The breaking news last week that securities analyst Damian Thong believes that Sony will release a PlayStation 5 before next year is out undoubtedly created a buzz of attention. This prediction of a next generation machine from the Japanese manufacturer was certainly a surprise, but would the release of the PlayStation 5 be a good or bad thing for Sony?
Thong’s previous suggestions have proved to be somewhat successful, with his assertion that Sony would release a PS4 Slim indeed coming to fruition. However, this particular notion was far more predictable than the release of a PlayStation 5 in the current gaming climate, which would undoubtedly be a massive surprise.
PlayStation 5 release timing
Sony really has no need to produce a PlayStation 5 console at the current time, as its existing PlayStation 4 Pro and original PlayStation 4 consoles are dominating the niche. Furthermore, the PlayStation 4 Pro was marketed as an upgraded, elite version of the PlayStation 4 when it was released just months ago, and it surely seems far too early in the lifecycle of that console for it to be superseded with a new machine.
While Sony will be carefully monitoring the Xbox Project Scorpio from Microsoft, and will be undoubtedly concerned about the power that this machine offers, the fact remains that Sony has such a marketing gulf over its rivals that it has no need to panic.
Nonetheless, despite the initial lack of logic that a PlayStation 5 would seem to represent, there are good reasons for Sony to consider the release of this console. Firstly, it is important to note that the whole concept of the console generation is shifting, and arguably dissolving completely. Since the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Master System back in the 1980s, it has been common for consoles to last around 8 to 10 years.
Shifting console climate
However, this is changing now, largely owing to the rapidly evolving technology climate. Manufacturers and developers also know from the history of console gaming that effectively attempting to flog a dead horse is always a mistake. Instead of trying to continually reinvigorate a dated or diminishing platform, it is better to move on and reinvigorate your profile by producing a new machine. Indeed, Nintendo has done precisely this with the release of the Switch, which has rapidly deflected attention away from the disastrous performance of the Wii U.
While the Switch may not have the specifications of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, it still means that the Japanese manufacturer is effectively one generation ahead of its rivals. This does not necessarily directly impact on Sony, what it does illustrate is that companies in the console marketplace can think about the way they approach their product lines in a more fluid and flexible fashion.
So one could argue that with the Switch having already been released and the Project Scorpio set to come in the near future that some sort of response from Sony would be entirely valid. Particularly as the Scorpio will outrank the PlayStation 5 in terms of processing power. Sony has proudly protected its reputation in the current generation of the PlayStation 4 as being technically superior to the Microsoft Xbox One, and it will not relish losing this position when the Scorpio hits the stores.
While the 30 million gulf in units between the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 gives Sony considerable breathing space, the sentiment of the market could also turn against Sony rather rapidly if the Xbox Project Scorpio is a hit. And, again, history tells us that once a console and its manufacturer lose momentum in the video games market, it can be very difficult to re-establish its position. Just ask Sega.
So there is a rationale for a PlayStation 5 release in 2018, but there is no doubt that Sony would also need to be extremely careful with the execution of such a device. Having told consumers that the PlayStation 4 Pro was to be the all-singing, all-dancing machine, it would certainly be problematical and dangerous to supersede this with a new machine so soon after its release. And the already solidly selling PlayStation 4 would find itself two generations behind the zeitgeist, and looking a little bit dated; something to be avoided for Sony while the console is still selling perfectly adequately.
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What Sony would need to do is take a unique approach to the PlayStation 5, ensure that it doesn’t alienate existing customers, and also skewer the competition’s big selling points. There is no doubt that it would be an absolutely massive blow to Microsoft were Sony to come out with an even more powerful console shortly afterwards, essentially scuppering the claims that the Scorpio will make of being the hottest console property.
Sony could also effectively blow Nintendo away with the PlayStation 5, releasing a machine that is so far superior to the Switch in spec terms that they are barely comparable. Meanwhile, would it be possible for the PlayStation 5 to embrace handheld gaming in a similar way to the Switch? This is a big ask from a technical perspective, as this was partly possible logistically with the Nintendo release owing to its cartridge-based nature. Nintendo was also willing to sacrifice a good deal performance in order to implement this portable aspect of the Switch console.
But if Sony could somehow produce a PlayStation 5 that was portable as well as being a living-room video games / multimedia machine, it would undoubtedly be a massive selling point. It could also ensure that this existing user base is not alienated by continuing to embrace the PlayStation 4 Pro and PlayStation 4, building compatibility across its range, as it has indeed already has done with the existing consoles, and ensuring backwards compatibility when the PlayStation 5 is released.
With the right strategy in place, the PlayStation 5 could become an excellent idea for Sony, as opposed to an expensive millstone round its neck.