Remember when the PlayStation 3 had a 10-year plan? Well, the plan might be changing. An anonymous source shared a quote with me, direct from what they described as a “high-level meeting” at Sony: “PlayStation 4 in 18 months.”
Sony's official response? The tried and true "We don't comment on rumors or speculation." That's fine, because commenting on rumors and speculation is my job.
Say…is that a disaster looming on the horizon?
It’s no secret the Big Three always have their next hardware generation on the drawing board — Nintendo’s likely mapped out a few post-Wii U contingencies already. That’s not what we’re talking about here. The context surrounding this information clearly applies to production, not conception. It’s less clear whether that’s an announcement window or a launch window. I’d guess the latter, since new consoles don’t land after the holiday-buying season.
Then again, a lot of things feel a bit off here. My source — who, I hasten to add, isn't a neophyte, an outsider, a gossip, a fake, or a show-off — remains convinced for excellent reasons, and I trust that conviction. PlayStation 4 in 18 months. Done deal.
So why am I still skeptical? Simple: Sony would be completely insane to do it.
For starters, consider what a PlayStation 4 might be. We can assume Move integration and 3D optimization. We should demand backwards compatibility…at least to cover the PlayStation 3 catalog, but I figure Sony still owes us the PlayStation 2 compatibility they promised (and yanked) years ago. A smarter Bluetooth codec — one that seamlessly pairs with any wireless headset, for example — would be nice, too.
I'd also speculate a PS4 that downloads or streams the majority of its titles. Thanks to Portal 2, the PS3 connects to Steam, and expanding that relationship would allow Sony to sell games for less, severely undercutting the competition. Picture Modern Warfare 3 dropping for $45 on PlayStation, $60 on every other platform. Yeah, that's an edge.
Only the PlayStation 3 can do that right now. A firmware update here and there puts everything I just mentioned in reach, save backwards compatibility. But Sony's happy to sell us remastered PS2 collections, so that's OK, right?
I wants it!
Beyond that, current technologies don't feasibly support the idea of a new console. High-definition 1080p is as good as it gets. It's just not possible to make games look any better yet. The Wii U ran straight into this complaint, and that's why it's a catch-up machine, not a quantum leap. It's really the best Nintendo — or anyone — can do at the moment.
Maybe Sony's got a faster processor, something that can run every game at the magical 60 frames per second without drops, but cross-platform developers won't play ball there. Maybe new incoming televisions will blow the current 3D-HDTVs away. Sony would be the one to know. They also know from 3D-HDTV sales that adoption rates happen slowly during big-ticket transitions…too slowly to support a console launch.
Though they might have the games to support one. We have no real idea what a full third of Sony's first-party developers are doing right now. Heavy-hitters SCE Santa Monica, Zipper Interactive, Evolution Studios, Media Molecule, and Guerilla Games all draw question marks. That's a suspiciously high ratio of locked doors and drawn curtains. No such veil of secrecy covers the five companies concentrating on PS Vita development.
And with Nintendo firing the opening salvo in the 8th Generation console war, Sony might feel obligated to return fire. But they shouldn't.
Now this is how you win a console war.
Launching a new console opens any company up to disaster. It's a dangerous time. Platforms that fail to reach critical mass can put a major dent in a corporation's finances…or even its future. Releasing expensive hardware that only offers incremental improvements sounds like a gamble nobody in their right mind would take, particularly in a soft economy resting on shaky consumer confidence. It's a very big rabbit to pull out of a fairly small hat.
Besides — and here's my biggest reason for doubt — the PlayStation 3 only just hit a perfect stride. It's in the zone. After years spent as the third-place also-ran, the PS3's nearly neck-in-neck with the Xbox 360. Sony finished 2010 with a major upswing in sales, and the numbers shot up again after a recent price cut. It's even possible the PlayStation 3 will shake out as the best-selling gaming system of 2011. Hell, it's dusting the Nintendo 3DS at the moment. A year ago, that would've been unthinkable. And this year's PlayStation-exclusive killer app, Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, hasn't even released yet.
I won't say Sony walked away unscathed from the PSN hacking scandal, but I do claim that after a severely shaky start, they got their product right. It sells. The tech feels solid. The games measure up. And yet my source insists Sony plans to move on in 18 months. It just doesn't make sense to me, but then, neither did the PSP Go. They've made terrible missteps, but Sony built this hardware to last through a few technological revolutions. What a shame if it's now living on borrowed time.
PlayStation 4 in 18 months. We'll see.