Sony have been riding on a high for almost 3 years now. Sales of the Playstation 4 have broken records, with lifetime sales already sitting at well over 40 million units worldwide. Sony have been crushing the competition, largely thanks to some clever marketing and smart decisions at the beginning of the console generation. But this week Sony showed off the ‘Playstation 4 Pro’ – a brand new version of the PS4 which is roughly 2x more powerful. However, their marketing message surrounding the reveal was a muddied mess, something which may or may not have a knock-on effect over the next few years.
First perceptions are everything, Sony should know this better than anyone. Back at the first main showcase of the current generation consoles at E3 2013, Sony trounced Microsoft (creators of the Xbox) with simple, yet smart, messaging. E3, a large annual video game conference, is a place for platform holders to convince consumers why they need to buy their systems. A combination of poor decisions by Microsoft along with solid ones by Sony meant the perception of the Xbox One was at an all time low coming out of E3. Something which Microsoft are still feeling the effects of, despite a lot of work trying to change this. Sony on the other hand came out of E3 2013 in an especially positive and strong position. With the power of social media, negative opinions and bad perceptions can spread like wildfire, however positive ones can do the same.
This week at the ‘Playstation Meeting’ we saw a very different Sony. One which provided a slow, dull presentation, for something which should be incredibly exciting for the company – the launch of a new piece of hardware, one which is fairly unprecedented in the industry. Never before has a video game console manufacturer released a significantly more powerful system mid way through a generation. With the PS4 Pro Sony are trying to push 4K and HDR gaming, something which requires 4K/HDR supported screens to view – making presenting it a difficult challenge. The livestream itself wasn’t available in 4K/HDR, so whilst the journalists at the event got some apparently impressive views, the 10’s of thousands of viewers at home could barely notice any difference in the videos shown.
1080p full HD televisions are still the main market for console owners, yet Sony only briefly touched on the benefit of the PS4 Pro for these consumers. Sony also failed to properly explain or showcase the power increase in the console, something which only those who delve into the specification sheets (released after the event) will understand. They also explained, in a roundabout way, that the system was unable to render most games at 4K natively, and therefore requires smart rendering techniques to upscale games to 4k – something which is important to a number of consumers.
After the presentation the internet consensus seemed to be almost unanimously negative at the showcase Sony had just put on. The presentation lacked any buzz whatsoever, the audience seemed unenthusiastic, and the perceivable difference of the PS4 Pro vs the standard PS4 appeared almost non existent from what was shown (despite the fact this isn’t actually the case!). Sony’s messaging and marketing approach to the Playstation Meeting felt like some of the weakest the company has presented since its launch of the PS4.
The poor showing by Sony potentially opens the door for Microsoft’s ‘Scorpio’ system next year to make a big splash – a souped-up Xbox One which will be powerful enough to render games in ‘true 4K’ according to Microsoft. It also certainly opens the door for Nintendo to announce the details of their new ‘NX’ system, which is rumoured to be revealed any day now (currently scheduled for a March 2017 release). A strong showing by Sony would have made things more difficult for Nintendo, but with a large amount of consumers unsure about the PS4 Pro Nintendo could come out swinging in the next few weeks and steal some of Sony’s thunder.
There’s still time to turn around the consensus on the system though. The PS4 Pro doesn’t launch until November 10th. If Sony can spend the next couple of months coming up with some smart marketing ideas and improved messaging there’s certainly time to convince more gamers that the upgrade is worthwhile. The fairly low pricepoint of the system (£349/$399) is also advantageous to Sony; by the time Microsoft release the powerful Xbox One Scorpio they’ll inevitably be at a notable price advantage, albeit a power disadvantage.
Time will tell whether Sony flubbed their approach with the PS4 Pro, but one thing’s for sure – Sony need to start making more of an effort to convince gamers why they should stick with their products. Over the past couple of years it’s no secret that they appear to have slackened their efforts somewhat, understandably so in some fashion as the system continues to sell by the bucketloads on its own merits. But consumers’ mindshare and overall perception is still incredibly important; if gamers start to see the Xbox Scorpio as the platform to favour then the mainstream could potentially follow (especially if console generations as we know them no longer exist). One thing’s for sure – the next year will be an incredibly interesting time for the gaming industry.