Whilst the Covid-19 pandemic has certainly challenged the technology industry in many ways, one key bright spot has been the steady announcements on next generation consoles. While the gaming community is still left in the dark about many aspects of what Xbox and Sony will bring to market during the 2020 holiday season, more and more is being revealed, drumming up excitement over what will likely be one of the key gifting season products this year.
Sony teased further details on both games and hardware at last night’s Future of Gaming event, leveraging relationships with third party publishers such as Rockstar games, its exclusive franchise muscle through PlayStation Studio forthcoming releases, and most importantly, provided fans with a first glimpse of the PS5 itself and some key accessories. While console aesthetics are not at the core of a console’s user experience, gaming is dominated by incredibly well-designed products and it is no surprise that Sony’s new PS5 design has taken a step away from past generational aesthetics. Reaction to the PS5’s redesign has polarised fans, with many taking to social media comparing its look to an internet router, a duck’s bill or a lever arch folder. While the product’s design is perhaps one of the easiest aspects to poke fun at, the specs and gameplay shown have highlighted Sony’s hard work and effort to lead the market into the next generation of gameplay, and fans were certainly impressed. As Sony’s Herman Hulst, Head of Worldwide Studios attested, ‘Making games used to be about making these constant trade-offs, between the artistic vision, and technical limitations. With PS5, we are not going to be burdened like that, we’re going to be able to realise artistic vision a lot better’.
One major update to Sony and Microsoft’s next generation consoles is the integration of ray tracing technology, allowing light patterns to be synthesized in real time, creating more realistic experiences. Night-time cityscapes are often used to flex graphical abilities, and Sony’s event did not shy away from this. Ghostwire: Tokyo and Stray highlighted some of the technology’s powers through scenes of neon lit side streets. While the inclusion of ray tracing technology in both the Xbox Series X and PS5 has been known for some time, its application has not been demonstrated in such detail, until now. The improvements in graphical quality demonstrated highlights the leap from what has been possible on Sony’s PS4, and similar improvements are will be expected from the Xbox Series X. Sony has certainly succeeded in demonstrating the improvements gained through next generation console and both heavyweight and indie publishers are ready to utilise the tech.
While next level graphics technology was abundant throughout Sony’s presentation, it is unclear how this will be utilised through Sony’s PSVR. No VR games were teased throughout the event, though PSVR will certainly benefit from the powerhouse of graphical processing the PS5 will provide. This may have been a tactical decision from Sony, with the industry expecting a PSVR 2 to launch within a year or two of the full PS5 debut. While the PSVR has been the single best selling VR headset to date, experiences have been held back due to the PS4’s now dated hardware specifications, particularly when compared to gaming PCs and the ability to quickly update components as and when necessary. The PSVR headset itself has also fallen behind technology on offer from the likes of Oculus and HTC, offering a smaller field of view and lacking technology such as eye tracking. Given the success of the PSVR to date, it is expected that Sony will continue its investment and launch a suitably upgraded headset to match its consoles processing power.
Graphics were not the only vision of the future highlighted by Sony. The PS5 is now known to come in two editions, one with a disc drive and a digital edition without. Games consoles are one of the few remaining markets where packaged media is still in high demand, however demand for physical software continues to decline, as consumers shift to digital purchasing and to accessing games through subscription packages such as PS Now. The PS5 Digital edition is likely to be available at a lower price tag, due to the reduction in hardware, but as it also provides PlayStation with a margin increasing opportunity through bypassing third party retailers on software sales. Following Microsoft’s Xbox One S Digital Edition launch in 2019, it is no surprise that Sony is now also launching a discless variant for the coming console generation. While all forms of content have moved towards digital delivery methods, the PS5 Digital Edition does mark a move away from the inclusion of a 4K Blu-Ray player which provided Sony an advantage over Microsoft in the last generation console battle. While the Xbox Series X now includes a 4K Blu-Ray player, Sony’s disc drive comes as an optional extra, opposed to a standard feature, a sign of times gone where consumers sought an all in one home entertainment device, rather than using digital applications to access film and video.
Of the 25 new games showcased, many are being released from Sony’s PlayStation Studios offering a sneak peak at a range of exclusive content available at the PS5’s launch or shortly after. Sony began and ended its event with highlights from two of PlayStations most popular exclusive franchises, Spiderman and Horizon. In the race to secure loyalty from the existing and engaged PlayStation userbase, access to key games franchises continued to be at the forefront of both Sony and Microsoft’s marketing strategy. Sony has in no uncertain terms succeeded to establish itself as the dominant party in console gaming over the last generation, with exclusive content considered one major driver of this success. At this stage in the race, securing consumer interest in upgrading to next generation consoles is key, and highlighting the continuation of key franchises is perhaps one of the strongest tools in Sony’s marketing arsenal.
While Sony’s latest announcement provides fans with a huge amount of additional information on its forthcoming hardware release, there remains many unknowns and consumers will be eagerly awaiting confirmation on. Pricing is one key factor, and although a mistaken Amazon UK listing has suggested the PS5 will retail for £599.99, regional price differences have not been confirmed. Furthermore, while Sony has showcased an impressive range of accessories, further functionalities, such as in game voice assistants, Twitch integration, and VR or AR, have received little attention. With much more information expected, in the coming months, PlayStation fans will have even more to look forward to before its Q4 release.
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