Common wisdom tells us that Sony are preparing to launch the PlayStation 4 NEO, the upgraded PlayStation 4 console that we already know exists thanks to Sony officially confirming it, some time this year. Most of the leaks regarding the console, which subsequently seem to have been on point, seem to indicate an October release for the upgraded console, possibly right alongside the PlayStation VR.
But possibly the strongest argument against that notion would be the fact that we are now into August, a little over two months away (at most) from a possible October launch, and so far, Sony have not yet even officially announced the system. I don’t mean that they haven’t confirmed it- they have, a fair few times now. I refer more to the fact that no major announcement of the system, alongside details such as release date and pricing, has been made yet. Even given shorter hype cycles for major consoles (the PS4 and Xbox One were revealed just months before their official release, and it looks like the same will be true of Nintendo’s NX too), this is absurd, and proof that the PS4 NEO, whatever the rumors might say, isn’t coming in October this year. After all, what company would launch a major product with so little time to actually drum up hype and excitement for it?
As it turns out, a whole lot of them, and some of them are among the most successful electronics companies in the world. The model of announcing a product very near to its release (or in some cases, very close to its release), is a mainstay in the smart device world- where a new iPhone or a new Galaxy phone are announced weeks, at most, before they are released, and in some cases, are announced on the very same day that they become available to the market. No one would argue that iPhones are unsuccessful- in fact, they routinely break all manner of sales and commercial records.
"The model of announcing a product very near to its release (or in some cases, very close to its release), is a mainstay in the smart device world- where a new iPhone or a new Galaxy phone are announced weeks, at most, before they are released, and in some cases, are announced on the very same day that they become available to the market."
But that’s the phone market, right? Surely what works there wouldn’t necessarily work for the home console market. Surely the same line of reasoning cannot apply here? I want to argue that no, Sony are looking at emulating the smartphone model for announcement and lead in time to the release of the product for the PlayStation 4 NEO. I will also attempt to discuss why Sony may be doing so, and I will call to similar examples with game products in the past.
Beginning with the assumption that Sony plan to reveal the PlayStation 4 NEO shortly before its presumed October launch – let’s say some time in September, at the latest – we must ask ourselves, why? Especially contrast this with Microsoft’s approach, where the Scorpio was officially announced and revealed at E3 this year. Why would Sony let Microsoft generate all the hype, and potentially steal interest away from their product?
Beginning with the fact that the Scorpio is so far away from release that it’s probably not having any tangible effect on PS4 sales, let’s also point out what is likely to be the fundamental difference between how Microsoft and Sony treat the Scorpio and NEO respectively- for Microsoft, the Scorpio is a major new product, and the next step in the Xbox line. Even though Microsoft will jump around using that wording, it almost represents a full generational jump over the Xbox One.
The PS4 NEO, on the other hand, is decidedly not that. The spec bump looks to be modest, extending the PS4’s capabilities, but not by much, the major effort appears to be in maintaining parity and compatibility with the standard PS4 system, and Sony have themselves already said that they look at it merely as a premium PS4– a higher end version of the same system, but the same system nonetheless. In other words, as far as Sony are concerned, the PS4 NEO is just a new SKU of the PS4- nothing worth much fanfare, and certainly nothing demanding a months-long hype cycle. For Sony, the PS4 NEO is slightly more important (but ultimately still in the same overall range of significance) as a new Slim console- yes, it’s going to get a marketing campaign of its own, and be a major part of their product line, but it’s still just another variant of the same system that already exists and is already on the market. Treating it as a major new system launch by trying to talk about it for months and generating excitement for it over an extended hype cycle not only makes no sense, but is in fact patently absurd- from Sony’s point of view, in any case.
"As far as Sony are concerned, the PS4 NEO is just a new SKU of the PS4- nothing worth much fanfare, and certainly nothing demanding a months-long hype cycle."
Then, too, is the fact that the one thing that Sony appear to be the most concerned about with the NEO is potentially alienating the millions who have already bought the PS4. Indeed, this is something that becomes clear once one looks at the stringent guidelines Sony have placed on developers regarding how the NEO is to be treated (the long and short of it- NEO and PS4 must remain cross compatible, there can be no exclusive NEO games, there can be no exclusive NEO content, NEO and PS4 must maintain compatibility on PSN, and NEO versions of games must not receive any bonus, such as framerate boosts, which might give them an advantage in online play). It is very clear that Sony are trying their very best to have a PS4 upgrade that doesn’t leave the original PS4 and its vast swathe of owners behind in the dust.
This is decidedly different from Microsoft’s treatment of the Scorpio as a major new addition to the Xbox lineup, which makes sense from their perspective too- Sony have roughly 45 million PS4 owners on the market, while even the most optimistic estimates put the Xbox One at just half of that. Given this, Microsoft probably doesn’t feel as locked in to their customer base as Sony does- they can afford to launch a major new product that they feel can cater to a wider market than they have now without worrying too much about their current market being pissed, simply because by virtue of numbers, their current market isn’t that big. Sony, on the other hand, don’t want the 45 million PS4 owners on the market to feel like the $400 they just spent were on a product already obsolete- no, they want these people to feel satisfied with their PlayStation purchase, so that they buy further PlayStation systems and remained locked into the PlayStation ecosystem.
"This is decidedly different from Microsoft’s treatment of the Scorpio as a major new addition to the Xbox lineup."
And these are all the reasons that Sony won’t call attention to the PS4 NEO’s launch so much- they feel they don’t have to, given the NEO’s internal status as just a higher end variant of the PS4, and more importantly, they don’t want to, given the 45 million PS4 owners on the market, and the potential for angering them.
All of which is to say, a relatively smaller event at which the NEO is announced, just a few weeks or a couple of months ahead of its actual launch, sounds right and makes perfect sense. It is consistent and in keeping with what we understand of the NEO. It would also ensure that attention is not drawn away from the PlayStation VR, which, for all of its low key marketing, remains to Sony a major product launch.
It is also not as unprecedented in the gaming market as you would think- the Xbox 360 S, for instance, was announced on the day that it started to ship out to retailers, while the Xbox One S was announced just a month and a half ahead of its release. Both of them went on to become very successful- why make the argument that what worked for Xbox won’t work for PlayStation?
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.