here in Europe – chances are the PS4 will be the subject of a similar wait. That won’t stop importers grabbing the machine from overseas, of course, but it’s frustrating that simple answers aren’t concrete yet.
I’m reluctant to think that this is purely a waiting game with regards to Microsoft, too. If they’re deliberating while the Xbox is still an unknown quantity, they’re not helping potential pre-orders of the system by not confirming a local date, let alone a price.
But here’s the killer: nobody knows about the next Xbox. Nobody. Outside of a few execs (one of whom must be eating his hat right now) the future of Microsoft’s console business is a complete unknown. And yet, everybody knows about PlayStation 4: your mates at work, your mum and dad, your dog. Sony played it smart last week with mainstream US TV coverage alongside some suitably high profile interviews scattered across the internet. It made the newspapers, it made everywhere.
But why wasn’t the hardware shown? Word around the campfire last week was that Sony could have shown something but the company simply wasn’t ready, or didn’t feel the need to, depending on who was talking and how much they’d had to drink.
Gossip aside, it was Shuhei Yoshida himself who perhaps said it best, albeit carefully towing the PR line. “I’m sorry we did not show the hardware,” he said, “but we have plans from now – in February – through the year for the launch. We like to disclose things based on what we think we really want to communicate first. And next time we will talk about these things.”
That’s the key, really. Sony wanted to focus on the things that they thought mattered. In some respects, this was a complete success: the games were widely accepted as looking great – Killzone is an obvious one but Evolution’s adoration of motorcars came across well too – and some of the new user interface stuff looks compelling. And there were audible gasps from the crowd when Sony confirmed the machine would have eight gigabytes of super-fast RAM onboard, a fact that seemed to surprise many, including plenty of developers who had been working with much less.
We’ve covered why Sony didn’t show the console in some depth already, though, but the reasons should be obvious: there was plenty of other things to talk about instead, and Sony didn’t want some of their nifty new features to be overshadowed by a lump of plastic.
That said, the ball is now in the court of Microsoft, who would have been watching last week’s press conference with a keen eye – and, naturally, the response of PlayStation fans, specialist press and the industry at large. The benefits to ‘going first’ are numerous, but there’s just as many reasons to hang back and see what your opponent does first, and then react accordingly.
At the end of April, which is when Microsoft are rumoured to be holding their own event, they’ve got the chance to fight back and ensure that they don’t make the same mistakes that some say Sony made. They’ve got some easy ways through too – pricing, release dates, third party exclusives…
But will Microsoft show their new console in the flesh? It’s unlikely, and for probably the same reasons. The simple fact is that neither console is going to be hitting the shelves for nine months or so (at least, that’s the common opinion) so there’s no need to potentially confuse the market and show all the cards too early. And besides, if Microsoft do show their casing what’s to stop Sony following up the next day (or just a couple of hours later) with a big reveal of their hardware?
No, what’s more interesting is picking out potential dates and trying to guess when the next reveals might fall into place. Speculative hats on, of course (and we’re assuming Nintendo are just going to do their own thing again) but there’s still so much left of this year in terms of trade shows and conferences, and whilst Sony has made the first, critical move, the battle has only just begun.
How Microsoft can turn the tide this April:
- Show the hardware.
- Announce pricing.
- Have some killer exclusive.
- Confirm a 2013 release for Europe.
There are at least six upcoming events where this delicate exchange of wits and bluffs might occur. The first is next month, at PAX East – that’s unlikely to show much (and I wouldn’t expect any more detailed information on anything we’ve already seen) but running mere days after, from the 25th to the 29th, is GDC, the Game Developers Conference. GDC has always resulted in some great discussions stemming from the various developer talks, but it’s also been the source of a few leaks in the past too.
There’s a good chance that, behind closed doors, some developers might get the chance to see a near final version of the PlayStation 4, if not both consoles. Current development kits are likely to still resemble a regular PC (we saw a section of one such silver box in the first DualShock 4 leaks) but there’s little reason why Sony wouldn’t be showing their most trusted studios a glimpse of what the actual PS4 might look like. Sony have already confirmed a PS4 presentation (“Overview of PS4 For Developers”) which is a 60-minute slot on the Wednesday, for example.
After that is April, and that’s probably going to be all about the new Xbox. What Sony decide to do about any potential reveal is obviously up in the air – but they now have the upper hand in the sense that they could start to schedule press contact with key games, or start the marketing engine ticking over with videos and details of anything already mentioned. Sony are likely to be keeping a few so-called Megatons close by: if Microsoft drop another Project Gotham, what’s to stop something like Gran Turismo 6 making a sudden appearance, for one?
And then, as ever, it’s E3. By the end of the first day (well, technically, before E3 actually starts) we’ll know what both the PS4 and the next Xbox will look like, given that both Sony and Microsoft will have held their own press conferences before the Expo kicks off. We might get pricing, too, and a less general release window, but final hardware is pretty much a lock – whether or not either or both companies will hold off as long as E3 is up for discussion. E3 will be huge this year, it’s easily the most important one since 2005/6 and it’s where the gloves will really come off.
Sony has always tended to keep the good stuff for gamescom though, and this year that’s at the end of August. That, along with the Tokyo Game Show the month after, gives Sony the chance to communicate more directly with Europe and Japan respectively. After the US-centric showings leading up to August, gamescom onwards will give both Sony and Microsoft the ability to push their next generation out to different markets. By the end of September it’s very possible we’ll know everything there is to know about the PS4 and Xbox 720 (or whatever it ends up being called).
These are exciting times. Last week was met with wide eyed anticipation and that mostly paid off – but now it’s time to move forward and make sure that all the pieces are in place for Sony, a company that has in the past been all too happy to rely on its games to do the talking. Reinvigorated and apparently bullish, Sony might have made the first move in a very strategic battle, but there’s a long way to go before the end of the year. Microsoft are next to bat, and what they do could influence everything else that happens in the next eight months or so.
If nothing else, it’s going to be great for gamers.