Since debuting the PlayStation 4 in New York over three years ago, Sony has gone on to nurture a powerhouse of a product that’s made its way into the living room of over 40 million gamers worldwide. Made possible by a humble marketing attitude that recognized previous missteps, Sony’s helming of the PS4 success trail is far different from the one fumbling with messaging throughout the PS3 era. The transition has been joyful to watch, with strong press conferences, financial earnings, and more unified messaging, marking the last few years for Sony as a series of important successes. However, that predominat winning streak was shaken with today’s rocky event. 2016’s PlayStation Meeting was a reminder of the Sony we knew pre-PS4 days, highlighting a company struggling to find saving graces in communicating new projects to their audience. Running under an hour, the presser failed to hit a stride, burdened by over explanation and seemingly unnecessary showcases. It’s been a long time since Sony hasn’t come through with the confident delivery that’s defined them during this generation; a surprising step backwards for the console market’s top dog.Opening this afternoon’s show in downtown New York, CEO of Sony Interactive Entertainment, Andrew House, took the stage. Doubling down on 4K and HDR, House’s opening comments set the tone for what the conference would bring. Built on key points with the intent to future-proof the PlayStation ecosystem, the presser’s objectives made sense, in spite of the shaky presentation that unveiled them. Key points made right out the gate mostly pertained to the PS4 Slim, Sony’s $299 redesign of the vanilla console. Hitting shelves next week, the system is smaller and sleeker than its predecessor, yet comes with the same internal components.
Following the Slim’s brief showcase, Sony got down to business with the formal reveal of the long rumored PlayStation NEO, now known as the PlayStation 4 Pro. Packing more than double the GPU power within the current model, the Pro supports a boosted clock speed to the CPU and a variety of support concerning 4K. Retailing at the same price as the basic model when it launched in November 2013, the Pro will run $399 and is slated for a November 10th release this year. While on paper Sony’s plans to enter the iterative console market seem wise, the opening pitch laying out their plans to do so is a slightly troubling one. Highlighting upcoming titles with PS4 Pro tailored enhancements, lead system architect of the PS4, Mark Cerny, showed projects such as Insomniac’s Spider-Man, Horizon Zero Dawn, For Honor and Watch Dogs 2, running builds on the Pro. With sharper and more vibrant visuals, the PS4 Pro promises to bring to the table higher fidelity gaming.
Despite seeing the value in the industry taking such steps, I found Sony’s initiative to join the bandwagon obligatory and half-baked. Even with the presence of various third parties showing their support–such as Activision and Electronic Arts–the entire briefing struggled to generate and harness any meaningful momentum. Consisting of talking points that were over explained to death, the atmosphere of the meeting felt deflated and unsure. The PS4 Pro isn’t a quantum leap from its predecessor’s power and on top of that, it’s arriving at a time when the broader industry isn’t fully on-board. When looking at the industry’s current climate, it’s clear it isn’t in a malleable place where the adoption of technically enhanced hardware can be seamlessly transitioned. There’s bound to be confusion, alienation, and mismanaged resources as developers and gamers, alike, gradually adopt the new hardware.
TODAY’S PLAYSTATION MEETING WAS A DISAPPOINTING LOOK AT THE OLD SONY
Scatterbrained and lacking crucial saving graces, today’s meeting was reminiscent of Sony’s past blunders over the years. Reliant on unnecessary over explanation and underwhelming demos, weak showings from Mass Effect: Andromeda and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare put a damper on the show. Regardless of what technical prowess they possess, their inclusion felt bland and inconsequential to the tone of the conference. The lack of PSVR talk was also concerning, with little mention of its impact on the PlayStation ecosystem moving forward. Besides a small interjection regarding what enhancements PS4 Pro will bring to the headset, Sony had very little of substance to say about the imminent hardware.
The biggest positive boost I walked away from the PlayStation Meeting with, was the forthcoming firmware update with HDR support soon to be available for all existing PS4 systems in the wild. Free of charge, the update will allow PlayStation gamers with HDR enabled 4K TVs to play their games in HDR, provided the title has the necessary patch. It’s an admirable touch and one that nicely complements Sony’s ambitions to break into 4K gaming. Unfortunately, little beyond this interjection raised my eyebrows in a positive manner, acting as a standout in a sea of underwhelming showcases.In almost every way, PlayStation Meeting was a disappointing display of Sony in a regressive state. Resorting to marketing spins that don’t align with the company we’ve recently watched flourish, the conference was among the lowest points for PlayStation in recent memory. The PS4 Slim and PS4 Pro aren’t bad decisions, per se, for their utility certainly speaks to an audience. Nonetheless, for all the bells and whistles each piece of hardware brings, neither system cohesively identifies with the focused mindset that’s brought Sony to the top of the competition.
The entire ordeal came across as a forced error, one put into motion by Xbox’s confident recent moves to tap into the 4K and HDR console market (a space they’re currently dominating). Criticism and skepticism aside, I remain confident Sony holds great things in their future. The realist in me sees this blunderous presentation of a conference as a temporarily disruptive bump in the road, rather than a new sense of normalcy for a company that’s been at the top of their game this entire generation.
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