BOSTON—February 15, 2013
So the good news for consumers is that the advancement for next-gen video game consoles will likely take a giant step forward next Wednesday in New York City. Or will it?
Sony is widely expected to announce its successor to the PlayStation 3 video game console. This anticipated news follows the launch of Nintendo’s recent entry, the Wii U, which has stumbled a bit after a decent launch last November.
The next-gen Xbox Durango (or whatever the code name is now)? Likely coming in 2013, with more news a few weeks ahead of the E3 video game conference in June in Los Angeles.
So what can be reasonably expected from Sony on Wednesday?
A historical perspective is worth a moment of reflection. When Sony launched the PS2 console, announcing it was wild success as it helped doom the Sega Dreamcast console by whetting consumer appetite for a new console. It also helped thwart the eventual launches of the Nintendo GameCube and Microsoft original Xbox launch. Keep in mind that while the PS2 life-to-date sales are north of 150MM units, while the Xbox and GameCube both finished south of 25MM units each. Clear win, well played, Sony.
This approach was simple: Sony wanted to “wow” consumers and capture their imaginations about how much fun a game console could be, with potential for other connected entertainment and communications. Who could forget the partnerships announced with Real Networks for streaming media and AOL for early “social” communications?
Even though the PS2 was too early on non-gaming entertainment, it was a wildly successful console cycle for Sony.
Step forward to the PS3 era – tied for second with the Microsoft Xbox 360 at roughly 75MM or so units each, and the original Wii at near 100MM units. Big, big win for Nintendo, and good progress for Microsoft cycle over cycle. And, Sony crept forward on connected entertainment via a console despite numerous re-starts of the PlayStation Network and an embarrassing data loss issue.
Step again — this time to Wednesday and the anticipated PS4 news. So what would be reasonable expectations? Again – the art of the long view is appreciated. Sony strategically will want to control as many media cycles as it can not only Wednesday into next Thursday, but also around E3 in June and again in September at the Tokyo Game Show in Tokyo, Japan. This means that Sony won’t reveal all — and shouldn’t, either. Wednesday should be all about “wow” factor.
So what can Sony “wow” consumers with? My perspective is that Sony will want to “wow” while being aware of key tenets from both Nintendo and Microsoft. Nintendo has a new console, fun controller, and a likely strong software lineup for holiday 2013. Microsoft? The Redmond folks will continue to do what they know works best—take a differentiator and talk about it, repeatedly. In this case, the Xbox Durango will likely lead with its differentiators – Kinect and voice commands. So how does Sony differentiate with “wow”?
Strictly in my opinion, I think the technology argument (PS4 tech specs vs. other consoles) is out, so it will come down to a) unique content, b) the integration of Gaikai, c) free-to-play gaming, and d) an improved PS4 controller.
I think the non-gaming content services today are largely commodities – every console has a partnership with Netflix, Hulu, etc. In my opinion, Sony has missed a window of opportunity with the recent DHD launch of Sony’s own Skyfall movie by not offering it to Sony PS3 owners first, but some special one-off flavor of a movie/TV service could likely come next week, too, or before the eventual console launch. For more on Skyfall, see the DWR piece posted earlier in February. Link is here.
I think it’s reasonable for Sony to confirm the PS4 name, or break convention to try to appeal to a broader, non-gaming audience. The PS4 news is also an opportunity to either cast-off or welcome back the PS Vita to the mix, by showing interoperability between the PS4 and the Vita. Wild card? Sony announces a PlayStation phone, too. A phone would potentially be a great step in the direction of Sony having multiple screens to control content around the home or mobile for consumers, a key theme highlighted in our recent TV Manifesto piece.
Is a phone coming on Wednesday? Unlikely, but Sony is in a challenging place right now having lost the battle for TV sales to its two biggest Korean challengers, Samsung and LG. The phone would provide a link between devices, and a step in the right direction for Sony fighting to regain its former position atop the market share charts.
Oh — and the number one media-driven question about Wednesday? “How much will the PS4 cost?” Don’t hold your breath — too soon, too soon. Wow first, details second. Capture the consumer imagination first and, the open wallet will follow.
If you would like to follow-up with any questions or discuss further topics covered in this piece, please reach out to DWR at email@example.com.
(Missives from the Digital Front is a series of opinions and thoughts, sometimes with a bit of snark, and don’t typically qualify as a research post. Consider this a blog courtesy of P.J. McNealy.)