Being interviewed by Wired, PlayStation’s hardware architect Mark Cerny finally gave us our first teasers about what the PlayStation 5 would be like.
Alongside a notable CPU and GPU Upgrade (An AMD Ryzon 8-Core and a custom Radeon Navi), we’re being promised a Solid State Drive for faster loading, 8K Graphical Support and, shock of all horrors, the promise of actual, honest-to-goodness Backwards Compatibility with PlayStation 4 games, utilising the power to boost performance of classic games.
On paper, that all sounds very impressive.
However, I’m a little more cautious. Let me start with what we do know from these teasers; a Solid State Drive sounds fantastic in theory, but it cannot possibly be a larger-sized drive, perhaps a more reasonably priced 256GB SSD. This means less space for digitally-bought content and downloadable content, and more Drive Management put onto the consumer, particularly with the rising size of 4K Video Games.
To be fair on Sony here – the Nintendo Switch suffers the same issue with lacking on-board storage, needing a substantial MicroSD card to get the most out of it. The difference is, however, the Switch is a mobile hybrid device. Compromises were made for the sake of its portability, which is entirely reasonable as mobile technology begins to inch ever closer to traditional computer and console hardware. The PlayStation 5, so far, seems to be a typical home console system and sacrificing space for speed might indeed be a bridge too far for the majority of people.
Yes, there’s the possibility Sony will add additional storage space – but if it is another Hard Drive, then the console will start to become… well.. extremely large. The only way Sony can get around this is by making the additional storage space devoted to MicroSD, and leaving the consumer to supply the additional storage themselves.
With all the hardware in the box they’re proposing, that’s another £50-£80 on top of what is likely to be £500-£600 of hardware, and all of that again will likely be without a single video game to go with the machine, and the prospect that the retail cost of games may go up once more now 4K Hardware will be the norm and therefore development budgets will again rise through the roof.
8K Graphical Support is equally pointless; yes, 8K does exist right now, but 4K hasn’t even reached mass commercial adoption yet. And chances are it won’t for another good seven to eight years (and that’s me being optimistic) – preparing for a possible future that clearly will exist beyond the natural commercial lifespan of the PlayStation 5 just seems a bit pointless.
More than that – will any developer really utilise that? 8K is such a distance away, and 4K will be so much more costly, that it sounds like a company flexing technical specifications over and above the practical usefulness of the feature. It feels like a meaningless gesture right now, Sony perhaps even admitting it doesn’t even know if another mid-gen hardware upgrade will be on the cards.
Of course, Backwards Compatibility is nice. If only because Sony can continue to pump PS4 titles through the PS5 version of PlayStation Plus, and there are plenty of games which could use a second look.
A more cynical viewpoint of that, however, would suggest Sony knows actual software for the PlayStation 5 will be very slow, very early on, and therefore rather than admit that rather obvious fact (it’s not like the PlayStation 4 was any better, really, and the only reason we expect better now is because Nintendo went absolutely balls-to-the-wall crazy with the opening year of the Nintendo Switch) is hoping that backwards compatibility will serve to appeal to those already with an extensive PS4 library, and give the illusion of content where new content may need more time.
Wow, I’m being really hard on Sony here. And I’m about to spank them a little more on theoreticals and hypotheticals.
The first problem I run into here is – Sony isn’t really doing this very well. An interview with Wired and a few technical specifications is hardly a song-and-dance, and let’s not forget that one of the key wins the PlayStation 4 scored back in its opening gambit was by effectively mocking the XBox One X. When Sony is on its game, in terms of marketing, it’s absolutely fantastic. But then you’ve got E3 2018. Or PlayStation Experience 2017. And that PS Vita boob ad. And the PSP Black/White ad which was obviously asking for trouble.
Sony is not on its A-Game and it will be behind Microsoft, who is expected to go full ham with its reveal of the XBox “Scarlett” this year at E3. And that’s at a major trade show, one which Sony has already confirmed it will NOT be attending.
Yes, that’s a calculated gamble, but Microsoft’s new console and a newly-revived Nintendo dropping an obscene amount of content already this year means that Sony may barely be noticed as missing this year, and if Sony’s lack-of-presence at E3 2019 isn’t a big deal because everyone else is upping their game… well… that spells out a very poor situation for Sony and deals with third-parties in the future.
Particularly as Phil Spencer and his Magical Chequebook of Limitless Money (+2) seems eager and willing to pay for whatever it takes to make their next-gen ambitions take off. Whether you like that idea or not – personally I do not – he’ll be let loose at a whole E3 with that. And Sony won’t be there to negotiate counter-offers.
