Andrew House, president and group CEO, Sony Computer Entertainment.
Andrew House, president and group CEO, Sony Computer Entertainment.

FEB. 20, 2013 • As expected, Sony Computer Entertainment used its press event at the Hammerstein Ballroom within New York City’s Manhattan Center to provide the first official details on the PlayStation 4 release. The new system is slated for a holiday release this year, but no pricing details were announced. SCE chief executive Andrew House framed the new console as, “a significant shift from thinking of PlayStation as a box or console to thinking of the PlayStation 4 as a leading place for play.” Part of that “significant shift” characterization refers to Sony’s push to make its new console more of a social networking hub. Pushing a button on the PS4 controller and what is happening in the game will immediately stream to selected friends online. There is also the option of shifting game control to one of those friends. These features come thanks to technology obtained through the acquisition of the cloud streaming service Gaikai last year. That technology potentially will allow the PS4 to stream older PlayStation content not supported by the new console, as well as let owners try out any game available for purchase digitally from the PlayStation Network, and use the Vita handheld or a smartphone much like Nintendo’s Wii U controller.

Sony's slide describing the PS4 architecture.
Sony’s slide describing the PS4 architecture.

The other significant departure for Sony is the PS4’s architecture. Unlike the Cell processor that was developed at great expense in-house in collaboration with IBM, the PS4 will utilize an 8-core processor from AMD with performance close to 2 TFLOPS. Similarly, a high-end PC graphics processor will also be sourced from AMD. The PlayStation 3 used an  RSX Reality Synthesizer from Nvidia. The PS4’s CPU and GPU both will share 8GB of fast GDDR5 memory with 176GB a second bandwidth. There also will be a secondary processor in the PS4 that will handle content streaming and updates in the background without affecting game play performance. The new DualShock 4 controller also features a capacitive touchpad that can read two contact points at a time. An LED light bar on top of the controller interacts with the two 1280 x 800 resolution cameras on the new PlayStation 4 Eye, with features similar to those of the Xbox Kinect. The PlayStation 4 will also come with a “large” hard drive, according to Sony.

The lineup of PS4 games shown at the announcement  included:

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• Driveclub (WWS Evolution Studios)
• inFAMOUS Second Son (WWS Sucker Punch Productions)
• Killzone: Shadow Fall (WWS Guerrilla Games)
• Knack (WWS Japan Studio)
• Deep Down (working title) (CAPCOM)
• Destiny (Activision Publishing, Inc./ Bungie, Inc.)
• Diablo III (Blizzard Entertainment, Inc.)
• The Witness (Jonathan Blow)
• Watch_Dogs (Ubisoft Entertainment)

Impact: So we know there is a PlayStation 4. We just don’t know much about what, when and how much.  In many ways Sony seems to hedge its bets so that it might not even be a 2013 launch, or it may depend on market conditions. We can expect all kinds of commentary, but we are betting most of it centers on whether there is still the need for a dedicated game device. This of course will completely forget the fact that both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 were great general-purpose entertainment systems with a broad array of appeal.  The PlayStation 4 is really looking to build on an established legacy of providing a set-top entertainment device that also provides the best high-end gaming on a large high-definition screen.

Despite this fact mainstream journalists will question consumers care about playing games on disc and only want to play games on mobile devices. That is of course nonsense as the demand for a system like the PlayStation 4 is greater than it ever has been. However, whether Sony can sell a lot of those systems is an entirely different question.  Sony’s biggest challenges are internal corporate struggles that have made the company a much weaker player in a more competitive market. Sony tried to force a great deal of expensive proprietary standards down consumer’s throats and in many cases consumers were simply not biting. The PlayStation 3 was hampered by Sony’s efforts to make Cell architecture a linchpin of a broader product range.  A key notable first feature of the PlayStation 4 is it is based completely around an open PC architecture. 

Mark Cerny, lead system architect for the PS4, holds the new DualShock 4 controller.
Mark Cerny, lead system architect for the PS4, holds the new DualShock 4 controller.

Of course, we can also expect to hear a great deal about Gaikai and cloud computing.  Sony acquired Gaikai in June 2012 for $380 million.  Once again this is really a mirage into the real issues. The games that will drive PlayStation 4 sales take up gigabytes of storage space and not only are not suited for streaming they will not be suited for digital download.  A single PlayStation 4 game could take up the entire storage space on a $500 iPad. 

The success of the PlayStation 4 will all come down to issues like marketing, pricing, and of course, hot games. The PlayStation 4 will be all about delivering a more powerful, diversified option than the completion. Sony needs to drive home to consumers that a PS4 will be able to play all the types of games you can find on your iPad or smartphone, but it can do so much more. This was a message Nintendo failed to drive home with the Wii U, as we examine here.  In Nintendo’s case it was really about just not doing anything approaching a major marketing campaign. That is good news for Sony since the latter now has a wide open chance to pitch to a huge audience of consumers that are craving for a powerful new living room game/entertainment system. Right now there is very little we can say about how well Sony will do this. Nevertheless we can the market is clearly there for Sony to capture, they just need to do the right job of going out to grab it.

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