Daily Reaction: PS4, High Price with High Specs or Low Price with Low Specs?

As 2012 comes to an end and news of the next PS4 slowly starts to be leaked and rumored, the Daily Reaction crew of Dan and Seb crunch the numbers and discuss Sony’s future pricing structure.

Dan: When the PS3 launched in 2006 it became a milestone in gaming history, not for its power or abilities, but for being one of the most expensive console launches in history. Launching at $599, Sony asked its loyal fanbase to get a second job to help pay for a gaming console. Words now that will also haunt Sony as they try to regroup and understand where they went wrong, and how they lost such a big lead from the previous generation. Now that we are on the precipice of the next cycle of consoles, the question remains – how will Sony keep up with tech demands, but not price themselves out of the market?

The first and most likely option that will happen for the launch of the PS4 is that it will sell at a loss, much like the PS3 did during its initial launch. Sadly, Sony is not doing terribly well financially, so this could be a very marginal loss, and not something that will break Sony. Secondly, as we have also seen with the Vita, Sony will probably segregate accessories from each other, in a hopes to drop the initial cost of the box, and piecemeal consumers like their competitors have been. Although, I do not think the HDD will be something sold separately, as it is too much a factor that can cause issues with development, and Sony really needs to minimize that this time around.

Seb: Yeah, the biggest issue that Sony faces is that they are known for being the guys that bring the big guns when it comes to power. With the PS3 they tried to take that to the next level, investing heavily in a completely new computing architecture. It was bold, aggressive, and utterly foolish. Because of ‘The Cell’ chip developers hate the PS3, Sony lost billions creating and making the chip, had to sell the console at a massive loss but still at a massive price, and ended up losing a huge market share partially because of it. On the plus side, we got amazing games like Uncharted and Heavy Rain. But they haven’t sold well. Call of Duty sold well and that was developed with PC architecture in mind.

It only makes sense for Sony to move away from the cell for the sake of their bank balance and the sake of developers’ sanity, although it could cause a problem with backwards compatibility (perhaps that’s where Gaikai comes in).

So let’s assume today’s rumor is correct and Sony is using ‘off the shelf’ tech like they did with the Vita. The PS4 – or Orbis – is thought to be rocking some sort of derivative of AMD’s A10 APU series, which wouldn’t be too bad, but it wouldn’t be amazing either. The series has decent reviews at the moment, although the problem is it has to last 8 or so years. The rumor also isn’t sure if the PS4 will get 8 or 16Gb RAM (here’s hoping 16), which could have a bigger impact as most of the biggest issues developers have had this gen has been with the terrible RAM bottleneck.

Dan: The biggest issue regarding Sony’s tech for the PS3 was not simply the difficulty in developing for the cell, it was the limitation they actually placed on the allocation of RAM. Writing for Multithreaded processors is something that is now better understood, as it has been in the market for a significant amount of time. Although the limitations they placed on developers to utilize 2 halves of the available RAM, instead of giving free reign like their competitors, cut the PS3’s ability to handle 3rd party titles significantly. This would be the equivalent of having an amazing sports car that can only run on Hydrogen fuel, a rarely available source of power outside of certain locations. This alone is one of the problems the PS3 is having with Skyrim, one of the biggest games of last year. So, if Sony is going to run with an APU (CPU+GPU), instead of a standard CPU and GPU chipset, they will be removing bottlenecks between the two, hopefully this is a sign that they are working to limit power restrictions between systems, and hopefully this includes the RAM.

With all the tech stuff out of the way, the real question falls down to where will Sony price the PS4. While there have been no announcements, my best estimate would be 2 models, entry level at $399, and bells and whistles $450. It would be possible for them to move the higher end model to $499, but I really think they will be leaving themselves wide open again, as it would be too easy for the competition to hammer home the higher price point, scaring off potential customers. While, not exactly the optimal price for consumers, it is a more realistic price point for Sony than the $299 launch figure, which sadly is no longer a realistic price model in our current tech war. The only thing I hope they do this upcoming generation is finally learn to talk to developers and design a console for them, as gamers only care about one thing, the games.

Seb: I think the PS4 will definitely be the first home console designed by Sony with developers involved. As crazy as it sounds, the PS1-3 were developed in secret by Sony Japan’s hardware guys and sprung upon developers when it was too late to change anything. This changed with the Vita, which may be selling worse than acidic hemorrhoid cream, but is a fantastically made device that every developer that uses it simply adores.

What we could end up seeing is a very high quality of games out the front gate, but then not a humungous leap at later stages. This won’t be the difference between early PS3 games and The Last of Us, but we should still see a strong progression in graphics and general gameplay improvements like the 360 has.

But I agree, Sony have learned that they are fallible, that people do have a limit they’ll spend on new hardware. They’ll plan on going in at a $350-$399 range, although any number of natural disasters or shipment issues could always change that. The problem is that Microsoft also knows that a low price point sells, and they have a bigger install base this gen, a stronger ecosystem, a motion control system people actually buy, far better advertising, and far deeper pockets. The Xbox gave them some footing in the games market, the 360 was their great big fight to dethrone Sony. Will they continue this meteoric rise? From the very beginning they always said that they planned on dominating the market with their third outing. That’s what worries me, and that’s what certainly worries Sony.

It’s imperative that this time they don’t price themselves too high and cripple their games business so that they can’t spend money on ads or on promotions. As much as I want to have a supercomputer, I’d settle for something a little less incredible if it meant that the PlayStation 4 would be a success.

What price point would you like to see the PS4 release at? Will you be picking it up day one? or will you take a wait and see approach? Let us know in the comments, or by sending Seb and Dan cash so we can afford to buy one.

Be sure to email DR ideas, podcast comments and general stupid stuff to [email protected] to enter a competition to win Seb’s soul.

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