A quick look at the PlayStation 4’s sales numbers is enough to conclude the obvious: Sony is the dominating player in today’s console market. Already entering its 6th year in 2019, Sony has stated that the PS4 is entering the end of its life cycle. All sorts of “experts” and “market analysts” are scurrying to make predictions about the next console generation cycle and now it is my turn to do so. First, let’s take a look at the PS4’s trajectory up until now.
Early Life: Better than the other guys
The PlayStation 4’s early success had more to do with their competitors being incompetent rather than Sony showing proper good content. Calling the Xbox One’s reveal a disaster would be an understatement and the WiiU was already considered a sinking ship at that point. The controversy over used game sharing was large enough to drive Sony to release this video.
Looking at first party games at the time, it’s a surprise that Sony managed to gain such a large headstart. Highlights of the early PS4 era are so bad that Killzone, Knack, Driveclub and The Order: 1886 make the list.
Things only got better on March 2015 when SCE published Bloodborne, a game that I believe will still be featured in Top 10 Games of All Time lists for many, many years to come.
Middle life: PSVR launch and finally some good video games
2016 had Ratchet and Clank as well as The Last Guardian, a game that had been announced in 2009 for the PS3. There was also Uncharted 4 and Heavy Rain, both which may or may not be video games, depending on who you ask. It wasn’t until 2017/18 that Sony finally managed to enter a good stride of AAA releases.
Horizon Zero Dawn and Gran Turismo Sport both came out in ’17, marking the start of the PS4’s best period. Although I believe Bloodborne is to be the best game on PS4, my opinion is that HZD will be remembered as the defining game on the system. It’s the ultimate culmination of game design in the 8th Generation of consoles.
The PlayStation VR was released in October 2016 and still had almost no decent games at this point. Farpoint was released in May, becoming the first seller for the headset. Wipeout Omega Collection came out this year but it wasn’t until March 2018 that it received a VR patch, cementing it as one of the best virtual reality titles for any system. Speaking of PlayStation Vita ports, Gravity Rush 2 is also from around this time. A rather good series that likely will not see another game.
There is no doubt that 2018 was by far the best year for first party releases on the system. Sony managed to release several AAA games almost evenly spaced to one another. Shadow of the Colossus remake, God of War, Detroit: Become Human and Spider-Man, all of which went to sell millions of copies each. 2018 was also the year in which Sony released Déraciné, Firewall: Zero Hour and Astro Bot, VR games that went towards ushering PSVR as the leading virtual reality platform. Astro Bot in particular ranks as one of the highest rated games on the system and the highest rated VR game in any platform.
By the end of 2018, over 91.6 million PS4s have been shipped, 876 million games sold. PSVR numbers haven’t been updated in a while but are estimated to be just around 4 million at this time. Comparatively, the Xbox One has “only” 40 million sales and 269 million games sold, being that 22.5 million of them are in the USA and only about 100.000 in Japan. The Nintendo Switch is at about 32 million sales, will likely outsell the Xbox One within this year.
End of life cycle: PS5 speculation, censorship and the future
Such a long streak of success seems to have gotten to their heads over at SCEA headquarters, for the worst. As the gaming press has widely stressed over the last several months, Sony has taken to censoring Japanese games. It started with a handful of console ports for visual novels in Japan but has already spread to games in the west. Popular series such as Senran Kagura and Neptunia have already suffered censorship on their PS4 releases.
Details regarding Sony’s new policy didn’t take long to surface. Supposedly, Japanese developers are being asked to submit information regarding their games in English, submitting them to regulation standards even more strict than those applied by PEGI, CERO or ESRB. Such draconian practices have upset both developers and players, tarnishing the somewhat good relationship consumers had with Sony during this console generation. Add to this the fact Sony refuses to allow cross play in all but a few games, paid online and low quality services from PSN, the PlayStation 4 user base has been sour. Righteously so.
In a recent cryptic move, Sony announced that not only they would not host a PlayStation Experience event in 2018, but they would also NOT be on E3 2019. While skipping PSX was a somewhat understandable move, not showing up at E3 was up until now completely unthinkable. They’ve been at E3 since its first occurrence and are major players in their show. What’s their game plan?
They’ve got Days Gone on the pipeline, a game that literally nobody I know is looking forward to. Beyond that, Dreams is shaping up to become to the Magnum Opus of creation games for the PS4 and PSVR, while Death Stranding, Ghost of Tsushima and The Last of Us II are softly hinted to be coming out later this year. This much is certainly enough to put together an E3 presentation, they’ve worked with less in the past before. No doubt this ties into their plan for announcing the PlayStation 5.
Considering the number of internal studios under Sony and information given by developers, it’s possible to infer that the PS5’s hardware is already mostly set in stone at this point. The three AAA games with undefined release dates will likely become cross-gen titles, releasing on both consoles. Meanwhile, it is difficult to imagine that Sony isn’t already working on games exclusive to the PS5 this very moment, all of which cannot be announced until the console itself gets presented.
The future of PSVR is still unclear at this point. The headset’s success has been so wild that Oculus has decided to copy Sony’s approach to VR by releasing the Oculus Quest, basically a consolized VR headset. The secret to their success, brand recognition aside, is the fact that it has a low entry point. PSVRs are going for as low as $200 USD since last Black Friday, bundled with actual good games now.
One of the reasons why PSVR is able to sell so cheap are its low specs. Although it has better quality lenses, screen and refresh rate, the actual resolution is much lower compared to the stock Vive and Rift. PSVR’s promotion worldwide has been escalating, it is hard to imagine that Sony will drop VR. On the other hand, it’s also difficult to imagine that they will will not want to upgrade its specs to fit a much stronger PS5’s capabilities.
The weakest part of PSVR is its tracking. With a single tracking camera, even though it has two lenses, it is impossible to accurately track objects in 3D space. While it’s a given that the PS Moves will be replaced for better controllers, the crux of the matter hinges on whether they will continue using outside-in light tracking, or move on to infrared tracking or even inside-out tracking techniques. Every so often we get news of new Sony patents that hint that they are looking into these options.
The success of this new platform will depend entirely on whether or not they will allow current PSVR models to function on the PS5. Alienating their early adopter installed base is a move which PSVR will likely not survive and the likelihood of that taking place hinges on whether they choose to keep or change its tracking method.
This has been a long enough rant so I’ll try to keep this conclusion short: I predict an official announcement for the PS5 around the time E3 rolls around(or sooner), perhaps in a very Nintendo Direct -like way. Release will be Holidays 2019 with either Death Stranding or Ghost of Tsushima being a launch title. Base model priced at $400 USD, possibly with a VR Bundle version at $700. I predict a higher resolution PSVR Model 3 but otherwise the same as the current model, perhaps with the option for extra cameras for improved tracking. The PS Moves will be phased out immediately in favor of new, better tracking controllers. I buy the story that Microsoft will release 3 different Xbox Scarlet models and, if that’s the case, we’ll definitely see that this year. Nintendo will follow by releasing a cheaper revision of the Switch. The chance of Xbox entering the VR race is about 100% in my head so I hope Sony has some good games lined up because Microsoft won’t settle for being dead last for one more generation.