Five analysts, one consensus: PlayStation 4 impressed
"Microsoft will have to bring their A-game."
There's been a cacophony of views on Sony's PlayStation 4 reveal. Our writers have shared first impressions, you've shared your opinions and, slowly, game makers emerge with their thoughts.
But there's another perspective out there to consider as well. It's the perspective of those people paid to assess Sony's business, its future, its worth: analysts. Like them or lump them, they play their role, and they're not without influence.
What shape do they think Sony's in with PlayStation 4? Broadly, they told me, they're impressed.
"We believe what Sony presented ticked a lot of boxes from an investor point of view," Screen Digest senior principal analyst Piers Harding-Rolls began.
"It revealed a more determined Sony, aiming to go head-to-head with Microsoft in the USA to win back market share it lost during the last generation." And, he said, "It underlined the importance of the company's console business to its wider strategic ambitions".
"It revealed a more determined Sony, aiming to go head-to-head with Microsoft in the USA..."Piers Harding-Rolls
There was "stricter commercial planning" on show from a company "aiming to drive better margins than the PS3 hardware business", he observed. Hence the move to PC architecture, hence the streaming demos and play-while-downloading game shop - things he expects publishers to pay for. "Indeed, Sony could be well positioned to make positive margin on streaming costs for demos if it prices its metered streaming offer correctly," he noted.
"I was impressed," said Doug Creutz, director and senior research analyst at Cowen for media and entertainment.
"I thought the graphics capabilities were a bit of an upside surprise given modest expectations. The level of immersiveness appears to have gone up again, meaningfully."
And PS4 having PC architecture will be "a big relief" for developers whose development costs should be lowered "significantly" as a result, he said.
Jesse Divnich from video game research firm EEDAR said Sony's machine is going "in the proper direction", which is towards game content and connectivity. That, he declared, was the "lifeblood of any platform".
Divnich particularly applauded Sony's focus on speeding up the console gaming experience. "The pause/resume feature of the PlayStation 4 is taking the idea of pick-up-and-go gaming to the next level," he clapped. "We'd imagine it will become one of the most heavily utilised features by consumers of the new PlayStation 4 platform.
"It truly is an ingenious feature," he even went as far to say.
"The pause/resume feature ... It truly is an ingenious feature"Jesse Divnich
Billy Pidgeon, senior analyst at Inside Network Research, watched an announcement that was "tightly targeted at console gaming's hardcore game enthusiasts". That's you and me, for a change.
He thought the exclusive PS4 games Sony showed - like inFamous: Second Son and Killzone: Shadow Fall - "looked very good". "And exclusive games," Pidgeon said, "will likely be PS4's strongest selling point."
"It's always tough to gauge the quality of games by prepared videos and choreographed demos," chipped in Jesse Divnich, "but I don't think gamers mind. We have been starved of new technology, better graphics, and new properties for so long that it isn't going to take much for us to get excited. We're excited and anxious."
Sony's "wise" decision to get the philosophy and features of PS4 out in the open at an isolated event means the company can now focus E3 on games, he added, "which ultimately is what gamers look forward to the most".
After the PlayStation Meeting, Sony Worldwide Studios boss Shuhei Yoshida told our Tom Bramwell that PS4 will not prevent or block second-hand games from being played on it.
"In the future it could be a selling point if Microsoft takes a different approach," pointed out Piers Harding-Rolls.
Doug Creutz was more direct: "To not support [second-hand sales] would be a major competitive blunder, in my opinion."
"On the flip side," countered Harding-Rolls, "publishers may prioritise platforms where they can protect their revenue streams more easily."
"To not support [second-hand sales] would be a major competitive blunder"Doug Creutz
Or they will - as Billy Pidgeon pointed out - offer more downloadable add-ons and features for games in order to monetise second-hand game buyers.
Not blocking second-hand sales also pleases the shops that do a roaring trade in pre-owned games. Consider Sony's masterplan for you to buy and instantly play games on PS4 while they download in the background: it's a natural evolution, yes, but at the expense of shops doing it the old way.
PSPgo was snubbed by shop-chains because its downloadable game-sales cut shops out of the loop. If Sony can establish its own download store softly-softly by allowing a PS4 used-game trade to exist, then for now that's a price worth paying.
Predicting PS4 success without knowing how much it will cost is tricky. We may not know how much it will cost until E3, and Euro pricing may even be delayed for an announcement at Gamescom.
Sony launched PlayStation 3 at $499/$599 in the US, €499/€599 in Europe and £425 (there was only one model here) in the UK. Those launch prices have been a running joke ever since.
"Sony learned a valuable lesson with the launch of the PlayStation 3," imparted Jesse Divnich, "and I wouldn't expect the same mistakes to be made next generation."
"The $599 price point was a strong negative for PS3," agreed Billy Pidgeon, who expects pricing to be "a more competitive factor" this time around. "I'd like to see PS4 priced under $400 in the US."
