The rumor mill is a-churnin’. In the last few days some alleged leaks about Sony’s next console – which we’d bet our underpants on being called PlayStation 5 – have hit the Internet. As with any leak or rumor, it would behove one to take each piece of news with the proverbial grain of salt, but this source has gotten things of this nature right before – namely, leaking the PS4 specs a year before it hit the market, and revealing some hardware details about Nintendo Switch back when we were all calling it NX. The details aren’t particularly mouth watering – it’s mostly talking about who’s making a bunch of hardware that’ll go inside the PS5 without revealing much in the way of what kind of power it’ll have – but a couple of the tidbits are nearly interesting.
It’s alleged that PS5 will have PlayStation VR tech built into it, which won’t be much of a surprise to anybody who’s been keeping their fingers on the pulse of all things PlayStation lately. Sony has been rather bullish in their support for VR, and their headset is selling better than internal projections suggested it would, obliterating the competition in units sold. They’re not giving up on virtual reality any time soon, and nor should they, so it makes perfect sense to put as much VR support into the new console as possible so that the inevitable PSVR 2 is an altogether more impressive product. Away from virtual reality, it’s alleged that there are so many PS5 devkits out in the wild right now that a 2018 release for the console would be possible, but that sounds like virtual insanity to me.
So, like I said, the rumours don’t amount to much. But these sorts of leaks do have a tendency to get people’s expectations rising and their imaginational juices flowing. We all knew that PS5 would be a thing given the success of PlayStation 4, but just hearing that somebody somewhere might know something not particularly exciting about it but can’t prove it, well, that’s the sort of thing that leads to wild speculation, baseless predictions, and unrealistic expectations. So here’s an article full of that stuff. Let’s talk about what I think PS5 will be, when I think it’s coming, and what I think Sony needs to do to ensure it’s just as successful as the PlayStation 4.
I would wager that we’ll see the PS5 in early 2019 at a reveal event – if Sony bothers themselves to actually bring the console this time – and that it’ll hit the streets in November that year. Or perhaps 2020 if they fancy milking the PS4 a little longer. The reveal and subsequent launch of PlayStation 4 went so well that it would be strange and perhaps even unwise for Sony to change their M.O. too much on this one. November is a great month to launch a new console if you’re convinced it’s going to be a hit, and given the success of PS4 there’s no reason to think that the follow up console won’t be similarly popular. I wouldn’t quite bet the house on this one, but it seems a fairly reasonable assumption.
In terms of what the PS5 actually is, well, that’s a much bigger question. There are a number of reasons why PlayStation 4 has been such a huge hit and why it’s dominating in sales figures, and Sony will probably want to replicate as many of those as they can in their new console. With the PlayStation 4 Sony played it relatively safe compared to the competition, but that was part of what made it a success. Microsoft went chasing a demographic that didn’t exist with their television-centric, Kinect-required Xbox One and wound up in one PR disaster after another for much of 2013, while Nintendo struggled to convince anybody, even themselves, that the Wii U’s comedy tablet controller and instantly outdated hardware was worth bothering with. It was a bit of an open goal.
While their competitors were being silly, Sony decided to go back to basics and it paid dividends. Marketed as a video game console that played video games and did it really well, PS4 was refreshingly old school compared to what Nintendo was doing with second screens and motion controls, and Microsoft’s plans for an always online, talk-to-your-television future. At the time, mobile gaming was in the midst of taking over, and many video gaming pundits were prognosticating the death of the traditional video game console within the next generation. The PlayStation 4 proved people wrong, in part, because the mantra was so simple, because the idea so basic: you put games in it and it plays them, and it does it better than any other console on the market. No arm waving. No talking to your TV. Just games. Slam dunk.
With PlayStation 5, I’d be amazed (slash horrified) to see any superfluous gimmicks at the forefront. This is going to be a gaming console for people who like video games, and I would expect it to be marketed as such. Expect power, expect a slick design, expect a clean and simple user interface, and expect a reasonable launch price that you won’t need to work a second job to afford.
I’ve seen this question bandied around in articles and on Twitter quite a lot lately, but I really don’t see the PS5 having any sort of portability, or being in any way similar to the Nintendo Switch at all. Given the success of the Switch so far it’s easy to see why many people are asking this question, but the fact is, Sony were probably well into R&D for PS5 before Switch was revealed, and there’s little to no benefit in chasing after that market for them even if that wasn’t the case.
Nintendo were wise to amalgamate their handheld and home console user bases into one since the Wii U was a catastrophe, and handheld sales numbers have generally been on the wane everywhere except Japan for years. Sony doesn’t have that problem. The Vita crashed and burned upon release, but the PS4 has been a huge success – Sony needs to stick to what it’s good at and that’s home console gaming. While much has been made about the success of Switch in the gaming press over 2017 and at the start of this year, little has been said outside of PlayStation-centric outlets on just how well the PS4 is doing four years after release. PS4 is still the best selling console week after week across the globe, despite strong Switch numbers, and it shows little sign of slowing down any time soon.
