So, PlayStation Experience 2018 has been cancelled.
Sony’s stance on this is that everyone is busy and getting people together for another show in the year – notably one right next to The Game Awards, which after some evil sorcerous magic last year most people are actually looking forward to (it’s been a weird few years, hasn’t it?) – just isn’t feasible right now. Lots of people are of course trying to suggest this is because Sony has a big PlayStation 5 announcement to come in the new year and everyone is neck-deep in that. And they’re kinda right of course that Sony’s studios are neck-deep in working on PS5 stuff. But I don’t think people will be getting some grandiose reveal for early 2019; Sony tends to keep console launches for the Holiday season, and I don’t see why they’d buck the trend or be so quick to push the PS4 into the grave.
(Not least that Sony really wants that 100 million sales total; yes, they’ll reach it later than the last few generational leaders but they still want it – it’ll be much easier to find and justify investment if the market leader is still capable of such a feat!)
There’s also been Michael Pachter resurfacing (I do so hate the guy) suggesting it’s a cost-cutting exercise – and yeah, Sony will be saving a little bit of money by not hosting the event but this seems like a lame justification at best. A big PR event is more valuable in terms of product exposure and publicity, and PSX has been a thing for some years now so not having it is at best for Sony’s fans a little disappointing. Yeah, sorry Pachter, but this is one of those moments where you’re just plain wrong. Publicity, again, would help push towards that 100 million unit sales tally, and for the wider market – you want at least one of the consoles to hit that figure to at least show there’s still life and growth potential in the market.
Personally, I think it’s simply that we find Sony in a bit of a dazed state.
For a start – Sony is nursing the heavy blow of having to concede to Crossplay. Epic Games is a massive component of the industry, and Fortnite is one of the biggest games right now (whether you like it or hate it, we can’t argue that it is massive). Epic Games also happens to make Unreal Engine; that thing even Sony’s own studios from time to time use to make actual video games. Upsetting the producer of one of the industries most entrenched and widely-used middleware tools was not a wise plan, not least the occasion last year where Epic Games, as if to point out that Sony’s argument of protecting its users and knowing when and how this was going to be put in, called their bluff and flipped a switch and PS4 and XBox One players were all playing together. With no impact on PSN, XBox Live, Fortnite or anything.
Losing this little battle must be utterly demoralising. Sony’s whole shtick this generation has centred on getting exclusive content and even timed exclusivity on the virtue that the PlayStation 4 was “the only game in town”. It had the largest userbase and therefore, Sony’s parkland was the better place to be and Sony could have its cake and somewhat eat it too. Now Epic Games has got its way, chances are good other big third-parties will want Crossplay. And after that, smaller publishers and then indie publishers… this kind of robs Sony of some of their marketing muscle. Because now, you really CAN play together whatever the console. The PS4 suddenly loses the power of having an already-established market.
It’s not been a fun time for Sony, who after a few generations where it has been dominant and able to leverage those figures now doesn’t have that trump card in their deck.
Then there’s PSVR. Sony can spin this any way it pleases, but let’s face the reality – PSVR, and VR in general, has been a disaster. I know it has its fans. I know some people believe in this but the moment you’re justifying weaker visual fidelity and loose, sloppy controls because “it’s the future” is the moment I point out to these lazy nuggets of poop that this is the exact argument they have used against Nintendo for more than a decade. How’re them apples?
Sony is still pushing its own software for PSVR – kind of like Nintendo and the Wii U, Sony has to at least appear to not be entirely giving up – but there’s so little third-party interest now. They’ve seen the sales numbers (still only barely past 3 million at last count in August: the Wii U sold that in its opening month!), they’ve seen the software sales and the reviews – largely negative on the whole, because people were more enamoured with the concept than the technicalities, an outlook that murdered the Wii U Gamepad AND the XBox Kinect. It’s not that VR will go away – VR never really went away after the 80’s and 90’s fads – but in a market pitching at a 4K Future, VR is going to look spectacularly old-hat in a year or two.
I’d say “I told you so”, but at this point it’d be gloating.
And what of the games? Sony doesn’t have a lot of its own to showcase right now either. There are a few projects still to release, but it’s widely agreed upon now that focus is shifting inevitably towards Generation 9 proper, and Sony needs something to launch for that. So like the dying embers of the Wii U, projects are being coaxed over and I wouldn’t be surprised or shocked if at least one of Sony’s current projects is delayed long enough to launch the PlayStation 5. It worked for Nintendo, as Breath of the Wild shattered expectations, won rave reviews pretty much everywhere that matters (#trollface) and is now the best-selling Zelda game in the series history.
Indeed, the Nintendo Switch really has set a high bar in terms of what consumers will expect in the first year of a console. Nintendo was just knocking things out of the park – Zelda, Fire Emblem Warriors, Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Splatoon 2 (which is so massive in Japan you could call it a religion now), Mario Odyssey, Mario + Rabbids, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe… indeed, the only duff note in the Switch’s first year was 1, 2, Switch! and the less said about that the better.
We don’t usually expect that kind of support or quality in the first year of a consoles lifespan, but by golly, Nintendo smashed it. Hard. And now Sony (and Microsoft) have the additional headache of knowing that not only do they have to really hope for a big 4K push with these upcoming consoles, and all the technical headaches involved like the media format and hard-drive space, but their users will be crossing their arms and not-so-politely pointing out that anything Nintendo can do, Sony should be doing better. And that will mean having top-drawer games on launch and in the first year. And I remember my first year with the PS4. It was dry. Dry Bones indeed. My DualShock 4 got more use on my PC than it did on the PS4.
And all of this has fundamentally shifted the ground beneath Sony’s feet, and as the market leader… that’s a big thing to fall over.
I mean, PSX last year was awful. That chat show was so dull and dry I was begging for a streaker to liven up the event. And E3 2018 wasn’t much better; Sony still got the third-party reveals, of course, but the actual show itself was a self-indulgent mess that irritated the people attending, who had to leave the tent a few times for it to be reset for another game, and the viewers at home – who also got a panel show in those gaps that just looked amateur-hour at best. Both shows were pretty bad.
I do happen to feel a bit sorry for Sony. Things really have shifted somewhat radically in the last couple of years and Sony has found it unusually difficult to adapt to the changing market conditions. I think Sony really has become somewhat dependent on this whole “win by domination” angle and now the future looks more varied and nuanced and open, I can imagine there are several executives eyeing up that vintage whiskey at ten in the morning. Sony didn’t expect Nintendo to make an insane comeback with an unproven hardware concept. Or for Microsoft to just start throwing money around again. Not that that will work long-term, but it’s still an angle Sony can’t really fight for right now.
Hopefully, when E3 2019 rolls around, Sony will look brighter and more lively having had a little more time to formulate a plan for the next few years. It’s simply a matter of changing and the PS5 will be their best opportunity to facilitate that change. The PS4 is already there. Fixing it up now when it’s got at best two years left on the market is a waste of time and money. Better to spend all that on the future, not trying to bail out a console that will soon be last-gen.
The walls are shifting, and Sony – in true Spelunky fashion – has to adapt to whatever the market throws at it next.
It just doesn’t yet seem to know what that is. But it’ll get there. They haven’t got a choice in the matter.