At this point, it’s no secret that I wasn’t too happy with the PS4 Pro unveil at the PlayStation Meeting earlier this week. It was a badly handled event that did the exact opposite that a hardware reveal is supposed to do- it unhyped me for the Pro where earlier I was pretty all in on the PS4 NEO. And even though some better news and hands on reports about the console have begun to percolate since the initial announcement, the poor nature of its reveal, coupled with some very poor decisions Sony have made – essentially creating a new ‘4K’ system that can’t output games in 4K natively (outside of low resource intensive indie games, and ports of older games), and doesn’t have 4K Blu Ray compatibility, and can’t have any exclusives – cause me to ask myself: was Sony blindsided by the Xbox One Scorpio?
It’s not an unreasonable question to ask. I am very positive that Sony did expect Microsoft to have some kind of PS4 Pro-esque system of their own that they were internally working on- just the fact that both systems had been built on a very similar x86-64 base, using AMD hardware, ensured that they both might also see very similar development path down the road. However, expecting a new incrementally upgraded console is one thing- getting what the Scorpio is, which is almost a generational gap over the existing Xbox One, and is, frankly, a beast of a console at its proposed specs, was probably as unexpected for Sony as it was for us. Where the PS4 Pro looks to be a more conservative update to the existing PS4, the Scorpio is basically a brand new console with the benefit of being fully backwards and forward compatible.
This is important- among the many reasons that the Pro looks like a relatively unappealing product is the simple fact that we already know that the Scorpio exists, and that it is coming next year. It’s a far more powerful system, and for the 60 million people who already own a PS4 or an Xbox One, it makes far more sense to go with the Scorpio, which represents a real jump, than the Pro, which is a halting step forward. For people who aren’t all in on this generation yet, and are yet to purchase a console, the Scorpio makes an immediate and appealing case for itself- especially given Microsoft’s progressive and broad ecosystem strategy, the fact that they have removed restrictions on game development that they used to have just a few years ago, and, of course, its better specs. Of course, there is the simple argument that for many, PlayStation’s lineup of exclusives may be more appealing than Xbox’s – which is a very fair argument – but the larger picture and context is, the PS4 Pro did not need to exist to enable the PS4 exclusive lineup, which existed well before the Pro was even a thing.
"For people who aren’t all in on this generation yet, and are yet to purchase a console, the Scorpio makes an immediate and appealing case for itself."
Which leads to the most pressing question of all- did Sony rush the PS4 Pro? Would they have been better off waiting an additional year, and reworking the console to be more powerful and capable, so it could hold its own against the threat of the Scorpio?
This is a multilayered question, and we need to treat it as such. The two most pressing questions that need to be answered here are, should they have? Independently of the other question, which is, could they have?
Tackling the ‘should they have?’ first, it is clear that waiting and having a more capable system on hand would have been best for Sony. The PS4 Pro as a product is not misguided in principle – indeed, I have long espoused the values of incrementally iterative consoles – but it is clear now that it could have done with being a better system all around. I’m talking more powerful specs that enable native 4K play (more than the PS4 Pro can right now, in any case), with better media capabilities (a UHD drive would not have gone amiss), and a better and more compelling value proposition for people who already own a PS4 or an Xbox One.
I hear the counter arguments already- Sony’s core, underlying aim with the Pro was to provide an upgraded experience without alienating their 40 million PS4 owners already, or without making them feel like they’d wasted their money. And you know what? I can’t disagree with that guiding principle on Sony’s part- it’s admirable to attempt to make good by your fanbase. But that misses the larger point that the Scorpio is doing the same thing while being much more powerful and well equipped for the job. It’s not like Scorpio is breaking compatibility with the Pro- it can’t have any exclusives, and it needs to be inter compatible with existing Xbox One systems entirely. On the specs front, the Scorpio might have probably pissed off a lot of Xbox One owners, except, unlike the PS4 Pro, which launches less than three years after the PS4 did, the Scorpio is launching four years after the Xbox One- a long time in the tech world, a long time in the gaming world (for reference, the original Xbox was supported for four years before the Xbox 360 came out, and no one complained then), and more than enough time for Xbox One owners to not feel shafted with their purchase (especially since the Scorpio maintains compatibility anyway). If Sony had launched the Pro next year, they’d have been in the same position, too.
So the answer to the question of whether or not Sony should have delayed the PS4 Pro is a easy yes- the other important question is, could they have?
"The only way Sony could have reworked the Pro would have been if they had conceptualized it as a more powerful system very early in its development, or if they had learned of Microsoft’s plans for the Scorpio very early on in the Pro’s development."
And see, this depends on when exactly Sony learned about the Scorpio’s capabilities and existence. Presuming that they learned about it a few months before we did – so, say, in February or March this year – then it simply would have been too late. At that point, devkits were sent out, plans had been made, manufacturing processes were ready. Logistics and practicalities of the situation dictated that Sony could not have simply scrapped their plans for the Pro, gone back to the drawing board, and cobbled together a more powerful system- that kind of thing never ends well. If Sony had learned about the Scorpio’s proposed capabilities late into the Pro’s development, there is nothing they could have done about it- they were stuck, committed, and had no choice but to soldier on with their plans, and make do the best with what they had.
Indeed, the only way Sony could have reworked the Pro would have been if they had conceptualized it as a more powerful system very early in its development (meaning they were approaching it with an entirely different mindset than it just being a PS4, but a slightly more high end one), or if they had learned of Microsoft’s plans for the Scorpio very early on in the Pro’s development. Anything else, and they’d be stuck with what they had- and what they have.
So, going back to the larger question, did Sony get blindsided by the Xbox Scorpio? I think that just a little more than a cursory glance at the situation on hand seems to indicate that they did. The more immediate and pertinent question now would be- will it matter to the gaming public? Or is Sony’s lead with the PS4 too entrenched now for Microsoft to truly make a comeback? It’s going to be very interesting to see what the answer to that question is in the coming months and years, that’s for sure.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.