Talking Point: Why Sony Must Release the PS4 in the West This Year
Posted by Sammy Barker
Sony’s been frighteningly non-committal regarding the launch timing of the PlayStation 4. While the platform holder flashed up the words ‘Holiday 2013’ during its big PlayStation Meeting press conference earlier in the year, it’s failed to really elaborate on the window since. “The precise details, as I say, for exact dates, exact regions, is it all or some of them? We don’t know,” SCEUK’s managing director Fergal Gara told Digital Spy in February.
Despite his ambiguous comments, the executive did confirm that the next generation console will release in at least one territory this year, which is almost certain to be North America. Microsoft’s dominance in the region during the course of this generation has left Sony playing catch-up in the crucial market, and that means that the platform holder will not risk gifting its biggest competitor an entire holiday season uncontested in the nation.
While we can’t be certain that the Xbox 360’s successor will release this holiday, we can certainly make some solid assumptions. Unlike the PlayStation maker, Microsoft has virtually nothing in the pipeline for its current generation console. There are still titles such as Grand Theft Auto V and Battlefield 4 poised to release on the system later this year, of course, but it seems that the attention of its first-party studios is now fully focused on fresh hardware. As such, it would certainly be a shock if the manufacturer failed to deploy the system later this year.
Furthermore, considering the company’s focus in the past, we can also assume that the next Xbox will release in North America first. However, it’s perhaps worth noting that Microsoft’s been fairly good with global launches in the past. While the original Xbox took four months to hit European shores, the Xbox 360 deployed in three major territories within a three week period. It’s not unreasonable to think that the firm could achieve something similar with the current generation console’s successor.
That must make Europe a key target for Sony, too. While the platform holder’s always commanded a strong presence across parts of the territory, the PS3’s launch some 15 months later than its chief competitor proved a massive risk for the brand’s dominance, and it completely squandered the system’s market share in the UK, where it’s been playing catch-up. It’s important that the PS4 doesn’t commit a similar error, and is a viable option alongside the next Xbox in both North America and Europe this holiday.
And that, of course, brings us to the elephant in the room: Japan. With each of the major PlayStation platforms to date, Sony has sided with tradition and launched its latest wares in its home nation first. With the PS4, it must avoid convention and apply some common sense instead. While it’s true that with a smattering of heavy hitters the Nintendo Wii U could yet prove a force in the region, it seems unlikely that Microsoft will ever make a mark in the territory. In addition, home consoles are just not as popular as handhelds in the east. As such, if the company finds itself forced to choose, the platform holder must favour the aforementioned western regions ahead of the land of the rising sun.
And there are other reasons for that beyond personal bias. Arguably the biggest mistake that Sony made with the PS3 was allowing Microsoft to gain a foothold in the market, be it through delays or high prices. Due to its swiftly established install base, the Xbox 360 quickly became the ‘default’ system for developers, press, and, perhaps pivotally, gaming cliques. With console ecosystems and online gaming becoming increasingly important, who wants to buy a system that none of their friends own?
Sony cannot allow the next Xbox to gain traction uncontested. It’s already proven that it’s willing to do right by developers and gamers, but if it’s unable to lock a good proportion of early adopters into the PlayStation Network ahead of Xbox Live, then it’ll find itself playing catch-up all over again. Not everyone will upgrade their console this Christmas, but the early adopters that do will trigger a snowball effect that will dictate the trajectory of the next generation. Sony needs to ensure that it’s at least a part of the conversation, and not sitting in the sidelines pandering to a Japanese audience that would much rather be playing on a Nintendo 3DS than a home console.
Of course, we still don’t really know what Microsoft’s got in store for the next generation, but from Sony’s perspective, we’re not sure that it matters all that much. The company’s already done the legwork with its own console, and now it must navigate the final hurdle. A successful global launch would be ideal, but if that’s out of the question, then North America and Europe must be priorities. It seems unlikely that the Xbox maker will simply surrender its dominance in its most successful territories. This time, though, Sony has a chance to put up a fight.
Do you think that Sony will ignore tradition in order to confront Microsoft head-on this holiday? What regions do you think are most important to the PS4’s success? Let us know in the comments section below.
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