Sony have failed to communicate why most people should bother with the PS4 Pro.
The PlayStation 4 Pro is currently doing well, if reports are to be believed. Apparently, the pre-orders for the system are beyond what Sony expected, which seems to indicate that the system is on track to do well. But this is reductive reasoning, and it seems to miss on some very important facts- it misses that no hard numbers have been shared. It misses that strong pre-orders don’t necessarily translate into sustained success for products. And it misses that even products that went on to eventually fail, including the Sega 32X, the PlayStation Vita, and the Wii U, saw an incredible uptake in pre-orders, none of which amounted to much once the systems were actually available.
In other words, the pre-orders don’t matter much: they just mean that the Sony faithful are willing to eat up the PS4 Pro, which, of course they are. The question is, will other people be willing to jump on board? Will they be willing to spend money on another PS4 when they already own one? Will they be willing to spend $400 on a PS4 Pro when a PS4 Slim is much cheaper? Will they spend $400 on a PS4 Pro when an Xbox One S is much cheaper, and also has a UHD Drive? Will they spend $400 on a system that will be overshadowed by Microsoft’s ‘the most powerful console ever’ Xbox One Scorpio just next year?
What I am trying to get at here is that Sony have a problem- they need the PS4 Pro to sell on a sustained basis, especially if they want developers to continue supporting it in a meaningful way, and if they want the idea of iterative console upgrades to take off. But as of right now, they’re not doing a very good job of that. Most people don’t quite understand why they should buy it, or what benefits it has for them- particularly if they own a 1080p TV.
"Sony have failed to communicate the PS4 Pro, and its benefits, to most people entirely."
In a lot of ways, this is exactly the situation that Nintendo faced with the Wii U- that system was a branding nightmare that most people didn’t realize and misunderstood what it was entirely. Those who knew that it was a thing, and got what it was, weren’t quite sure why they needed one. The one thing in Sony’s favor here is that the PS4 Pro is just an SKU of their product, rather than their flagship- if things go too far south, they can just ditch it, and fall back on the standard PS4, which continues to sell well. But that ignores the larger problem- that Sony have failed to communicate the PS4 Pro, and its benefits, to most people entirely.
The problem was evident in the reveal itself. Let’s ignore the actual presentation (which was dull and lacked energy entirely), and focus rather on the content here. The PS4 Pro was advertised on the strength of three things: improved specs, HDR, and 4K. Sony refused to go more in depth on the improved specs, possibly fearing unfavorable comparisons with the upcoming Scorpio (something as major as the fact that the Pro has an extra GB of RAM was only revealed in a random interview done last week, rather than on stage); 4K was a resolution bump that couldn’t be effectively communicated to most people watching the announcement stream, who were almost certainly doing so on sub 4K streams universally; and in addition to this problem, Sony also announced that all PS4 models would be getting HDR capability via a firmware update, meaning that the most visible graphical update that the PS4 Pro was bringing to games at a glance was suddenly available to everyone for free, leading to the question, yet again- why buy a Pro?
The problems persisted afterwards, too. Sony’s emphasis during the PS4 Pro reveal may have been on 4K, but that was probably a costly mistake. The PS4 Pro simply is not powerful enough to render most major AAA games in 4K natively, and instead has to resort to cheats and shortcuts like Checkerboard rendering. The PS4 Pro’s lack of UHD Blu Ray capability makes the 4K focus even more laughable. Then there is the problem that most of the market currently does not own 4KTVs, nor is there much interest in owning one there that is evident.
"The trouble here is that the PS4 Pro is an appreciable upgrade over the standard PS4, but that is getting lost and fudged in Sony’s messaging, which insists on focusing on 4K as the selling point."
The trouble here is that the PS4 Pro is an appreciable upgrade over the standard PS4, but that is getting lost and fudged in Sony’s messaging, which insists on focusing on 4K as the selling point. The PS4 Pro brings a lot of other upgrades, visual and performance based, to the table- but most people are simply not aware of these, because they immediately associate the PS4 Pro with 4K. This is why, even on a forum as full of hardcore gaming enthusiasts as NeoGAF, you have people wondering what the point of a PS4 Pro is if you own a 1080p HDTV.
The deeper problem here is that Sony’s own insistence on pushing 4K with the PS4 Pro – something that the machine is decidedly not the best at – is ridiculous. There is so much more the PS4 Pro could be doing if Sony would ease up on the 4K focus, but here we are, stuck with still more dots and lines on the screen, while actual meaningful performance and visual upgrades that we could be getting with the Pro’s increased resources are being squandered. Then, too, there is also the fact that Sony’s insistence on maintaining absolute parity between the Pro and the standard PS4 is holding the Pro back from its full potential- if the PS4 Pro can render Bloodborne at 60fps and 1080p, and if that is something players are willing to spend money on, then why is Sony so insistent on not letting that happen? I understand they don’t want to anger the 40 million odd PS4 owners worldwide, but they still get Bloodborne, don’t they? But what incentive does anyone have on upgrading to a higher end PS4, if that PS4’s higher end specs aren’t being put to any use at all?
Sony’s messaging problems with the PS4 don’t just have to do with the PS4’s hardware, or its fundamental existence, however. They also permeate the chief reason for any games hardware to exist in the first place- games. As of right now, officially, it is unclear the extent of support that PS4 Pro owners can expect for their machines. Sony have promised all first party PS4 games will support it going forward, and that’s good, but what about third party games? Sony say that ‘virtually all games released after November 10’ will support the PS4 Pro, but that wording is deliberately vague and falls short of committing to all games supporting the Pro. Will third party games definitively support the Pro? When major titles such as Destiny skip out on supporting it, you tend to lose some confidence in the entire charade, especially given just how close of an association Destiny has with PlayStation to begin with. And what does ‘supporting the PS4 Pro’ mean anyway? Does just upscaled 4K output qualify? Or does it have to be something more substantial? Games like Titanfall 2 seem to suggest that the former is the case- but if so, yet again, the question is, why bother buying the PS4 Pro?
"The PS4 Pro is the strongest console ever made. Sony should be capitalizing on that, pushing that angle for all it’s worth in their marketing, leveraging the PS4 Pro’s extra power to ensure that games on it are a clear visual upgrade over games on the standard PS4."
The sad part is that there is a very simple answer to that question, and to all of the PS4 Pro’s other problems, too- it is, quite simply, the most powerful console ever made, by definition. Yes, the Scorpio will trounce it when it releases next year, but that’s next year. In the here and now, the PS4 Pro is it. The Scorpio does not exist right now- it doesn’t exist as a physical console that we have been shown, it doesn’t exist as tech demos that we’ve seen, it doesn’t even exist as a list of specs. It literally exists as a promise on Microsoft’s part to ‘deliver the most powerful console ever’ with a ‘beastly’ 6 TFLOPs GPU. That is literally it- the Scorpio, as of right now, isn’t real.
The PS4 Pro is. It’s here, now, and it’s the strongest console ever made. Sony should be capitalizing on that, pushing that angle for all it’s worth in their marketing, leveraging the PS4 Pro’s extra power to ensure that games on it are a clear visual upgrade over games on the standard PS4. Instead, here we are- a console afflicted by poor messaging and marketing, so that its utility simply isn’t immediately clear.
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.