Sony shared good news last week as part of its quarterly report. The company has shipped a full 60 million PlayStation 4 and PS4 Pro ($ 399 at Amazon) consoles. The company also sold 2.9 million devices in the past three months, up from 2.3 million devices shipped in the same period last year. That’s a significant achievement given the PS4 is now a mature console, and it implies Sony has had good luck with its PS4 Pro hardware refresh cycle.
Exact details on how the PS4 Pro is selling compared with the conventional PS4 remain elusive. In mid-March, Media Create estimated Sony had sold 200,000 PS4 Pros in Japan alone since launch, which isn’t great compared with the 4.5 million PS4s it sold in that country since the console debuted. On the other hand, Sony’s CFO Kenichiro Yoshida told investors back in February that “PS4 Pro is running as we had expected, as we assumed, but Pro maybe is doing more than we anticipated.”
This year, Sony doesn’t expect to shift quite so many consoles, with a prediction of 18 million units shipped. This could reflect a maturing console market in which most people who want a Sony PS4 have gotten one, or it could imply Sony expects Microsoft’s upcoming Xbox One Scorpio to suck some of the air out of the room. Certainly that’s what Microsoft hopes to do, though its operating at an enormous disadvantage at this point in the console cycle.
Will consumers embrace a new console model?
These new launches from Sony and Microsoft aren’t just about improving on the Xbox One ($ 240 at Amazon) and PS4’s overall performance. They’re also an attempt to test-drive a new business model in which periodic “iPhone style” updates and rolling backwards compatibility replace specific console generations. There are marked potential advantages for gamers in this approach. Backwards-compatibility can be vastly simplified by steadily evolving architectures rather than launching brand new ones each and every generation. There’s correspondingly less worry about needing to repurchase games you already have, and less need to purchase new peripherals for a new system.
One interesting facet of the so-called iPhone model, however, is that people don’t tend to upgrade every single year, preferring instead to upgrade every other year, if not longer. Console markets tend to introduce major refreshes even slower than once a year, which means these tests are also an attempt to measure whether enough console owners are willing to buy new hardware at the 3-4 year mark. If not, then you’ve nearly hit the length of a previous console generation (5-7 year refresh cycles) and the point of these faster, evolutionary updates is largely lost.
Of course, there’s also a marketing angle in all of this. If each console generation is defined as a specific set of platforms, than you have winners and losers in every generation. Defined as an ongoing market there’s less weight put on these numbers, since they can fluctuate widely over time. We talk about iPhone shipments versus Android shipments, but not so much about whether the iPhone 7 “beat” the Galaxy S7. I suspect Microsoft would clearly favor such an approach, since it heads off declarations that the Xbox One has already lost this console generation — but either way, it’ll only happen if people buy the hardware.
Now read: The best free games on the PS4