If you follow the decisions of a company like Sony, the PS4 and the PS3 are a fascinating case study. While they’re part of the same line, they’re two entirely different machines, not just structurally, but culturally. So what did Sony learn from launch?
It’s easy to forget, nearly a decade later, that the PS3 launch was a career-ending disaster for a fair chunk of those involved. Sony was following up the PS2, which had dethroned Nintendo from the top of the home console market and sold over 100 million consoles; by any standard, the PS2 was an achievement. Sony had player interest, goodwill, and an edge on the market.
Which they proceeded to completely squander with a $600 monstrosity. The PS3 is not a failure; it’s sold 80 million systems. But at launch, Sony failed, completely, to make it clear why they were making the decisions they were making, and it didn’t help that the $500 version of the system was a joke, either. Here’s the whole disaster in one minute:
Pretty much the only positive thing this press conference produced was memes. The fallout was pretty immediate; within a few weeks, Ken Kutaragi had been quietly replaced with Kaz Hirai at Sony’s PlayStation arm as President, and Hirai immediately focused on cleaning up the PS3 reputation as a white elephant. Hirai actually did such a good job of turning it around that he essentially runs all of Sony at this point.
It’s an interesting comparison with the PS4, because, from the start, it’s been about the games. Sony was, in fact, so focused on games they claim they were completely blindsided by the fact that fans wanted MP3 and DNLA support on the console from day one and they’ve barely discussed streaming video except to confirm what apps will be available at launch. If the PS3’s pitch was “It Only Does Everything”, the PS4’s is “You Want To Play Games? Use This To Play Games.”
Also interesting is the price. $400 is not cheap by any standard, but consider this: The PS3, when it came out, cost nearly $700 in 2013 dollars. Sony spent a lot of time figuring out how to make the PS4 cheaply.
To be clear, the PS4 and the Xbox One will both have struggles neither Sony nor Microsoft will expect. It’s hard to see either system scoring a decisive victory this Christmas. But it is nice to know that, even seven years later, Sony is paying attention.