In 2012 Nintendo was supposed to start the next generation of game consoles with the launch of the Wii U. To make a long story short, the release of the console seems to have hit a major sales speed bump in January, just two months after its launch in the US in November. Does this mean that the public is not yet ready for the next wave of console hardware?
We are getting closer to finding out if this is an industry problem, or just a Nintendo Wii U issue. While Microsoft has yet to confirm anything officially about working on a successor to the Xbox 360, the general consensus is that the company is working on such a machine for a launch late in 2013.
Before that happens, however, it looks like Sony will beat Microsoft to the punch, at least as far as announcements go. On Wednesday at 6 pm Eastern Time, Sony will hold a press event in New York City which will also be livestreamed on the Internet. It's definitely a PlayStation-related media event and all the signs point to the company revealing the first official details what's to come beyond the current PlayStation 3, which launched in 2006.
While Sony may finally be ready to go on the record about the future of the PlayStation brand, the truth is that rumors about the new console have been floating around for years. While all of these reports should be treated with a grain of salt (some more than others), let's take a look through them, and try to figure out what we know - or what we think we know - about the next PlayStation.
What will be the name of the next PlayStation console?
Most of the rumors online have referred to the console under the code name Orbis, and that's apparently the name that the SDK hardware kits use. Don't expect Sony to use Orbis as the final name for the console. In fact, it looks like the company is playing it safe and will likely call the successor to the PlayStation 3 ... the PlayStation 4. Yes, it's a little on the dull side but the PlayStation brand name is simply too big to mess with at this point for Sony.
What kind of hardware will be inside the PS4?
The PlayStation 3 used the Cell processor, a chip co-designed and manufactured by Sony, Toshiba and IBM. It was powerful hardware for its day but was also hard to program for, according to game developers. Additionally, because the Cell chip was basically made just for the PS3 (with plans to expand to other hardware products later) it was expensive to produce.
All indications are that the PlayStation 4's main CPU will be based on an AMD processor, using the company's Jaguar design with eight processor cores and running at a clock speed of 1.6 GHz. The graphics chip for the PS4 is also rumored to be made by AMD and will reportedly use a version comparable to the Radeon 7970M.
There seems to be a little debate as to the memory of the PS4, with some reports claiming it will have 4 GB of RAM and others raising that number to 8 GB. The PS4 will have a hard drive inside, but it's believed that it will be relatively small at 160 GB. The PS4 will also supposedly have a variety of ports, including four USB 3.0 ports, an Ethernet port, an HDMI video port and more.
While there were rumors that Sony was considering launching a version of the PS4 without a disc drive, most reports state that the console will have a Blu-Ray disc drive included inside for the games that are still sold in retail stores, as the PS3 did. There are also rumors that the next PlayStation could even support 4K video resolutions.
VGleaks.com recently claimed that the PS4 would support an improved version of the PS3 EyeToy add-on, with two wide angle cameras and a microphone. However, this report has not showed up on other websites so we have our suspicions that this claim is not true.
What will the controller of the PS4 be like?
Based on recently leaked images that supposedly show an early PS4 dev kit, it seems that the biggest change in the PS4's controller compared to the PS3 will be the one inch touchscreen that's been placed in the center of the gamepad. The controller is also supposed to have motion sensing features that are similar to those put in the PS3 controller as well.
Other than the touchscreen, the images seem to suggest a gamepad that in design terms does not venture too far from the established DualShock controllers. The familiar triangle, circle, square and "X" symbols are still in place in the leaked screenshots and the analog sticks and the left gamepad buttons are still there, albeit slightly tweaked. The trigger buttons are also still in their same places. There does appear to be a headphone jack placed in the bottom of the gamepad in one of the leaked images.
Even if these gamepads are indeed what game developers are using to test PS4 games, there's no guarantee that the final version will look like the leaked shots.
What will the online service for the PlayStation 4 be like?
The PS3 has the PlayStation Network, which lets people sign up to play online multiplayer games free of charge, and to access streaming video services such as Netflix (by contrast, you have to pay for online play and video streaming on Microsoft's Xbox Live network). Sony later added PlayStation Home, a free 3D virtual world that was similar in some ways to Second Life. However, the service has never really taken off.
In April 2011, the PlayStation Network got hit with a massive cyber attack that caused Sony to shut down the service worldwide for weeks, and in some countries it took months to bring it back online. We suspect that whatever online network will be set up for the PlayStation 4 will be checked, rechecked and then checked again to hopefully prevent a similar embarrassing incident.
Kotaku reports, via unnamed sources, that the PS4 will allow more than one gamer to log into the PlayStation Network on one PS4 machine by associating a gamer's PSN account to a game controller, rather than just one console. This could allow, for example, four gamers to play multiplayer co-op games online at the same time, each logged into their own PSN account, but on one PS4.
It's likely that the new console will have some sort of integration with Sony's Xperia mobile phones, tablets and the PS Vita portable console. As with the PS3, we can expect the PS4 version of the PlayStation Network to offer downloadable games, movies, TV shows, music and access to streaming video and music services.
The biggest single new online feature for the PS4 could be a cloud-based streaming game service. Sony acquired such a company, Gaikai, in the summer of 2012 for $380 million. It would seem almost inevitable that such a feature would be incorporated in the PS4. Indeed, there are rumors that it will be used to stream PlayStation 3 games, giving the PS4 some kind of backwards compatibility with its predecessor.
