Sony is gearing up for a big announcement on February 20, according to invitations it sent out to the media on Thursday. The smart money was already on a next-generation PlayStation console being the topic of discussion, but the Wall Street Journal came out and blatantly declared that’s what we’d be getting. But while we have a good idea of what, generally, Sony will be talking about, it’s the specifics that matter most for Sony’s long-term success.
Sony said that we’d “see the future” at the special February event, and the WSJ’s sources say it’s definitely going to be a next-gen console, debuted ahead of a similar evolution of Xbox from Microsoft. The console will actually make it to retail by the holidays in 2013, just in time to compete with Microsoft’s offering, which is also rumored for release around that time. But video game and console sales aren’t at their best right now, with gaming-related device sales experiencing considerable dips ahead of last year’s holiday sales season.
Rumors about what the console will actually look like so far include retaining an optical disc drive, said to be a concession made to ensuring that large-sized games are still convenient for customers to actually obtain and play, and a move from the Cell chip that powers the current PS3 to an AMD-based design, which might complicate things in terms of backwards compatibility with current games. That will annoy existing customers, but alienating those customers isn’t even Sony’s biggest issue with fielding a next-gen device; it’s attracting new users from a young gamer population that has grown up on mobile.
Current console gamers have a hard time seeing how mobile could ever truly replace a home console gaming experience, especially when a next-generation console promises to improve considerably on the 10-year old tech found in the PS3 and really push the envelope in terms of graphics, performance and realism. But the spec race isn’t the key battleground in gaming anymore, like it or not. Apple famously shifted focus away from what was under the hood in computers and mobile devices and onto the end-user experience, and that had repercussions beyond its own primary industry. Gaming became a much more broadly defined category, one that includes teen and twenty-something males sitting in front of a TV with a controller in hand, but no longer one defined by that demographic.
People underestimate the effect of mobile gaming on the industry at large I think, especially when you consider that an entire new generation of gamers is experiencing gaming first on touchscreen devices, with instant availability, downloadable titles and much shorter average gaming sessions. Those experiences will breed different expectations, resulting in consumers in key growth demographics who might not be all that excited to see what kind of ultra-realistic water effects a next-gen console can reproduce, even as those of us who grew up dreaming of in-game fog you could virtually feel on your skin eat up whatever Sony wants to sell us.