"It's just beyond our imagination," said Sony Worldwide Studios boss, Shuhei Yoshida, speaking about the PS4's success. Over 10 million sales thus far, and counting.
"We are so happy. But I for one am a bit nervous because we do not completely understand what's happening. You need to understand why your products are selling well so you can plan for the future, right?"
It's a humble statement at first glance, but looking back at what's gone on over the past year or so, it's no surprise really that Sony have managed to extend a strong lead at the start of this new generation. Sony's message has remained so resolute, their communication never wavering for a second. Every step of the way they've delivered when it counts, not necessarily with perfect execution but, crucially, with more poise and appeal than their competition.
There was parity at the start of this generation -- unlike last-gen, neither Sony nor Microsoft had much of a jump on the other in terms of timing -- but being prepared counts for much, and having a solid strategy is invaluable.
So I don't believe you, Mr Yoshida, when you suggest that your company doesn't quite understand the recent success. To me, at least, it looks like a plan well executed. Here's why...
Staying on message
This has defined everything. #4thePlayers -- a motto much more than a social media hashtag, it underpins the entire philosophy behind the PS4. This isn't an all-in-one media centre, it's not one box to rule them all, it's a games console. Yoshida told Eurogamer that there was some trepidation over really focussing on games. "It defied the conventional thinking. Lots of people thought the dedicated game hardware might not be needed going forward, but still lots of people are very excited."
It's true. Industry commentators speculated that this might be the last generation of consoles, that mobile was now king, that hardware didn't matter, that digital and streaming and the cloud that nobody really understands were our future. As it turned out, no-one really gave a hippo's left nut about any of that. We wanted games, and from the first time that the PS4 was brought to light (or rather it's controller was back in that early 2013 briefing), Sony made it all about the games and never deviated from that. They stripped back features, gave things more grunt, and made getting onto the platform easy for everyone.
All of which brings me onto this...
The low barrier of entry
The PS3 was a bit of a nightmare to begin with. It was expensive and it was fiddly to develop for. Sony learned from the last generation and adjusted accordingly for this one. The PS4 launched at a price point $100 lower than the PS3 did and Sony pushed massively to get dev kits out early, to ensure that creatives knew just how different, just how easy it could be to get their games onto PS4. From triple-A studios to individual bedroom developers, Sony made a concerted effort to announce the PS4 to the world as a platform for the developers as well as the players.
From a press standpoint, too, Sony were well prepared for launch, with a Microsoft rep privately lamenting to me a few weeks ago that he wished Microsoft could have enjoyed the widespread review coverage Sony pushed for. Similarly, in terms of releasing globally, Sony were better prepared to drop units across more regions. Preparedness counts for a lot. You contrast the launches of these consoles with the buggy, multicoloured lights of death that accompanied the releases of both loast-gen consoles from Sony and Microsoft, and this generation has been much smoother.
Winning the third-party battle
Having a singular focus, making the PS4 an accessible machine that's geared towards powerful console development without making for too much adjustment when optimising from high-end PC code, has given Sony the edge when it comes to third-party titles this gen. We've spoken about this before on the site, and though it's certainly not universal and the Xbox One is perfectly capable of delivering 1080p/60fps, there have undeniably been certain games that simply look and perform better on PS4 as opposed to Xbox One. The perception that third-party titles are "better" on PS4 was quick to emerge, and the fact that Microsoft have had to excise a hardware asset that was billed as "inseparable" at launch to try and free up some processing power only lens further credence to Sony's strategy and fuels that perception.
More people than ever are turning to video games
"As soon as we see a great sales number, our instinct tells us we should be concerned about future sales, right?" said Yoshida. "Are we exhausting all the core gamers? If we sell this number of units, there are no more consumers we can sell to. That's a really terrifying prospect. So we want to understand who are these consumers who we do not necessarily consider core gamers, who are purchasing PS4 and why they are doing it and what they are doing with PS4, so we can create a bit more of a positive future, rather than saying, wow, we have sold to every single core gamer. So that's what we are doing."
Looking at the new consoles vs their predecessors, both the PS4 and the Xbox One are enjoying successful first years. Both consoles have outstripped their predecessors significantly. Far from the hunger for consoles dying out, it's only ramped up. I can't help but feel that the video boom and online streaming has really helped here. You can see the difference between last-gen and next-gen so much more clearly now,and comparative videos for every game possible have been ten a penny. Let's Play culture means that widespread coverage for games is more vast than ever before, and companies have really turned that to their advantage over the past few years.
But Sony have often seemed to embrace a wealth of gaming experiences broader than their biggest competitor, something that their massive public drive for indie games only further helped to cement. The success of the PS4 began with the last year or two of the PS3 -- indie success stories, well-worked services like Cross-Buy and PS Plus really taking off -- and big first-party exclusives to remind people what they get back when they invest in a Sony console.
There are clear reasons why the PS4 has done so well. We were all wrong about console games. The apathetic reaction to microconsoles has illustrated this even further. We like apps on the move, not in our living rooms, and internet infrastructure is still not reliable enough for singular streamboxes. PlayStation is a powerful brand, perhaps more so than ever before, and Sony delivered a (relatively) cheap, straightforward, powerful, accessible console, playing a long-term first-party game and prioritising the solidification of third-party support immediately, making PS Plus an essential entry point, and embracing a range of games beyond core considerations.
You look at the PS4 and you know what you're getting thanks to clear messaging, Sony's legacy, and their stable of studios. As we've seen countless times before, communication is key. And Sony got theirs bang on.