No pressure, but all eyes are on you, Sony.
It might be a controversial opinion, but the hype cycle for the next generation consoles has absolutely sucked so far. Some of that definitely has to do with COVID-19 waylaying all plans, and causing more frustrating silences or changes in marketing and messaging plans than one might have expected under normal circumstances. However, even when Sony and Microsoft have had something substantial to say to the masses, they have completely fumbled the ball. While both Sony and Microsoft have been relatively good with the release of more tangential information (whether it be how Smart Delivery will work on Xbox Series X, or the DualSense controller for PS5 reveal), when the time came to speak directly to the masses, they have each disappointed.
That could potentially change next week. Sony has announced the official reveal event for PS5, where we will be seeing an hour’s worth of game announcements for the console, among other things. Assuming Sony doesn’t mess up as badly as Microsoft did when they promised a first look at the next generation of games with their May episode of Inside Xbox, the PS5 could cement itself as the dominant associative console for the masses – which, given that Sony is already the incumbent market leader, could extend their lead into the next generation.
Before we get any further, I just want to reiterate the importance of first impressions. This is something I touched upon previously, but the first impression someone has of your console can set the tone for how people look at it, and how it etches itself into the collective consciousness. It should be obvious, really – first impressions matter. This is even more important with games. If you are selling an expensive new console, you need to show us why we need to buy it by showing us games that feel so impressive and compelling, you can justify the upgrade. In other words, show us what “next gen” really means, and what it can offer that my current consoles can’t.
There are so many examples of how something like this has portended the fate of upcoming consoles. Metal Gear Solid 2 was almost singularly responsible for the incredible hype the PlayStation 2 saw in the months leading to its release (which, of course, then translated into strong initial sales for the system, and the rest is history). Contrast that with the most notable game Microsoft showed off during their Xbox One unveiling in 2013 – Call of Duty Ghosts barely looked any better than the then current crop of games on Xbox 360 and PS3. The contrast between what Microsoft showed, and what Sony did (which was impressive looks at indisputably “next gen” games, from Killzone Shadow Fall to DriveClub) essentially became shorthand for the power difference between the Xbox One and the PS4 – and that power difference dogged Microsoft through the generation, and became one of the reasons for their console’s underperformance.
Both Microsoft and Sony provided sort of a first look at their upcoming consoles’ take on the next gen during The Game Awards last year, with Hellblade 2 and Godfall respectively. But one was a low key third party game announcement, and the other essentially an early concept trailer. The first real look at next gen – at least that’s what it was pitched as – was the last Inside Xbox. If Microsoft had nailed that, they would be in an incredibly strong and secure position going into the next generation, especially in light of Sony’s relative silence. By showing games that matched the on-paper superior specs of the Series X, Microsoft could solidify the association between “next gen” and Xbox easily, and irrevocably.
As we know, that’s not what happened. Which is what has brought us here, opening a window of opportunity for Sony, even in spite of their own fair share of missteps in the last few months’ information drip on the PS5. At this point, we still haven’t truly seen next generation gameplay – and I am saying this to be kind to Microsoft here, because if we have seen next generation gameplay, the Xbox Series X isn’t worth buying for the technological leap, at least. No, at this point we’ve seen relatively modest games running on next generation hardware, which is a whole different thing. That means that Sony gets to go first, effectively, which could again create a perception of the PS5 as the more capable console – if not the more powerful one on paper, then evidently the one more capable of delivering impressive experiences, based on the games both consoles have shown off – among the masses. And if this happens, then Sony is in the catbird seat going into the next generation, again.
That is why it is so paramount that Sony not mess this showing up. They can’t afford to, too much could be at stake for the fate of their new console. And generally speaking, Sony has a good track record of system reveals – they made even the PlayStation Vita look like the most exciting thing in the world, before it launched to that world, and we all realized said world really doesn’t care about it, at least. But the problem is, they have made some serious missteps in the last few years. For starters, they have not had a show that didn’t generate substantial backlash since 2016. Their PlayStation Experience show in 2017 was panned and widely memed, their E3 2018 show was mocked to no end, and most of their State of Play streams have been met with disappointment over the last year. They even slipped with their PS5 rollout, with the hardware deep dive for the console doing its best to keep people from getting too excited.
If Sony continues to drop the ball next week, then their game of musical chairs with Microsoft continues, and Microsoft, instead, gets the chance to make a strong impression. It is in Sony’s best interests to not allow that to happen. Which is why they need to come out swinging. Based on some rumors, at least, it sounds like they may be about to do that (but do remember, rumors are just that – rumors. And sometimes, they can be nothing more than fanciful wishful thinking).
If they do deliver, then Sony is officially in the spotlight as far as next generation goes, and Microsoft will be playing a game of catch-up on two fronts, one against the incumbent, and the other against the competition that has gained the lead in mindshare too. It wouldn’t be too dramatic to say that it could decide how the next generation plays out, at least to some degree. A strong showing by Sony makes it harder for Microsoft to make a dent, and that means PlayStation still maintains an appreciable lead over Xbox – even if it’s not as massive of one as it was this generation. A weak showing gives Microsoft the wiggle room to get their foot in the door, and from there, mount the offensive and expand their presence, at Sony’s cost – much like what happened between the Xbox 360 and the PS3.
So, all eyes on you Sony. Show us what you’ve got.
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.