We all remember how the PS3 struggled out of the gates with $599 (60GB) price tags in the fall of 2006. This was before blu-ray won the hi-def war and was welcomed by home theater enthusiasts. The general public didn’t understand what HDMI was and everyone and their brother were years away from owning a HDTV in every room. No one knew where the PS3 architecture would take console gaming, including the game developers and lackluster exclusives stunted what should have been a more successful launch. We’re still several months away from figuring out how many pennies to save to be among the first to bring a PS4 home, but it’s one of the biggest concerns facing Sony’s console of the future. Before we can speculate, we need to look at Sony’s history and put into perspective the new hardware.
Will History Repeat
Nearly a year after its initial launch, the PS3 dropped to $499 but was still getting slaughtered by all of the Halo players scooping up Microsoft’s Xbox 360 in droves and the Nintendo Wii annihilated both as it sat pretty at $250 despite its inferior graphics and awkward game play. Consumers couldn’t get past that initial price tag despite being one of the best blu-ray players money could buy (and still continues to be) and that it could be customized.
Five generations of PS3 have been produced, with each version boasting more storage or a slimmer profile than the last for 250GB and 500GB models, settling down to $249 and $200 respectively in the summer of 2011. Sony eventually closed the gap on Microsoft and pulled even in total sales, both still far behind the Wii. After seeing Sony’s Playstation 4 unveiling this past Wednesday, one wonders where they plan to start the price wars for the next generation of consoles.
EDITOR’S PICK: PlayStation 4: An Exercise in Cautious Optimism
Nintendo entered the next-gen market last November, albeit with dated hardware. Although the company gave us last-gen tech, it was the first “new console” to tease the next gen era. Nintendo priced the Wii U at $299 and $349, investing heavily in their current Wii users to upgrade to a second screen/ über Wiipad controller experience and HD graphics.
The Playstation 4 boasts a new architecture that’s been shaped by the industry’s brightest developers, new controllers, Gaikai streaming for cloud gaming, social network integration, compatibility with the PS Vita, smartphones and tablets, motion control, and CG-movie quality graphics. Let’s say the final PS4 rolls out with all of the above. Don’t expect it to get in a price war with the Wii U, not with those new bells and whistles. Aim higher, way higher.
We weren’t shown the hardware; that’s probably being saved for E3 2013. But we know is that the console will have a supercharged PC Architecture, an enhanced 8-core X86 CPU, an AMD Radeon GPU, 8GB of unified GDDR5 system memory for 176 GB/s of bandwidth, read-only optical drive to read blu-rays and DVDs, USB 3.0, Bluetooth 2.1, and a 802.11 b/g/n network. PC Gamers, used to spending $1000 on their game machines, would argue that the guts of a PS4 would run anywhere from $500-$600 for the savvy PC do-it-yourselfer.
The Target Consumer
Frugal gamers were probably hoping for something in the $400 range, but let’s be realistic and aware of what the hottest holiday gift was this past year was, tablets. Consumers had no problem dropping $400-800 on an iPad or comparable Android tablet. So the days of saying that $300 is the magical threshold where the console consumer draws the line are gone. They’ll spend the money if they have it.
Whether or not they can convert those tablet users to PS4 users, to enhance their PS4 experience with their tablet is up for discussion. Most gamers know that the games found on the iTunes store or Google Play store are no match for a console game, but it’s getting the general public to buy in is when the PS4 will have legs. The gaming experience has to be such an upgrade and the tablet integration has to be so stellar that they won’t think twice about spending that much again for a console.
This machine is for the serious gamer, it might pull some of the PC gamers away from their computer desks, but what a coup it would be to get those lure the casual gamer who has settled for iTunes games in recent years to get a richer, fuller experience without the limitations of a 10-inch or 4-inch touch screen can deliver. So it has to do more, and that’s why third-party entertainment providers like Hulu Plus, Netflix, and Sony Music are early pre-loaded apps. Who knows, the PS4 may even help Facebook generate income too.
Then there are the accessories.
Nickel and Dime
Sony is many things, but they do not have a history of making a console that is friendly on your wallet. First lets take a look at that controller. The PS3 Sixaxis controller, which later evolved into the Dualshock 3 controller sat comfortably at the $50-60 range for six years. The Dualshock 4 has a touchpad similar to the PS Vita’s on top, advanced motion control, a share button and a light bar to identify players with different colors. It can also be used to communicate to the player messages like low health, ammo, and will likely communicate that with the Eye. A mono headset will connect to the controller as well. $60-75 is a reasonable expectation for an additional one.
An updated version of the Playstation Eye will be part of the bundle with 85° field-of-view and a 4-channel microphone. A Playstation Move wand could be included too, especially if they want to impact and expand their motion library.
Sony has always tried to stretch its tech until it dies. That’s why they’re looking at making the entire library of PS1, PS2, PS3, and mobile games available through their upcoming Gaikai PS Network. That’s why blu-ray, the Move, the Eye and the Vita are being integrated. Once could say that for Sony loyalists that’s just more to love because they don’t have to get rid of everything–not yet anyway. Skeptics will simply stand by their PS3.
We haven’t even discussed the games, which will likely start at a $69.99 price point. But unlike the PS3, we go back to the new architecture that’s been shaped by the industries top game developers. We don’t see a sluggish start in the library of games again. It’s the games more than anything–especially exclusives–that will cause PS4 interest to soar, no matter the price point of the console.
The Bottom Line
So what does the ability to do all of the above worth? Rumors of a $430-$530 price point would give the console its best chance to get traction before Microsoft reveals their answer. We’re not as optimistic. A realistic starting price is $550-$600 sounds more reasonable given the PC guts, the blu-ray drive and all of the accessories. Hard drives should be at least 500GB but push into the 1TB or 2TB range, especially if gamers are sharing HD video clips as opposed to screen shots.
It looks to be well worth $200 more than the Wii U, in potential game play alone. The touted download speeds would certainly give value, as would no fear of any red lights of doom, or hacked networks. There will be a price distinction between what the PS4 gives you and the Wii U offers, if just to remind those consumers that this is the major leagues. The casual gamer will probably scoff at the idea of the PS4 coming out at around $600 yet again, but if it can deliver on what Sony says it will do, that price will get the console a good start.