The second holiday season traditionally sets the stage for the rest of a console’s lifespan. The launch hype has worn off, the faithful already have their consoles, and both first and third-party developers have had a chance to beef up the typically thin launch catalog. When year two rolls around, it’s time for the general market to decide whether or not a product is genuinely worth buying. Since this console cycle saw the simultaneous release of Sony’s PS4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One, this holiday season is even more crucial. Sony and the PS4 are heading in with a massive lead, and this could be the moment when they pull far enough ahead that they’ll become near-impossible to catch.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal examines Sony’s recent success and plans to make the Playstation brand the center of the company’s future. Here’s the pull quote:
“Sony has the potential to make the game console market its exclusive territory,” said Eiichi Katayama, an analyst at Bank of America/Merrill Lynch.
There’s no denying it: Sony’s console efforts look impressive in both the near and long-term. The PS4 launch was more successful than even the rosiest of predictions, and the console has continued to show impressive sales even after the initial launch window. It’s already started the fall with exclusive marketing and DLC rights to Destiny, and early reports suggest the PS4 got a nice boost from that deal.
The long-term is encouraging too: Sony is clearly looking towards a post-console future with Playstation Now, a game streaming service that aims to detach AAA games from AAA hardware, allowing all manner of older games to be played on just about anything with an internet connection. On the other end, the company is already demoing Project Morpheus, an impressive VR headset poised to go up against the Oculus Rift. If you asked me where the future of gaming was moving, I’d point you to those two categories.
But does that mean Sony can essentially own the console business to the degree it did in the PS2 era? I’m skeptical. I believe that Sony will continue to dramatically outpace both the Wii U and the Xbox One, but that doesn’t confer dominance of games consoles like it once did. Games are changing quickly.
Don’t get me wrong: Sony has a real shot at owning gaming if it can make both Morpheus and Playstation Now market leaders. But despite an early lead, it’s going to have competition on both fronts, and not just from Microsoft. The big companies have been swirling around gaming for a while now, and I don’t think it will be that long before we see serious entrants from companies like Apple and Google, complete with big fancy content from publishers like Activision and Electronic Arts. This won’t be the same as the tablet and phone games those big companies are concerned with now: they’re entranced with the purchasing power of the living room, and they want in. VR is sure to be an even tenser battleground.
The Sony of Kaz Hirai has pulled off an impressive turnaround in a number of important sectors, but it’s raised the stakes by demonstrating the viability of the console market. Combine that with widespread interest in games and ever-cheapening hardware, and you’ve got an interesting few years ahead of you.