I don’t know if the “Scarlett” will be a better console either. But even if it isn’t, Sony and Microsoft have one common thorn in their sides… yup, it’s Nintendo.
The Switch might be getting an XL/Pro model this year, possibly, but even if it doesn’t – we’ve done this song and dance before. The Wii soared well beyond the PlayStation 3 and XBox 360, and I’m happy to admit today the Wii was a bit crap. But not only is the Switch a better console, and gamers don’t even have to upgrade their current television sets for it, but it’s had two years – by the time these machines come out, three years – to develop an incredible presence that Sony and Microsoft will find more difficult to shake off.
In a world of smartphones and microtechnology, the Switch makes a lot of sense to a lot of people. It’s “Good Enough”. By the time Sony and Microsoft drop these true 4K monstrosities, the Switch may even have had a significant price cut – I’d hope below £200 – and the cost difference between the two extremes, and the content being presented when you take note that a new Zelda and Metroid Prime 4 may end up at the tail-end of 2020, might provide a humbling experience for the high-end tech wars.
As I said, we saw the Nintendo Wii do this and the Wii was a much less sensible and interesting machine than the Switch is.
That’s not to say that I think the PlayStation 5 will be an unmitigated disaster – that’s silly at this point.
It’s easy to forget that the main reason the PlayStation 3 lost so much money – and why Sony as a company was haemorrhaging so much money at the time – was their gambit on BluRay to take over DVD. Sony had expected in a few years that BluRay would be at least half the home movie market, and was spending money to secure exclusive deals and rights and content with movie production studios. This was just as Movie Streaming was kicking in with Netflix and LoveFilm (now Amazon Video).
I don’t think we’re going to see a format war – we’d know already if there was a major 4K Format shift, so there’s one major cost out of the way. At least on their end – we might end up paying more for games on multiple discs but let’s cross that bridge when we get to it.
Preferably in a tank battalion.
Likewise, Sony may be a little more quiet and reserved right now than usual but it’s not like their PS3 days, where they proclaimed that people should take a “second job” to afford their new console, or suggesting that their hardware was sold out everywhere – prompting Penny Arcade at the time to go out and find many stores in their vicinity with actual consoles still for sale (because Sony offered money if people could find them and THAT WAS A BAD IDEA!).
We’ve seen glimpses of the Bad Old Sony with things like CrossPlay, Exclusive Items/Content being accidentally leaked on other platforms and yes, the recent State of Play – I have no doubt PSVR will end up like the XBox Kinect – but it’s certainly nothing as dripping in ego or contempt as it was back in 2005/2006.
And perhaps that might be enough for Sony. Maybe there will be some loyalty, even though Sony as a company is much smaller than it was back in the early 2000’s. Perhaps they also want Microsoft to make the same mistakes they did with the XBox One – it’s a long shot and we all can admit now it handed Sony an entire console generation along with it. It’s easier to react to what’s already been announced and make changes accordingly, if they can still make any changes.
However, there’s absolutely no guarantee Sony’s current dominance will translate to a new generation; no-one expected a Nintendo comeback, after all (well, I did, but I’m weird). Everyone banked on VR and they’re still banking on it as mobile technology takes over. This is an industry always in flux, where one error of judgement or slip of the tongue can get you skewered on social media and collapse your sales figures and company value. Every generation a company gets through is like a tightrope over a pit of starved mutant tigers – a win, and then you do it, again and again, over and over, until you eventually fall off and scramble to survive.
But I don’t know if Microsoft will succeed any better either. I mean, they CAN spend millions or billions to secure the market, but as we saw with the XBox One – that’s a temporary solution, not a hard-and-fast fix.
Ultimately, I’m still yet to be convinced. SSD’s and high-end graphics and probably even more RAM thrown in all sounds fantastic, but these days – despite Sony’s issues – the problem isn’t so much the hardware as it is the content. Companies making less but charging more, doubling down on genres and trying to copy what is already successful rather than carve out their own niche, treating consoles and consumers with contempt and a dismissive wave.
The PS5 and Scarlett might be the 4K Consoles of the Future. But it’ll take time for those roots to dig in deep, and it won’t really fix or change companies already taking the piss with poor or unfinished software, charging money for things not included and generally cutting as many corners as they can.
I’d like to think they could, but even the Switch hasn’t fixed those issues. Maybe I’m just expecting the world at this point.
But good luck Sony and Mr. Cerny.
I think you’re going to need it.