Opinion: PS5 Sounds Like a PS4 Deluxe, Because That’s What People Actually Want
Indulge me with a thought experiment. You are a very successful orange salesman. You spent several harvests picking the best elements of different oranges, cross-breeding them and discovering an orange that almost everyone loves, while not breaking the bank on your end. Let’s say you end up selling, I don’t know, 90 million oranges. Impressive!
Now to the hard part: when it comes to the next generation of oranges after this success, are you going to: a) sell an orange that iterates slightly on the success of your last orange, but keeps its core appeal (I promise I didn’t start this analogy to get to this pun, it’s an accident, I’m so sorry) or, b) decide you sell aeroplanes now, and hope all your happy orange punters want to become pilots all of a sudden, for absolutely no reason.
If you chose b) I’m sorry, you are an idealistic businessperson, and as such are statistically likely to die in squalor. If you chose a) congratulations, you are Sony Interactive Entertainment, but for oranges.
Almost immediately after Wired revealed the first official details of the next-generation PlayStation (which I’m just going to call PS5 from now on, because intercapped words are annoying), I’ve seen people call it ‘boring’, or ‘unimaginative’.
It takes discs, it works with your current games and VR headset, it’ll make games look nicer and run quicker. That’s practically all we know right now, and the messaging seems clear: the PS5 is basically a PS4 Deluxe and not much else. I am 100% fine with that (well, apart from the fact that I want a real Boomerang controller), and you probably are too, because that’s what most people actually want.
Look, I’d be as delighted as you to find out that the PS5 is actually a high tech shoe with flip-open toe cap that reveals an 8K projector (I’ve written as much underneath stories about next-gen consoles for years, because I’m an idiot), but Sony’s hit upon a winning strategy and, 90 million consoles later, it would be absurd, even catastrophic, to ditch the blueprint for something new. What some call ‘boring’, your average buyer would likely call ‘probably quite good, thanks’.
And I’m not saying that Mark Cerny was lying when he said the tech inside his next-gen devkit represents a true generational shift, beyond that of the PS4-PS4 Pro upgrade. I have no doubt that the high-spec SSD he’s demonstrated will change how console games can and will be developed, allowing for bigger or (more excitingly) denser worlds, allowing developers to try more at less cost to their resources.
I’m also sure that Sony has big plans for game streaming, for cloud services, and for things I haven’t thought of yet because I keep dreaming of future-shoes. It’s just that the box itself, whatever crazy shape they go with this time (please, no more wedges at the back, HDMI cables are fiddly enough), will be another box – a nice, familiar object that sits under your TV and lights up and hums away and sometimes breaks for absolutely no reason. I’m almost comforted by the thought.
Aside from anything else, this is exactly the kind of move that encourages experimentation from other manufacturers. Microsoft is probably still a little too stung by the reception to Xbox One’s (quickly abandoned) new direction to try anything overtly off-the-wall with new hardware, but the Switch was born precisely because Nintendo has a gorgeously pig-headed approach to not doing what other people do. Say what you like about Google Stadia, but it is different, and that’s because Sony has cemented a status quo to be railed against. With the advent of 5G on the way, gaming’s blue ocean has rarely been wider, and Sony’s seeming double-down on its old strategy will only make it seem more inviting to prospective competitors.
In stark contrast to its naughty Noughties image, Sony won the last generation by being more normal than everyone else, offering everyone a product they understood, and just did its job well. Sony will be hoping it can, for the first time, hold onto a lead over its rivals across generations by repeating the same trick. I have a sneaking suspicion it’ll succeed.
Joe Skrebels is IGN’s UK Deputy Editor, and he won’t stop the whole ‘projector-in-a-shoe’ thing just because of pesky things like “facts”. Follow him on Twitter.
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