Sony's next console may very well be 2 or more years away but as rumors are starting to swirl about Microsoft's new console I thought it would be an ideal time to ponder what Sony needs to do in order to prevent the type of lackluster start that mired the PS3. The PS3 has struggled to recoup the ground it lost to the XBox360 with its year late start and six hundred dollar price tag. The XBox360 has dominated in North America and, even though the PS3 has been making quite the comeback, sold ridiculous numbers just this winter holiday season. Sony then has a few lessons to learn and since they are being extremely tight lipped on Playstation 4 details, this article is merely speculating on what I think would help Sony succeed.
Evolution: Sony's architecture for their systems have grown increasingly complex and have posed some challenges to developers. Microsoft on the other hand have stuck with a more traditional hardware formula and have reaped the rewards. Am I saying Sony should go the way of building a console from off-the-shelf parts? Of course not, Sony spent a lot of money developing the Cell computing system in the PS3. So evolve it. With significant experience in manufacturing the 45nm chipsets and developers more effective utilizing the technology, keeping a similar but more advanced evolutionof the Cell would help provide some continuity and would likely reduce development times. Technology is great, but if developers don't utilize all the tricks the hardware can do, it isn't very relevant, is it? Sony needs to be proactive to get developers on board with the PS4 and get them devkits as quickly as possible. Making the hardware accessible early on will help developers squeeze out more performance. And for the love of Pete, give the system a load of RAM. As new gaming engines are hitting the point of diminishing returns on polygon counts, the focus now has turned to lighting and textures. Rendering the more advanced lighting and particle effects and textures requires a significant amount of memory. RSX 2.0 or whatever they decide to call it should have at least 2 gigabytes of memory.
Price: Sony learned the hard way how much consumers are willing to pay for a video game system, even if it does everything. The six hundred dollar price point was way too high and came at a time when the economy was just starting to buckle. A lot will depend on the cost of Microsoft's new unit as current signs point to another Microsoft head start. I will not be surprised if the new generation consoles cost around five hundred dollars when they finally do launch. I think it is obvious though that a sputtering global economy would not support a six hundred dollar price tag. Exclusives: Sony went into the current console battle pretty cocky after dominating the market with both the PS1 and PS2. As Sony firmly stated "We don't pay for exclusives." Microsoft went ahead and bought many of them up, getting many third party developers working exclusively on the XBox360. With a year's headstart in sales, the XBox360 also had the install base to lure developers in. It's fair to point out that Sony has fixed a lot of those problems by buying up numerous development studios. Lately the PlayStation 3 has been the stop for top tier exclusives from Naughty Dog, Studio Santa Monica, Eat, Sleep, Play, etc. There have been other encouraging signs as EA and DICE developed Battlefield 3 for the PS3 instead of developing for the 360 to then port over to PlayStation. Triple A exclusives, although sometimes a bummer when you can't afford both systems, are necessary to establish a console and make it a must have for gamers. Games like KOTOR made an original XBox a must have for me. Exclusives can give that little extra nudge to push a consumer in one direction over another.
Sony has always been known for great hardware and they rarely under-deliver. In fact there are some smaller design features that I hope carry over to the PlayStation 4. First and foremost is the option to use any 2.5" laptop hard-disk. As solid-state drives grow in size it will be fantastic to have those kinds of storage options. I would also like it if the Xross Media Bar were to stick around, albeit with a facelift. PlayStation Network and PlayStation Plus could also use a little facelifting in the move to the next generation. More live and on demand video applications need to be offered like they are on XBox Live and PSN's Store could make do with a reimagining, if you will, in order to clean it up a little. I honestly think we're at least 2 years away from seeing a PlayStation 4 but who knows what new developments will happen in that time. In the meantime we can dream about what miracles the next consoles will bring us and enjoy all the great experiences to be had while we wait.