This year promises to be an interesting one for fans of console gaming, with not one, but two new game consoles launching. In March, Nintendo launches the Switch, its new portable-home console hybrid that has already sold out of pre-orders worldwide, and looks to be launching to a general level of buzz and hype that Nintendo has not enjoyed since the original Wii days. The Switch is a quintessentially Nintendo machine- it’s entirely unlike what Sony and Microsoft are doing, it pitches a new take on the notion of gaming, and while it will definitely not be directly competing with PlayStation and Xbox due to how different it is, it can definitely pose a threat to them, much like the Wii posed a threat to Xbox 360 and PS3 in it early days.
The Scorpio, on the other hand, is a much more direct competitor to the existing PS4, and also a pretty direct successor to the Xbox One- a machine specifically built to be the strongest gaming console ever built, and in the process negate the PS4’s power advantage, the Scorpio is a machine aimed directly at what Microsoft perceives to be the core reason for the PS4’s dominance in this generation so far, with developers, and as a result, with consumers, too.
It’s an exciting time for customers, but it is also probably the biggest test Sony and PlayStation have faced since they went and achieved total domination early in this generation- the Scorpio could legitimately be a challenge to the PS4, at least for those customers who want the best playing versions of multiplats on their console, and the Switch could be an issue on the lower end by being a viable Nintendo system with some appealing Nintendo games that a prospective buyer could pick up instead. How, then, could Sony best fend off this double threat?
"The only people interested in a PS4 who would also be interested in a Switch are people who, in all likelihood, already own a PS4, and now want a Switch to supplement it."
With the Switch, there’s probably not much Sony have to do. While the Switch is definitely some threat on the lower end, it’s still a system with different priorities, and little to no overlap with the PS4’s selling proposition- while the customers it is targeting may intersect with the ones the PS4 targets to some extent, to them, the Switch is sold as a secondary, supplementary system they get in addition to their primary system. The Switch is not meant to replace the PS4 or the Xbox One as your primary system, and no sensible customer would buy one for that purpose. What this means, then, is that the only people interested in a PS4 who would also be interested in a Switch are people who, in all likelihood, already own a PS4, and now want a Switch to supplement it. Sony doesn’t have to worry as much about the Switch in that context- though dropping the price of the PS4 Slim, or introducing an attractive bundle, the week of the Switch’s launch, wouldn’t hurt them.
With the Scorpio, on the other hand, things get very interesting- but just a cursory and preliminary analysis of what Sony could do to stave off the potential threat that the Scorpio represents recontextualizes a lot of moves Sony has been making over the last year or so, moves that will probably position them best to counter the Scorpio, and ensure that the PS4 retains its stranglehold over the market.
The most interesting and important of these is the PS4 Pro- naturally, the PS4 Pro is the PlayStation analog to the Scorpio, and it is what will ultimately have to shoulder the load of actually going up against the system. On first glance, things don’t actually look too good for the Pro in this contest- it’s far weaker than the Scorpio is, is further inhibited by Sony’s mandate for parity between PS4 Pro versions of games and standard PS4 ones, and lacks some crucial tertiary features that could make it more appealing to the average customer. How can it face off against a system that we are told will have a 6TFLOPs GPU and possibly 12GB of GDDR5 RAM?
"The Xbox Scorpio is unlikely to be a cheap system."
The simple answer is, pricing. The Xbox Scorpio is unlikely to be a cheap system- not only has Microsoft made it very clear that it will be a ‘premium priced offering,’ but even if Microsoft decides to go back on that, take a hit on each system sold, and prices it unexpectedly low, like at $399, Sony can retaliate simply by dropping the PS4 Pro price- at that point in time, the PS4 Pro will have been on the market for over a year, and manufacturing costs will have greatly come down owing to natural economies of scale over time. The natural thing to do would be to drop the price to $350 at the very least- but Sony could also throw in a game (such as Uncharted 4 or The Last of Us, both games that would have reached the end of their natural sales bell curves by that point), and/or reduce the price to $299, depending on what Microsoft’s pricing strategy is.
Price alone makes the PS4 Pro a compelling proposition come Holiday season- a great 4K system for just $349? One that has more games available than the Scorpio, since the Pro will have been out on the market for over a year by then? That makes it an appealing pick up for many, especially since the Pro is tied to the more popular brand of this generation. But Sony has another ace up its sleeves, which it could use to position the PS4 Pro as not just the cheaper alternative to the Xbox Scorpio, but also the more capable one. How, you ask? After all, the PS4 Pro’s specs are what they are, and it’s not like they can be changed by Sony at this point.
And that’s right- but specs aren’t the only thing that can make a system capable. Instead, consider the fact that the PS4 Pro is built for PlayStation VR- technically, PSVR works on standard PS4 systems, too, but it’s on PS4 Pro that it actually works as intended. By positioning the PS4 Pro as the system that can not just push 4K visuals, but is also VR capable, and, similar to its 4K library, also has a sizeable library of VR ready content available, Sony can make the PS4 Pro a more tantalizing prospect to the customer- sure, the Scorpio may have higher and better specs, but it’s also more expensive, doesn’t have many games to take advantage of those specs yet? Why not just pick up the cheaper Pro at that point?
"The combination of more 4K games, a cheaper price, and VR compatibility, not to mention brand association with the PS4, will definitely make the PS4 Pro a far more appealing product compared to Scorpio this Holiday season."
The counterpoint to this is the fact that the Scorpio is supposed to be VR capable, too- but even given that, VR will not be a selling point for the Scorpio right away. Consider that Microsoft has no VR hardware in the works right now that could release in time alongside the Scorpio. Which means customers who buy a Scorpio will be left with the prospect of either waiting until Microsoft releases its own VR headset, or, presumably, picking up an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, which might both be compatible with Scorpio. But in that case, customers will be left picking up a more expensive VR headset with a more expensive console, and still no library of VR ready content on Scorpio- unless the system somehow manages to launch with a healthy library of VR titles.
In other words, while the Scorpio may look to be an unassailable threat in terms of hard specs, Sony still has several counters to it. The combination of more 4K games, a cheaper price, and VR compatibility, not to mention brand association with the PS4, will definitely make the PS4 Pro a far more appealing product compared to Scorpio this Holiday season, and should ensure that the PS4 can maintain its sales lead over Microsoft’s system. As for the Switch, there isn’t enough overlap of customers there for Sony to be worried about- the Switch is the kind of system that will coexist with PS4 and/or Xbox One. It’s each other that PlayStation and Xbox have to be worried about.
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.