Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.
The quote above reminds me so much about how this console generation is playing out. When the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 was announced, Microsoft, developers and even the media were so sure that Microsoft would come out on top that when the PlayStation 4 ended up the victor amongst gamers, this fact even took Sony by surprise.
Today, the PlayStation 4 is currently ahead in the console game by 2:1 in sales, easily beating the Nintendo Wii U and surpassing the Xbox One’s wildest sales dreams. Current generation consoles are outselling the previous generation by a massive margin and no matter how you try to spin it, Sony already won. The PlayStation brand is currently the one holding all the cards, but how could Sony make all those aces work for them?
When it comes to platforms (current), Microsoft have been working hard to bring both PC and Xbox together with UWP in an attempt to make development easier when launching games on these systems. Games like Quantum Break have seen massive success in the Windows 10 store, and on Xbox. This does not bode well for Sony, as the Windows 10 platform already sports a massive 300 Million install base and 5 Billion unique visits to the store since launch. Steam has a trump card over Sony too, with over 150 Million users on its service. The only numbers Sony has on their side are ‘total sold’, and they have to make that look even better.
Sony is currently the defacto standard in the console space, and currently most AAA games are focused on the console market. With development times becoming increasingly long and sales profits shrinking, developers have to focus where they will make the most profit, and that is for all intents and purposes on console. With all the work Microsoft is putting in, the Universal Platform haven’t paid off yet and that puts Sony in the perfect position to capitalize on this.
This is where the Neo comes in. Sony has sold nearly 40 Million consoles since launch in 2013, and Microsoft is currently around 20 Million units. Sony knows that if they continue with the current PlayStation unit they will hit around 60 – 70 Million by the end of this generation and that would put them in danger come the next generation, since gamers will quickly switch if ‘something better’ comes along. So the Neo is a pre-emptive strike to ensure they keep their customers locked in. There have been quite a vocal majority about how the current systems are underpowered, and keeping those customers (who are mostly gamers) happy and tucked inside the PlayStation brand is key for their success.
When the Neo launches the system will most likely sell over 10 Million units in the first year, add that to the 60 Million they will sell of the old system (basically they’ll sell two to your grandma to get the numbers), they will have a decent chunk of the console market locked in. If you read the developers kit manuals, you’ll realize pretty quickly what comes next.
It’s common knowledge that developers (usually indie studios) focus on the big fish and port to the others later. Since console gaming have become so big, PC games have suffered to some degree since developers have to spend so much time to optimize for consoles, hence games launching broken on PC in some cases. Sony knows that if you release a second system which will increase development times you will force them to abandon or neglect ‘the other’ systems. By making support for the Neo mandatory with arbitrary restrictions if you want to release a game on PlayStation 4, will make the choice for developers pretty clear which one to support.
But on the other side, this may as well blow up in Sony’s face and developers end up not optimizing for the new system well enough, and Sony PlayStation owners on either system ends up with a damp squib.
Sony has won the war so far, now they’re going to go to battle to ensure that their dominance remains intact. Microsoft on the other hand is in a peculiar situation right now. If they go to war with Sony they will need bigger numbers. You can regurgitate the Windows 10 numbers until you’re blue, but if the sales of games don’t support that, you’ll be in a bad place. Steam on the other hand thrive on bargain bin buys, and even with their massive numbers AAA games on console usually outsell the PC counterparts.
This is Sony flexing its muscle, and Microsoft will have to make extremely good strategic moves to thwart their plans. If they don’t, then we might as well stick a fork in the Xbox, and the PC for that matter.