The Switch isn’t really a direct competitor to the PS4 and it presumably won’t be one to the PS5 either. The PS4 found success by being the best place to play the biggest games on the market as well as supporting independent developers making smaller downloadable titles. While Nintendo has done well courting the indies to flesh out the line-up on Switch, it’s probably never going to have the biggest games on the market outside of the ones they make for themselves. And that’s fine. Switch and PS5 will likely complement each other as Switch and PS4 do now, and that’s good news for everybody. Except Microsoft, I suppose.
Remember when Sony showed off the PS3 controller for the first time and it looked like a batarang? Man, that was one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen. Thankfully, the real-life PS3 controller once it launched was pretty good, aside from the margarine triggers. They were so badly designed that developers largely refused to use them as the primary means of fire in first person shooters, instead opting to use R1 and L1. It’s utterly bizarre trying to play a shooter from that era on PS3 today, and that’s because Sony sorted the job right out when they designed the PS4 controller.
The Dual Shock 4 is the best controller that Sony has ever made, and so hopefully the PS5 will follow suit and have a similar design. ‘Options’ makes sense as a button – far more than ‘Select’ ever did – and the ‘Share’ button is genuinely useful if you’re into posting your gaming achievements on social media. We do have a couple of minor quibbles, though. First, we need to talk about that light bar. I’ve always thought the light bar looked quite pretty, but then so does the Venus de Milo and I wouldn’t want that super-glued onto the back of my pad. We need to be able to turn the thing off, Sony. I get that it’s used for VR, and that’s fine. But if we’re not playing VR games there’s little reason to keep the thing on. By far the worst thing about the Dual Shock 4 is the comically short lifespan the batteries have before requiring a recharge, and a giant, perpetually shining beacon of light emanating from the back of it can’t be helping on that front one jot. At least let us turn it off while we’re watching Netflix, for Christ’s sake.
Beyond that, we could probably use a little more justification for the existence of the touchpad if that’s going to be hanging around for PS5. In some games it’s possible to use it like one would a mouse trackpad on a laptop when, say, looking at a map or whatever, but otherwise it only ever seems to be used as an extra button. Could Sony make better use of that real estate by removing the touchpad and replacing it with something else? I don’t know. If they can, then they probably should, but there’s no reason to remove it just for the sake of it. It does have uses. Just not many of them.
Part of the reason that PS4 is still outselling the competition is that it’s simply got the best line-up of games of any console currently on the market. Sony doubled down on indies early in the generation while they waited for their first party studios and third party partners to start delivering on the exclusives, and once they started, the pain in our wallets became a legitimate concern. To get an idea of just how ram-jammed the PlayStation store is with stuff to throw your money at, a quick perusal of review collation site Metacritic tells us that PS4 currently has over 500 titles rated green, which means “generally positive” or better. That’s more than Xbox One and Wii U combined, and even if you throw the Switch in there, too, PS4 is only lagging behind by 20 or so. That, of course, comes with the caveats that a) Metacritic doesn’t list every single game, and b) sometimes DLC is listed as a separate title, muddying the waters somewhat, but what’s clear is that there’s a lot of games, okay?
It’s not just about quantity though. Of the top 20 rated games of the generation so far, PS4 plays 15 of them – the most of any console – and 6 of top 20 are PlayStation exclusive – again, the most of any console. That number looks only set to increase as more big games hit the system. Titles like Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, Bloodborne, Horizon Zero Dawn, Persona 5, Ni No Kuni II, Nioh, The Last Guardian, Nier: Automata, Street Fighter V, Ratchet and Clank, Danganronpa, and Yakuza 0 demonstrate Sony’s commitment to providing gamers with legitimate, meaty exclusives to complement the array of third party, multiplatform blockbusters available for the console, and coupled with a vibrant independent scene and virtual reality offerings, utterly unrivalled variety. If your favourite game is Halo then you’re going to want an Xbox One, and if you can’t live without Zelda then get a
Wii U Switch, but if you’re just looking for the best line-up games then PS4 has you covered.
Sony has to nail that again with PS5. They have to. More than anything else, it’s absolutely critical that they keep their foot on the gas when it comes to making sure that their next console is as well supported as their current one. Sony has a strong selection of internal studios who’ll provide the PS5 with what will, hopefully, be a robust line-up of first party exclusives, and so they need to continue to cultivate their second and third party relationships, as well as making the platform an attractive medium for independent developers.
