E3 2019 demonstrates just how good a position Sony is in going into next generation.
Without a doubt, Nintendo came away as the big winner of E3 this year. Microsoft fumbled the ball which was handed to them on a silver platter, while Nintendo came out all guns blazing, with a variety of games, and some shocking surprise announcements that sealed the deal. None of what I am about to say detracts from how well Nintendo dominated the show.
But one thing that I feel like is salient and therefore worth noting is Sony’s pervasiveness at E3 this year. Which, you know, is surprising- Sony wasn’t at E3 this year. Famously, they chose to skip out on the show in its entirety, not even having a showfloor presence. And yet, in spite of that, you’d have been hard pressed to know that, with the number of PlayStation games, even PlayStation exclusives, that were on show.
That’s the point I want to focus on today- just how pervasive PlayStation 4 has become. It’s become the default, go-to console. Back in its day, the PlayStation 2 was the default system– everyone who was making games put their titles on it if they could. In today’s day and age, with PC gaming being as far reaching as it is, and the absolute market penetration of mobile gaming, as well as the decline of the Japanese gaming market,that kind of de facto status for a console is impossible, and the PS4 doesn’t achieve that. But in context of the console market? The PS4 is the go-to. It’s the standard. It’s the default to such a degree that even when Sony themselves are not attending a show, there will be so many games announced for it, multiplatform and exclusive alike, that it hardly makes a difference.
So, for example, take E3 this year. Most of the notable games announced are hitting PS4. DOOM Eternal? PS4. Cyberpunk? PS4. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order? PS4. Tales of Arise? PS4. Eldin Ring? PS4. Avengers? PS4. Watch Dogs Legion? PS4.
Some of the games that were announced are, in fact, only hitting PS4- for example, Final Fantasy 7 Remake, arguably the best game shown off at the event, is PS4 only, at least at launch (again, remember this whole discussion is only in the context of the console market). Most of the games Microsoft showed off at their event are coming to the PS4; every game third parties showed off is coming to the PS4. Given that that is literally all of E3 barring Nintendo, that means the PS4 had an overwhelmingly dominant presence at E3 this year, even in the absence of Sony themselves being there. This is the kind of de facto standard a console hasn’t enjoyed since the very early days of the Xbox 360, when it was flying high, and the PS3 was struggling, and the Wii was something different entirely.
It’s a mark of how spectacularly the PS4 has succeeded, and how it has maintained its dominance through the generation. Again, this is the sort of thing the Xbox 360 actually achieved in its early days, though eventually it had to share the spotlight with the PS3, which means the focus was split. It also means Sony is squarely in the driver’s seat right now, because going into the next generation, they are coming off of an utterly dominant console, and benefiting from the ecosystem lock-in and network effect that will entice people to upgrade to a PS5 from a PS4, rather than switching camps.
That last part, when coupled with the PS4’s domination, is what makes it such a potent combination- the PS2 was, as already mentioned, even more dominant, but it lacked the ecosystem lock-in and network effect the PS4 has, because ecosystems and networks themselves weren’t as much of a thing back then. The Xbox 360 absolutely benefited from network effect and ecosystem lock ins, except it didn’t maintain its dominance through the generation, plus Microsoft put a wrench in things when they reset their own ecosystem by not having backward compatibility at launch, and messed up their messaging spectacularly.
The PS4 is the first time we are seeing this happen, and that might mean Sony retains its lead comfortably going into the PS5, in turn, leading to that console also becoming a de facto standard, in turn leading to its lead being further cemented, and so on. In a sense, it would now require a spectacular failure on Sony’s part – like $599 spectacular – for them to leave a meaningful opening.
All of which is to say that this E3, in a very perverse way, actually marked the extent of Sony’s domination and victory this generation- because this was the year that Sony pulled out from the show completely, and had absolutely zero official presence there, and yet, this was the year their system still had most of the headlining announcements and showings; not just with multiplatform games, but even exclusives. When Sony wasn’t even there. The year Sony backed out of E3, they somehow managed to flex their muscle more than ever before. It’s actually incredible.
The question now is whether or not Sony will maintain this level of dominance with the PS5. Of course, no one can tell the future- but as I mentioned, based off of the PS4’s pervasiveness, and the network effect going into next gen, I fully expect that to happen. Sony still could mess up, and announce a $699 console with the PS5, which makes people flock to Microsoft and the Xbox instead. Or they could put out a machine that’s inherently unappealing, which, in turn, pushes people to the Xbox. Or they could fail in ways we can’t even think of yet.
But based on what we know, if we project further into the future, it’s hard to see how Sony could mess this up. And what solidifies that notion, more than anything, is just how pervasive their console was, even in this generation’s twilight years, when they themselves chose to skip E3 entirely.
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