There’s been an air of over-confidence surrounding Sony lately. The company’s E3 2018 press conference was a far cry from its PS4 reveal, in which former Sony president Jack Tretton enthusiastically positioned the console as a consumer-friendly counter to the Xbox One. There were two lengthy musical interludes, few games, and a level of pretentiousness that suggested the company had all but climbed up into its own arse.
Immediately following the Sony E3 show, Fortnite Switch players were greeted with the news that they couldn’t carry their Epic Games account over to the handheld console if they had first played the game on PS4. Sony’s refusal to allow cross-platform play effectively ensured that Epic accounts linked to the PS4 had become tainted. Microsoft and Nintendo seized this opportunity, launching a joint “Better Together” commercial for Minecraft, showcasing cross-play between the Xbox One and Switch. Meanwhile, Sony’s stance remains unchanged.
From console generation to console generation, brand allegiance is a big selling point for console manufacturers. On social media and forums, you’ll frequently see gamers flying the flag for a particular system, with the likes of Sony and Microsoft playing into this ardent supporter base. However, the truth is that even though the fanboys may be loud, their devotion isn’t vital. As we saw with Microsoft’s transition from the Xbox 360 to the Xbox One, even if a company has built up a loyal following with a particular console, if the next piece of hardware isn’t up to scratch these consumers will happily abandon the brand.
E3, Fortnite Cross-Platform Play, and the PS4’s Future
This is what makes Sony’s recent behavior concerning. We’ve seen it pull these tricks before, with the disastrous launch of the PS3 being the result of its whopping $599 price tag. Sony was still confident that the PS3 would be a success at this price point, with former CEO Ken Kutaragi famously advising everyone to work more if they wanted the console. After its reveal, Kutaragi said that the PS3 was actually “probably too cheap,” stating that Sony’s goal was “for consumers to think to themselves ‘I will work more hours to buy one’.” He added: “We want people to feel that they want it, irrespective of anything else.”
We know next to nothing about the PS5, though the fallout from E3 2018 suggests that history could well repeat itself. Microsoft has repositioned itself Xbox as a customer-first brand, with its affable boss Phil Spencer drawing the company’s focus back to the games. The collaboration with Nintendo is evidence of this, as is its Play Anywhere feature, and Sony has been left looking like a miserly megacorp lording over a couple of plucky underdogs.
Of course, Microsoft and Nintendo are anything but underdogs; they’re multibillion-dollar companies that are just as invested in taking your money as Sony. However, public perception means an awful lot in any industry, and right now Sony is far removed from the PS4’s “This is For the Players” launch slogan. The PS4 is still delivering the best games of any home console, and with The Last of Us 2 and Death Stranding on the horizon, its future is looking bright. While this certainly counts for something, history dictates that a previous console’s performance doesn’t factor too much into a consumer’s decision to purchase its successor.
Sony PS5 Problems: Could History Repeat Itself?
Sony has everything to lose in its transition from the PS4 to the PS5. Up until this point, it has gone from strength to strength with its first-party games, and maintains the firmest grip on multiplatform releases out of the “Big Three.” Though overtaking the company at this point may seem like an insurmountable task, in reality, all it takes is for the PS5 reveal to be a misfire for gamers to switch back to Xbox. For all the rampant fanboyism that is prevalent in the gaming community, history dictates that it doesn’t count for much it comes to new hardware, and gamers will jump ship on a brand if pushed to do so.
For its part, Sony has stated that it is listening to the criticisms regarding the PS4’s lack of cross-platform play. In an interview with Eurogamer, Sony Interactive Entertainment America president Shawn Layden addressed players’ concerns: “We’re hearing it. We’re looking at a lot of the possibilities,” Layden said. “You can imagine that the circumstances around that affect a lot more than just one game. I’m confident we’ll get to a solution which will be understood and accepted by our gaming community, while at the same time supporting our business.”
There is no saying what angle Sony will take with the PS5. However, with both Microsoft and Nintendo appearing to be rejuvenated after struggling with their current/previous consoles, we’ve seen how the current-gen leader can become complacent and lose its footing. While that certainly makes for a more varied market for consumers, it’s not exactly a situation that Sony wants to be in.
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