What's going on with PlayStation? | Opinion

A look at why Sony has so far taken an understated approach to heralding the arrival of the next generation

It's official. PlayStation 5 is coming. It will be here in just over a year. Sony revealed it just this week to the world's media, with leading game developers celebrating its many advantages.

Well, not quite. It announced PS5 via a blog post and a placed article in Wired, just a few months after it first talked about the new console in a standalone Wired article.

Sony's understated approach to PR in 2019 has been in direct contrast to Microsoft, which has done nothing but talk, talk, talk, talk all year long. Whether it's about new consoles, streaming platforms, subscription services, games... even family settings. Microsoft has been leading the conversation, it has attended all the big shows, and has been sharing its vision in a coherent way. Microsoft has a plan and is happy to tell us all about it.

In a year where you'd expect Sony to be setting out its strategy for widening the gaming audience, it has acted conservatively. It is behaving more like a business worried about protecting its lead rather than extending it.

Sony's PR strategy is perhaps understandable when you consider the criticism it has faced from certain media, particularly around cross-play. There are already commentators proclaiming the return of 'arrogant Sony,' yet the counter to accusations of over-confidence is humility, not avoiding the conversation.

"The industry is looking at Sony to see what's next for the console business. At the moment, Xbox is the one providing all the answers"

Of course, the ongoing company restructure at Sony isn't helping. PlayStation's old regional structure made it a complicated beast, but that made it popular in markets its competitors couldn't get near. The centralisation plan was to try and simplify things while maintaining the regional autonomy that has worked so well in the past. As of right now, it's not working.

There is no centralised clarity of vision, and regional teams have become frustrated by US oversight and sign-off procedures. It's perhaps no wonder senior names -- whether that's Shawn Layden or regional leads -- are using this opportunity to move on.

This uncertainty has reached the wider business. At the Investment Summit this year, one indie developer expressed fears that PlayStation "has stopped caring about indies." There's so much we don't know about what Sony is planning next. What are its third-party priorities? Is VR still a thing for it? Is PlayStation Now as significant to them as Game Pass is for Xbox?

It might be PlayStation doesn't quite have all the answers yet and isn't ready for the media scrutiny. Even so, it's not quite the confident showing you'd expect from the dominant platform holder.

I confess I was a bit reluctant to write this piece initially. None of this is especially new. From the moment Sony backed out of E3, it was clear the company was going into stealth mode ahead of PS5, and we're still over a year away from its launch. And restructures are almost always painful. The time to judge them is not in the middle of the transition, but at the end when the kinks have been worked out. Centralising PlayStation in a globalised games industry had to happen at some point.

Comparing PlayStation to Xbox is also a little unfair. For Xbox, this generation was all but lost long ago, so it's no surprise that its next-gen strategy is more developed. After all, Sony has been busy lining up games and developing services to satisfy its current enormous install base. Microsoft has dominated the conversation in 2019, but so what? If Sony has kept its powder dry for some major reveals next year, then it might find itself in control during 2020 when it actually matters.

PlayStation may have lost some charismatic names, but in Jim Ryan, Mark Cerny and Shuhei Yoshida, they've got some smart leaders more than capable of delivering something exceptional. But that's the thing... we don't know if Sony will do that next year. Is it going to invite the world's media back in? Is it going to face the tougher questions? Will it return to the big stages like E3?

There's some doubt around PlayStation now that wasn't there a few years ago. PS4 sales are slowing (in the UK, console sales are down almost 40% year-to-date) and the industry is looking at Sony to see what's next for the console business. At the moment, Xbox is the one providing all the answers.

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Latest comments (12)

Bob Johnson Studying graphics design, Northern Arizona UniversityA year ago
I figured it's just their marketing strategy. Don't hype it too much too soon. Less is more. Give a few details to keep it mysterious but interesting.

As you said it's over a year out still.

Apple waits until a product is out before hyping it. They do ok.
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Nick Parker Consultant A year ago
In the UK, year to date PS4 unit sales are down by 40%; Xbox One is down 35%, both experiencing natural end of cycle declines. PS4 sales this year in the UK are still pretty robust at 94% of Switch and 1.64 times Xbox One. The last paragraph of this article is irrelevant to the overall thesis.
I feel that Sony, as in the 90s with PS1 and PS2, is taking the high ground with a less is more approach to the next gen reveal. The dev industry will be kept informed, even if the press doesn't appreciate being cut out.
Finally, I'm not sure that there is any relationship between Shaun Layden leaving and the teething troubles surrounding the unification of regional submissions processes, as implied.
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@Nick Parker: The last line is to highlight how the console market is dropping and the market is asking questions over what’s next. Not a comment on PlayStation alone.

It may well be that ‘less is more’ approach. But that approach is worrying a fair few in the trade. Including those being cut out within Sony’s own regional teams.
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Show all comments (12)
Richard Browne Head of External Projects, Digital ExtremesA year ago
I wonder if the trade are more worried about Sony starting to sell machines direct ... also trade is always the last to innovate or heaven help us embrace a new approach. There’s literally nothing to talk about beyond what Sony and Microsoft have announced. Did ANYONE come away from Microsoft’s E3 presentation talking about Scarlett? Cyberpunk and Keanu were the show!
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David Reeves Consultant A year ago
Good insights Chris, in the end, like PSone in 94/5 , it will be the games in the 1st year that define the success. 'Do not underestimate the Power of PlayStation ' (how many of you remember that one...?
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@Richard Browne: I sort-of meant the whole industry. 'Trade' is one of my old MCV words. It's not just next-gen hardware for Xbox. It's also subscriptions and streaming. PlayStation is talking, just selectively and occasionally. I do expect that to change come 2020. I hope it does.
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Nick Parker Consultant A year ago
@David Reeves ....or 'zig when others zag'.
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Richard Browne Head of External Projects, Digital ExtremesA year ago
@Christopher Dring: Well Sony’s been doing streaming for years so not much to add ; and I doubt they’ll ever make Now ubiquitous as the infrastructure cost doesn’t benefit them. PS Plus is their subscription model, I’m not sure Sony sees the benefit in an additional Gamepass style system, we’ll see - but it would be odd at the birth of a new platform in a way given the need to subsidize the hardware with full sales.
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Roland Austinat roland austinat media productions|consulting, IDG, Computec, Spiegel OnlineA year ago
@Nick Parker: Any thoughts on why Shaun Layden would want to leave? Too many jobs piled up on him and Jim Ryan? He had a stellar record over the last decades, so I don't really get this move.
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Richard Browne Head of External Projects, Digital ExtremesA year ago
He finally conquered Insomniac! The last required acquisition!
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@Richard Browne: What an act to go out on. I think Insomniac may well have been the developer of this generation. Definitely Top Five
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Richard Browne Head of External Projects, Digital ExtremesA year ago
Completely agree ; they’ve been at the top of the tree since Spyro ... with a minor wobble when they left the Sony fold! Ted is a brilliant guy and built and incredible group of people.
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