Arguing why Sony should, and shouldn’t, start moving beyond the PS4.
Sony Interactive Entertainment announced the PS4’s latest sales numbers from the holiday 2018 season. Over 5.6 million PS4 and PS4 Pro units were sold over the holiday season, bringing the PS4 to over 90 million units sold worldwide, with strong software sales also boosting the platform’s 2018 success.
And yet, at the same time, discussion of the PS5 has already begun — when will Sony formally announce the PS4 successor, what games will be released for it, and when will the system itself be released? Even with several huge titles like The Last of Us Part II, Ghost of Tsushima, and Death Stranding yet to be released, many are already looking beyond the PS4.
For more of our thoughts on whether we feel like we need the PS5, check out the latest episode of our weekly PlayStation show, Beyond!, below.
But is it in Sony’s best interest to cannibalize its own current success? Below, we take a look at both sides of the argument for debuting the PS5 as soon as possible versus taking time to allow the PS4 to go out on a high note.
Why Sony Should Release the PS5 Soon
Sony’s sales success is definitely notable, but it’s also worth pointing out that this still represents a year-over-year downward trend in sales. The PS4 sold 5.6 million units during this holiday season, while it sold 5.9 million in 2017 during the same period, and 6.2 million in 2016 at that same point.
A similar downturn in 2019’s holiday season is likely, one that could be larger given what games are released this fall. Sony has yet to date any of its anticipated exclusives for the fall, and while something like Call of Duty is a given, it’s unclear what Star Wars games EA could have, while there’s nothing quite like Red Dead Redemption 2 launching this year that we know of.
Sony is also looking to have a quiet 2019 publicly, at least as of now. The company skipped PSX at the end of 2018 and announced it’s also not going to E3 2019. Without these major promotional opportunities, and its unreleased exclusives unknown quantities when it comes to release dates, focusing on PS5 in 2019, with even a surprise release this fall, could be a great way to keep Sony in the conversation if its biggest releases aren’t until next year.
Unbeholden to E3, Sony can essentially hold a PS5 announcement event whenever they feel ready or want to react to their competition. Starting that conversation in early 2019 in an official capacity will keep PlayStation looking strong on both fronts — the company not only has major releases for PS4 yet to debut, but already has a clear plan for the PS5 with that sort of showing.
And of course, Sony has to take into consideration what its direct competitor, Microsoft, is doing with the next Xbox. Microsoft has already made it clear the company intends to start discussing the Xbox One’s successor soon, and its buying up of many studios in 2018 felt like the clear start of an exclusives arms race for the next generation.
By starting discussion of next gen in 2019, Sony can position itself as leading that conversation rather than responding to it.
Why Sony Should Hold Off on PS5
Yes, Sony’s sales numbers represent a downtrend year over year, but that’s hardly a surprise in the sixth holiday season in a console’s life. The PS4 is still clearly selling well enough, and owners are hungry for its exclusives, with Spider-Man selling nine million copies since its launch in September.
While the announced exclusive lineup for 2019 is relatively light compared to Spidey and God of War last year (with Shadow of the Colossus and Detroit: Become Human also debuting in 2018), Sony still has three giant exclusives in TLOU Part II, Ghost of Tsushima, and Death Stranding, left to debut before the PS5. Jumping the gun on the PS5, when those titles still need time in the spotlight, could hurt the tail-end of the PS4’s life cycle. If Sony, say, held an event early this year to announce its new console for 2020, why would anyone really want to buy a PS4 this holiday?
Announcing too early could hurt what life the PS4 has left in it, and there definitely seems to be some clear life based on its sales success. Its downward trend has been consistent over the last few years, with no huge disruption year over year in the holidays.
And, if Microsoft spends its E3 announcing plans for next gen, Sony could easily wait until all that info is out there to respond in kind whenever they please.
Should both console makers be looking to launch in 2020, particularly in the fall as they often have, holding an announcement for that same year, or close to it, could prove to be as successful as the PS4’s announcement. Announced in February and released in November, Sony spent all of 2013 really focusing on promoting its new console. To start promoting it this year, without plans to be at one of the biggest stages in gaming, could not just dampen anticipation for PS4 and PSVR titles to come but stretch the enthusiasm of fans leading into 2020 PS5 launch.
Should Microsoft really start to hit on the next Xbox in 2019, PlayStation can’t completely stay out of the spotlight. But with such a stable of anticipated PS4 titles left, Sony doesn’t need to dip into the PS5 well just yet. Even if sales are taking natural downturns, it’s not necessarily representative that people are clamoring for a new console just yet.
IGN’s own Brian Altano presented the idea on Twitter about whether we’re really in need for a PS5 just yet, and, for the most part, people seem quite happy with the current gen as is. The mid-generation console steps with the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X represented a shift — we’re not nearly clamoring for as big of a technical jump because we’ve already seen one.
Looking at past trends in console life cycles, 2020 seems like the best bet to both announce in heavy detail, and release the next generation of consoles, on both Sony and Microsoft’s fronts. That doesn’t mean we’ll hear nothing about that generation this year, especially if surprise spring launches are in the works, but after such a strong fall for hardware, software, and PSVR, bringing PS5 into the conversation could hurt whatever momentum the PS4 has left in it.
Jonathon Dornbush is IGN’s News Editor, PlayStation lead, and Beyond! host. Talk to him on Twitter @Jmdornbush.