On February 20, Sony might very well announce the PlayStation 4. Or it might not. Truth be told, we know about as much of that event as we do the rest of Sony's plans for 2013, which isn't saying much. What we do know, however, is that we are masters of prognostication and wild guess-making.
Let's look at the facts: Sony is pushing a new Naughty Dog game out the door in May, a God of War is coming even sooner than that, and--oh, there's a Quantic Dream game releasing before the summer. Would all of this be happening if not for an impending next-generation? Likely not. But what will a Sony next-gen look like? Well, we have some guesses...
The PlayStation 4 will be revealed on February 20
Last week Sony released a video teasing that the "future of PlayStation" would be revealed in New York City on February 20. Technically this could mean anything--for all we know "the future of PlayStation" could be a new television or mobile phone with some gaming functionality. But we're going to go ahead and guess that this event is, indeed, what it looks like: a full-blown announcement of the PlayStation 4.
And while Sony could likely get away with simply saying "PS4" and dropping the mic, we think they'll delve into some specifics. Price, date, launch titles, horsepower--Sony has a chance to get some buzz going, and they're going to take it.
There will only be one PS4 SKU...
The PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Wii U all launched with two flavors: a small system that required eventual upgrading, and a large one that cost too much. Though some expect this to be the way of the future for games hardware, we think Sony will back off this tiered pricing.
Sony may bank on simplicity and come out with one, easy-to-understand model. It'll have Wi-Fi, a decent hard drive, and come with everything you need to get going, abandoning the nickel-and-diming that has run rampant with new hardware. Sure, they could release one for cheaper just to pretend there's a low-price option, but maybe honesty be the best policy for the PS4.
...and it'll cost $400...
Sony made some mistakes with the PlayStation 3's launch, mainly when it came to predicting how much money gamers were willing to spend on next-gen hardware (especially when there wasn't much next-gen software). It has since learned its lesson, and will definitely aim for a price point lower than five-hundred and ninety-nine US dollars. That said, Sony doesn't seem like the type of company that would release a relatively-weak $300 console, and the world economy is too weak right now to support a $500 or $600 system. That leaves only one reasonable price point available: $400.
If there's only one SKU, it'll cost $400. That's how much people pay for an iPad, it's the cost of a netbook, and it's cheaper than last-gen hardware launch prices. It's a nice price, and while it's a bit on the expensive side, it's the best price point we're likely going to get in 2013. Speaking of 2013...
...and come out in 2013
Sony claimed the PlayStation 3 would have a 10-year life span. This sounded insane at the time, considering the five-year life spans of past generations, but, well, it wasn't far off. The PlayStation 3 will have enjoyed seven full years of life by 2013, making it the perfect time to release a new system. Plus, Sony can just throw a couple games onto the PS3 for a few more years and suddenly that "10-year" thing is true.
And like the PSX, PS2, and PS3 before it, and PS3 before it, the PS4 will likely launch at the end of the year. Sony attempted a Q1 launch with the Vita, but sales were short of estimations, making us doubt it would try its luck at a February release anytime soon.
Backwards compatibility will be a mess
There's another lesson Sony learned from the PS3: it doesn't want to compete with itself. Early units launched with full backwards compatibility, but each iteration of the console stripped out more features until the new hardware was incapable of playing old software. This was done partially to save money on new hardware, but also to stop gamers from playing their old games instead of new ones.
We don't expect that Sony will ignore the last (now current) generation, but it's equally doubtful that Sony will fully embrace backwards compatibility. Maybe it'll slowly be stripped away, maybe it'll only work on a percentage of games. We don't know what Sony will do, but we have a feeling it won't be as simple as we want it to be.
It won't block used game sales (right away)
Rumors are Sony will use a devious system of barcodes and passwords and cards and DRM to cripple the used game market, most likely in an attempt to court more developers into prioritizing its hardware over that of its competitors. While we think this is likely something coming this generation, we don't expect it to be something that happens right away.
Instead, we believe it'll slowly be rolled out over the first few years of the system's life span. The hardware will be there on day one, but simply turned off--Sony doesn't want to annoy consumers with newfangled restrictions on top of their new consoles. Eventually, though, it'll flip the switch, blocking used game sales and frustrating gamers. But for the first year? Not likely.
Sony will reveal Gaikai support for demos...
Sony's purchasing of Gaikai is a fairly big deal. Gaikai makes its money on streaming games, not unlike OnLive, and now one of the big three console-makers owns the service. So far, though, Sony hasn't used it for anything. Odds are it's using the company's tech to build some next-gen goodies, and we think we know what one of them is going to be: demos. But the demos of the future will likely be presented in a way we haven't seen before.
Making demos is a huge undertaking. Developers need to devote resources to creating a perfectly-functional, bite-sized iteration of their product, adding unnecessary work to every single game to produce a demo. Imagine, instead, that you could simply stream a predefined portion of the game. Developers could set start and end points or add a time limit, and let the player go wild--and since it'd be streaming, there's no fear of the game being hacked or leaked. Only what needs to be streamed would be streamed.
...and to purchase games
Full games, too, could be streamed on the PlayStation 4, but not as a primary mode of playing them. Broadband speeds aren't fast enough yet, and if a million gamers try to stream Call of Duty on day one, they'd all get a laggy mess of an experience.
Instead, we think that streaming will be used in conjunction with full downloads to let gamers start playing as their game slowly fills their hard drive in the background. This is already done with some MMOs on PC, but hasn't worked its way over to consoles just yet. You'll jump on the PlayStation Network, hit "download," and start playing right away. Instant gratification, mixed with actually being able to download the full game, would give Sony a nice bonus to its online system.
The Vita will, sadly, be mostly ignored--but get a price cut
Sony hasn't been giving the Vita too much love as of late. The launch was strong, and there have been a few hits since then, but it looks as though Kaz Hirai is content to play the fiddle while the handheld division burns. This trend will continue in 2013, save for a price drop, which we expect will be announced at GDC.
Sort of. The price itself won't change, but we expect Sony will bundle the system with a game and a memory card in order to offset some of the costs that face new adopters. Throwing in a 16GB card would offset the cost by $50, and including a game or two would make it much more reasonable of a purchase than it is right now.
The launch lineup will be full of surprises (and PlayStation Plus bonuses)
The typical suite of releases will be on store shelves when Sony's next-gen system launches; your Monkey Balls, your Dynasty Warriors, your Ridge Racers. But the industry has changed, and consoles with weak software launches have struggled more than they have in the past. Because of this, we have a feeling that Sony has some tricks up its sleeve for the PS4s launch.
What kind of tricks? Last Guardian tricks. Killzone 4 tricks. inFamous 3 tricks. Maybe even huge PlayStation Plus bonuses to make its service even better. Sony will pull out all of the stops on its next system, releasing a slew of exclusive games to lure people away from the competition. Also expect a gaggle of third-party games like Prey 2, Thief 4, and Beyond Good & Evil 2 to hit within the first year. All of those games that vanished over the past five years? They're all coming back.
The year of PlayStation
Or we're totally wrong. Sony could show up at the February 20 event and announce that they've been purchased by Blackberry, and talk about how the future of the industry is in awful business-focused phones. Hell if we know. What do you think? What does the year hold for Sony?
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