Opinion: Sony needs to tread carefully with PlayStation 4.5 and VR0 Comments
The PlayStation 4 seems to be doing everything right. As of this writing, they are flirting with 40 million consoles sold, which is more than the competing Xbox One and Wii U consoles combined. It could be argued that everything is coming up Milhouse for the PlayStation brand right now, but I contend that beneath the surface lurks danger if Sony doesn't tread carefully.
I've seen it happen before. Atari once made the mistake of thinking they were bigger than the industry, believing that consumers would buy whatever they put on the shelf. Then they oversaturated the market with too many platforms and too many games, many of poor quality. Eventually, they missed their arrogant revenue projections, falling from grace faster than you could clock with an egg timer. Many years later, Sega grew a bit too cocky after the Sega Genesis pulled a huge market share lead over the seemingly invincible Nintendo. Consumers felt burned after the company put out more platforms than an episode of American Ninja Warrior, yet failed to support a single one of them.
Eventually, Atari and Sega — names that once dominated the video game console market — no longer made consoles. As much as they'd done right, they did far more wrong, and in time the mistakes overshadowed the successes. No company can afford to let their loyal consumer base feel burned, especially when their entire market is based around a luxury entertainment item. Looking at things deeply, I see where Sony could stumble into the same arena, and I really hope they don't.
One of the hottest rumors out there right now surrounds the reports that Sony will be releasing an upgraded version of the PlayStation 4. This new version reportedly has more power than the previously released PS4 units and 4K capability, despite the fact that most consumers haven't invested in those kinds of televisions yet. While I'm not one to put too much into unofficial information, this one has me deeply interested, as I feel such a product would be a huge misstep for the PlayStation brand.
A big part of the PlayStation 4's success so far is that the console was seen at the one that was focused on the gamers. People believed Microsoft lost their focus when they introduced the Xbox One and a pretty large core of loyal video game consumers feel that Nintendo isn't focused in the right place, either. Sony's marketing department even took advantage of this vibe, releasing a series of ads stating "This Is For The Players" early in to the PlayStation 4 sales cycle.
Bottom line, an upgraded PlayStation 4 is not what is for the players. A PlayStation 4.5 is essentially telling 40 million households that they are now obsolete. While some hardcore gamers might bite anyway, Sony didn't sell this many PlayStation 4's without tapping heavily into the mainstream consumer market. You simply don't tell the average Joe and Jane that the item they just spent hundreds of dollars on is already out of date, especially when it is an item that isn't a huge part of their lives. It's one thing with a smartphone or a car or some other item that is part of everyday life for the average person, it is a whole other thing when it's a video game console.
After the PlayStation 4.5 reports came out, I spent time talking to a lot of people both in person and across social media. The most common thing I heard was how they gamed on video game consoles because they like knowing that their console will be able to play everything that comes out for it, something that simply cannot be guaranteed when gaming on PC. They feel that an "upgraded" PlayStation flies in the face of that, and I have to agree.
Early reports state that games made for a PlayStation 4.5 will run on the older units, but won't perform as well on them. If true, that simply isn't fair to Sony's existing consumer base, who invested in a PlayStation 4 early on with the expectations of having a top of the line gaming experience throughout the console's lifespan. Logic also dictates that a lengthy PlayStation 4 life cycle would eventually see new games that were not compatible with the original PlayStation 4 units, especially when you consider the fact that this might not be the only upgrade.
The whole thing comes down to a trust issue here. As a consumer, how can they trust that Sony is going to stand fully behind the expensive product they are buying when they already "upgraded" it before? This reminds me so much of the Sega 32X/Sega CD/Sega Saturn days that it makes my head spin.
I've publicly said it before and I continue to stand by my belief that Virtual Reality isn't going to change video gaming. I went through this same song and dance in the 1990s and remain convinced that your average person doesn't want to wear a gadget on their face to game. That said, I believe the PlayStation VR has the best chance of catching on out of all the VR products hitting the market this year, mostly because of their existing consumer base.
That said, it could also be a royal flop for the PlayStation brand, especially considering reports that at least some of the PlayStation VR titles will require the PlayStation Camera and the PlayStation Move. Neither of those add-ons have caught on with consumers, so much so that I recently saw both items on clearance at local Walmart stores. It doesn't comfort me, either, that a major retailer such as Walmart wasn't kept in the loop enough to know that these add-on items would be needed for something Sony was getting ready to reveal to the public.
Obviously, the idea of add-ons to play the PlayStation VR is another point of concern as well. The price point is already going to turn off some PlayStation 4 owners, especially the ones who are already feeling burned by the news of a PlayStation 4.5. Not a good idea for there to be hidden required add-ons to use the product as well. Sony would be advised to clarify this and possibly even provide a value bundle with the Camera and Move or they would very much be pulling a Sega here.
Cracks already in the armor
I'm certain that the concerns I'm addressing here are being met with some doubt by some loyal PlayStation brand fans, and that's okay. My main cause for concern here extends beyond the PlayStation 4.5 rumors and PlayStation VR launch, though. What I see is a situation where Sony has to tread very, very carefully with both of these, as there are already other causes for concern.
PlayStation TV was a swing and a miss, a factor that even the most loyal Sony fans would have to admit. The PS Vita also doesn't seem to be long for the world, never truly catching on with consumers. Early on, the Vita factored in heavily as a selling point of the PlayStation 4, so much so that there were even bundles of the handheld and console. Mentions of this selling point were phased out almost as quickly as the PS4 shot to the top of the sales charts.
Consumers who bought into these concepts already feel burned, they just aren't large enough in number just yet for it to create much noise. Add in those already disappointed with the previously mentioned PlayStation Move and PlayStation Camera, and the noise becomes slightly louder, sounding somewhat like the Atari and Sega issues mentioned at the start of his opinion piece.
Perhaps the most concerning PlayStation issue nobody is talking about right now is the fact that the majority of their consumer base isn't buying PlayStation 4 exclusive game titles. A look at VGChartz listings of lifetime best sellers on the PlayStation 4 brings this to light. As of this writing, the best selling PlayStation 4 exclusive title is inFAMOUS: Second Son, which ranks way down at 26th place. One might count Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection — which ranks 11th — as an exclusive as well, but it is a compilation of older game titles available on another console. The rest of the top lifetime sellers for the PlayStation 4 are games available for play on other consoles and platforms.
This might be the most alarming point of all, as if Sony fails to tread carefully with the PlayStation 4.5 and PlayStation VR, they won't be able to count on their exclusive games to keep people happy. Any consumers who end up feel burned can jump to the Xbox One or even Windows 10 and continue to play the game franchises the majority of them are currently enjoying on the PlayStation 4.
While I applaud Sony's willingness to try and evolve and innovate, they are not in a position that guarantees them long-term success right now. People aren't buying their console exclusives, nor have the previous add-ons for the PlayStation 4 managed to catch on. If they don't handle the PlayStation 4.5 and/or the PlayStation VR correctly, we might see Atari and Sega's history repeat once again.