What will the PS4's launch titles be like?
The above screenshot is from Killzone 3 on the PS3
Sony will almost certainly have plenty of first-party PS4 games from its many development studios available at launch. Here are just some of the games we think might show up for its launch:
- Killzone 4: The latest game in the sci-fi shooter series from developer Guerrilla Games would seem to be a perfect way to show off the PS4's hardware and graphics.
- Little Big Planet 3: The sandbox platformer game is rumored to be a PS4 launch title by VG247.com, although it may be developed by Sumo Digital rather than the game's originators at Media Molecule.
- The Last Guardian: Originally announced for the PS3, and developed by Team Ico, there are now rumors that the fantasy action-adventure game has moved its platform to the PS4.
- Beyond: Two Souls: Sony announced this supernatural action-adventure game from developer Quantic Dream as a PS3 exclusive last year, but since then there's been near silence about the game's progress which has led many to believe it will now be a PS4 launch game.
- Evolution Studios racing game: The developer behind the Motorstorm arcade racing series has hinted strongly in recent days it will be making an announcement about its next game around the same time as the Sony press conference.
- Sony Online Entertainment MMO game: We certainly think that Sony's MMO game team has something in mind for the PS4 launch; the question is what could it be?
- Sucker Punch Studios: The Sony owned team behind the inFamous series hasn't released a game since 2011. It would seem to be a good time to launch a new game for the PS4.
Sony could also have something up its sleeve that no one outside the company knows about for a first party PS4 launch game or games. You can also expect to see quite a few PS4 launch titles from third party publishers, including some that will likely be exclusive to the console. We suspect that games such as Dragon Age III, the next Call of Duty game, the next Assassin's Creed title, and a number of EA's sports games will be available in PS4 editions.
What will the price be for the PS4?
Sony was highly criticized for the high launch prices of its two PS3 models for its 2006 launch, at $499 and $599. Since the PS4 is supposed to use hardware parts that are "off-the-shelf" components that have been modified for the console, it stands to reason that the launch price for the PS4 could be much cheaper. A recent rumor claimed that Sony could price the PS4 under $400, which would be far more acceptable for both hardcore games and a more general audience.
When will the PS4 be released?
If Sony does announce the console on Wednesday, it doesn't seem likely that the company plans to make people wait too long for its sales debut. It's very possible that Sony is aiming for a launch date sometime in the fall of 2013 for the PS4. However, Sony has pushed back the announced launch dates for its consoles before. The PS3 was announced in May 2005 for a launch in the spring of 2006 but those plans got pushed back to the fall of that year.
In other words, even if Sony does announce a fall 2013 launch time period for the PS4, you should not expect that date to be written in stone. Launching new console hardware is sometimes a tricky business; issues with both hardware as well as game launch titles have caused previous console sales dates to be pushed back.
What other open questions are there about the PS4?
Sony will likely not reveal everything about the PS4 at Wednesday's press conference. For example, it may not reveal which parts of the world will get their hands on the console first. We wonder what other kinds of accessories will be made for the PS4 besides the controller and the rumored EyeToy. There's also the question of how open the PS4 will be. The PS3 allowed users to switch out their hard drives with most kinds of 2.5 inch SATA hard drives and we wonder if that same kind of feature will be present in the PS4.
With more and more game developers releasing games on their own via download stores for the iOS, Android and Windows 8 operating systems, we also wonder if Sony will offer up the same kind of feature in the PS4. We also don't have a clue at the moment about the actual case design for the console. In fact, Sony might not reveal that design on Wednesday and may wait until closer to the PS4's launch date to fully reveal the console's final shape.
What will happen to the PS3 after the launch of the PS4?
Sony typically keeps making its previous consoles well after the launch of their successors. It only just recently stopped production of the PS2, over 10 years after its launch. We expect the PS3 to continue that tradition, with Sony continuing to manufacture the console for several more years at least. PS3 games will also continue to be made for a number of years after the launch of the PS4.
In fact, some rumors claim that the PS3 could get a permanent price cut to just $199 the day after the PS4 press announcement on Wednesday. Sony sold the PS3 for that price as part of holiday sales promotions during the fall of 2012.
The biggest question of all: Will the PS4 be a success?
When the PS3 launched in 2006, it enjoyed a brief spurt of massive interest, but within a few months the early adopter crowd had gone ahead and bought the console at its high price while the mainstream public stayed away until Sony lowered its price. A recent estimate by IDC claims that Sony has now sold about 77 million units of the PS3 worldwide - a more than respectable number, but not as many as the PS2.
However, the game industry has changed a lot since 2006. Many believe that the low sales of the Wii U show that many consumers have moved away from TV-connected game consoles in favor of downloadable mobile gaming. Sony has to be more than aware of the rapidly changing trends in gaming, and we suspect the company will almost certainly try to sell the PS4 as a broader multimedia box rather than purely a games machine. Will that be enough? We won't know for sure until months after the console finally goes on sale, and sales figures begin to emerge.
As with all game console launches, there is a ton of anticipation for the announcements to be made on Wednesday. Will the PS4 reveal live up to the hype and the long wait since the launch of the PS3? We will soon see if our first glimpse of the PS4 will get us excited again about the new generation of game consoles.