That’s all got to happen. But what’s the easiest way to make sure that the PS5 is loaded with games?
Sony has flip-flopped a few times on backwards compatibility, and has a history of saying a bunch of stupid things about how pointless it is, but everyone, including Sony, has worked out that was bollocks. Backwards compatibility, while be no means necessary, is an easy way to make sure there’s plenty to play, and a strong bargaining chip when you’re trying to convince people to throw $400 at a new console. Ponying up the dough is a lot easier when you know that all of your games will work on the new tech, and that you’ll be able to transfer over your digital purchases to your shiny new machine on day one.
Given the notoriously complicated architecture beneath the PlayStation 3’s hood, it’s no surprise that Sony has never managed (or perhaps even tried) to implement backwards compatibility for that console into the PS4. Some PS2 games have found themselves updated with a lick of paint and some trophies and made it to the PlayStation Store this generation, but that’s about it. PlayStation Now offers a means of playing some PS3 games on your PS4, but it’s not exactly an elegant solution, and it stings knowing that you’ve got to pay a subscription to play an inferior version of a game you once paid cold hard cash for.
The PS4 is famed for correcting the mistakes of the past for Sony, including being a much easier platform to develop games on than it’s predecessor. While this makes developers very happy, it also means that, providing Sony doesn’t do anything too outrageous with the inner workings of the PS5, it should be relatively easy to make PS4 games playable on their next console, and they should certainly be aiming to do that. Given everything we’ve just said about the incredible line-up of games on PS4, and since there’s still lots of fantastic looking titles yet to release for the system, including God of War, Death Stranding, and The Last Of Us Part II, it seems like a no-brainer for Sony to try and have those games as a part of their PlayStation 5 catalogue. Just not as remasters, Sony. Not like that.
As we covered earlier, PlayStation VR has been something of a hit for Sony. Conventional wisdom says that virtual reality tech will, at some point, become ubiquitous, and that Sony were perhaps wise to get on board with it early on rather than try to play catch up later. PSVR isn’t the best headset around, but it’s relatively cheap and user friendly, and that’s been enough to convince over two million people to buy one. Sony just needs to turn the screw on this one, because it could be very lucrative business indeed if they play their cards right.
While the gaming applications for virtual reality remain obvious and attractive, it’s the non-gaming applications that I think Sony should be pushing to get more people invested in the tech. It’s always seemed like an obvious one to me that PSVR would be incredibly useful for giving the user the opportunity to visit places they’d otherwise never see from the comfort of their own home, and nowhere seems like a more logical fit for PlayStation than PlayStation Experience or E3. If you’re outside of the US and you’ve got bills to pay, coming up with the cash to visit a gaming expo is an expensive prospect. With PSVR, Sony could give millions of gamers around the world the opportunity to sit front row at their E3 conference without leaving the house.
Sports events, concerts, tours, virtual museums – there are so many potential uses for VR outside of gaming that it would be a shame for Sony to throw all of their eggs into the “shooting things in the face” basket. Let’s see some novel uses for the technology, and give people, not just gamers, a reason to be excited about virtual reality, and PlayStation 5.
It’s an exciting time to be a gamer. Console sales are strong across the board, and there’s more quality games available each week than ever before. The PlayStation 4 seems destined to be one of the few video games consoles that will cross the 100 million units sold barrier, the third of Sony’s four consoles to pull off that impressive feat. But Microsoft has done well this generation despite a rocky start, and Nintendo followed up their dud Wii U with the explosive Switch. If Sony wants to stay ahead of the pack come the next generation, they’ll have to stay on their toes.
The fear is that the last time Sony cleaned up in a console generation, they became hubristic, and the PS3 struggled, comparatively, as a result. Sony were arrogant, and it took years for them to rehabilitate their image. Hopefully, despite the success of the PS4, Sony realises how precarious their position as market leader is, and how quickly the good will they’ve built up over the last generation could be eroded. Hopefully, they remember how difficult they made it for themselves before, and how they gave up valuable market share to their competitors, in part, due to their complacency.
The good news is that competition is healthy. Competition drives console manufacturers and game developers to come up with new ways to dazzle and delight gamers, and so the stronger the competition, the better it will be for all of us. Sony, hopefully, recognises this, and won’t fall into the same traps they did with the PlayStation 3. Let us hope that PS5 continues what Sony started with the PS4, because if it does, then another wonderful generation of console gaming awaits.
John can generally be found wearing Cookie Monster pyjamas with a PlayStation controller in his hands, operating on a diet that consists largely of gin and pizza. His favourite things are Back to the Future, Persona 4 Golden, the soundtrack to Rocky IV, and imagining scenarios in which he’s drinking space cocktails with Commander Shepard. You can follow John on Twitter at www.twitter.com/JohnDoesntDance
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