Sony’s had a good run up until this point, but things have really changed in 2016.
Xbox’s arguably premature announcement earlier this year for their mid-generation console refresh, the roughly 6-teraflop Project Scorpio (about three times as powerful as a stock PS4), might have, in a perfect world, left Sony with a wide-open window to strike back. Rumors around Neo, PlayStation’s own planned mid-gen tier, had been surfacing for months, even to the point where preliminary specs were leaked.
They were worse than Scorpio’s and, despite whispers pegging Neo for a late 2016 release, it would have been smarter to play the situation more prudently, retooling Neo to be on par with Scorpio. Instead, Sony officially announced Neo as the PlayStation 4 Pro at an event last week, touting 4K and high dynamic range while seemingly ignoring the fact the Pro’s 4ish teraflop guts almost undoubtedly aren’t powerful enough to back up their claims. Also, if you don’t own a newer TV, the company has made little effort to persuade fans why a Pro is worth its $399 investment.
If the new PlayStation’s reception has been relatively tepid, it’s because Sony is making a huge mistake. Some have already argued that it’s more important to get out ahead; Pro is coming in November to fully support souped-up virtual reality experiences with PSVR rather than trying to become most powerful gaming console ever, as it seems Microsoft’s Scorpio will be.
Pushing virtual reality and a new console (while simultaneously phasing out the “fat” original model PS4s with the newer, uglier, slightly smaller slims) within a month of each other for the holiday rush seems like astounding hubris that runs the risk of confusing the average consumer, i.e., an audience that’s more likely to buy the console because it’s the most “complete” version available. Rather than letting PSVR breathe a little — VR itself is highly untested for widespread commercial viability — Sony is flooding the market with multiple new products in a short time-span. It feels like a recipe for failure.
The console wars are always a war of push and pull as one company vies to one-up the other. While you might argue about the potential install base Pro might have by the time Scorpio launches at the end of 2017, people always want the best tech available. Compared to 2014, the major difference now is that Microsoft doesn’t have anything to lose whereas the only place for Sony to go is down.