"Sony needs to keep total tag at $400 or less," nodded Doug Creutz. "As we saw last gen, the higher price was a bit of a disaster."
"By year two there needs to be an offering in the $200 range with the difference subsidised by a two-year online service"Doug Creutz
Piers Harding-Rolls believes that "sub a price of $400 and £300 for a basic SKU is a suitable price and one that early adopting consumers will be comfortable with".
"I also think," added Creutz, "that by year two there needs to be an offering in the $200 range with the difference subsidised by a two-year online service plan a la iPhone pricing. This is probably the only way to break out of the core gamer demographic."
Microsoft tried this with Xbox 360, offering a 4GB console with Kinect for $99 up front, and then $14.99 a month for two years thereafter. That also included two years of Xbox Live Gold membership.
Why wait two years? Expensive phone handsets sell by the truckload using this business model. Why not have something similar in place for PS4 and next Xbox launch?
No one thought PlayStation 4 launching in "holiday 2013" was too soon. Jesse Divnich said "we've squeezed nearly every bit of innovation out of the current platforms" and that gamer interest was "waning" as a result. "Sony is in a perfect storm of circumstances that will cause immediate hype, interest and excitement across the entire industry for their next platform," he added.
Question is, can Sony be first? Because, Divnich declared, "Sony's best chance at changing momentum is being first to market."
We don't yet know if PlayStation 4 will launch before the next Xbox. We also don't know whether that "holiday 2013" PS4 date applies to Europe. There's a suspicion it won't, and Shuhei Yoshida's uncertain remark that it was "too early to say" boded ill.
"Sony's best chance at changing momentum is being first to market"Jesse Divnich
"It wasn't long ago that there was a consensus that PS4 would arrive in 2014," Piers Harding-Rolls reminded us, "so an earlier launch in USA and Japan is a positive move from Sony, especially in its ambition to challenge Microsoft's position in the USA market.
"If, as we expect, a staggered launch is implemented, but that means a better chance of proper amounts of stock in the channels and a concentrated effort in terms of sales and marketing in those earlier launch territories, that will be a positive."
And having a "positive buzz" is more important than first year unit sales, reckoned Doug Creutz.
Whenever PS4 does launch, Billy Pidgeon believes early sales in all regions will be strong. But post-launch sales, he said, won't be what Sony expects - nor will they for the next Xbox or Wii U. "Much of this effect is due to new quality titles continuing to come out for Xbox 360 and PS3," he explained, "and gamers have more options on PC, tablet and smartphones.
"Games on smartphones and tablets won't replace consoles for most hardcore enthusiasts, but with increasing numbers of quality games on convergent platforms, it will be more difficult for consoles to dominate gamers' leisure time."
PS3 continuing to sell games and hardware won't be bad for Sony, obviously, and it will help take pressure off PS4 while its installed base builds. Games like Beyond: Two Souls and The Last of Us - PS3 exclusives that aren't out yet - are an encouraging sign that PS3 won't be forgotten. Remember, too, that Destiny will be a PS3 and PS4 game, as will Diablo 3. Those are what we call cross-generation titles.
Piers Harding-Rolls thinks PS4 will get off to "a more competitive start" than PS3, assuming pricing is around the £300 mark. But he doesn't think PS4 will outsell PS3. That's because next-gen console sales overall will be lower due to all the other gaming options that are out there and emerging.
Nevertheless, selling fewer consoles may not necessarily mean making less money. Sony could end up making more with PS4 "through an increasing direct-to-consumer digital business", Harding-Rolls said.
"Sony and Microsoft sell more consoles combined next generation than they did last generation, at the expense of Nintendo"Michael Pachter
Michael Pachter on the other hand - research analyst for Wedbush Morgan Securities - believes Sony will do "significantly better" this generation than last. That will be down to Nintendo not dominating the market as it did with Wii "since many of the casuals who bought a Wii are probably not in the market for for a next-generation console". It will also be down to Sony launching PS4 with or before the next Xbox, rather than a year later.
"I think that Sony and Microsoft sell more consoles combined next generation than they did last generation, at the expense of Nintendo," Pachter declared. "How they split the 150-180 million console opportunity is a guess without knowing specs and pricing. If the PS4 is priced competitively," he said, "they could sell 75-90 million consoles."
You can assume PS3 has surpassed 70 million worldwide sales today, although nailing down a specific figure became impossible when Sony began lumping PS2 and PS3 sales together.
Sony's stock may have dipped after the PlayStation 4 reveal, but the consensus from these analysts is that Sony is well-shaped for console success next generation. How much success depends heavily on Microsoft, of course.
"I imagine we'll be hearing from Microsoft soon," Doug Creutz said - and late April is the current estimation for that event.
"Right now they have the pole position based on current-gen standing, but I did think Sony did a good job last night and Microsoft will have to bring their A-game."
What about Nintendo? "If I was Nintendo," Creutz closed, "I would be worried. The PS4 really does look like a next-gen console compared to the Wii U."