What Sony may be up to next with PlayStation is anyone’s guess. With three viable pillars in the market right now (PlayStation 4, PlayStation 4 Pro, and PlayStation VR), most people are pointing to what they see as an inevitable PlayStation 5. Indeed, industry analysts have predicted that another hardware installment could come as soon as next year to combat Microsoft’s introduction of the world’s most powerful console, the Xbox One X. President Shawn Layden has himself confirmed that a new PlayStation system will arrive eventually, even.
But what if the company had other plans up its sleeve? Though the Vita is no longer being supported by Sony as it was in the past, with only niche Japanese titles and indie games releasing on the platform now, could the manufacturer entertain the idea of once again trying to stake a claim in the mobile gaming space?
The answer lies in Nintendo. This year’s release of the company’s newest hybrid console, the Switch, brought huge success to the house of Mario. Even with a small software library, the Switch has managed to outpace its predecessor by a wide margin, in many ways striving to gain a similar market share the publisher had during the original Wii era. As far-fetched as that may sound, the proof lies in the numbers. President Tatsumi Kimishima has said that he thinks the company will be able to retake that position as market leader, too.
But, should Sony try to mimic the Switch and produce a hybrid console of its own, could the new piece of hardware work to the same effect? As cool as having PlayStation 4 capabilities on the go may sound, Sony just can’t go this route for a variety of reasons.
The first is that copying what your competitors are doing has already been proven to not be a very effectual sales move. Not only is it very noticeable by connoisseurs of the industry, but it feels unoriginal and too profit motivated. This is best exemplified in the era of motion controls. With the Wii selling better than anyone could have ever imagined, both Sony and Microsoft decided to jump in on the bandwagon and each introduced motion controls to their respective systems. Needless to say, it didn’t work out very well from either a sales or public relations perspective. To make matters worse is that hardly any games truly made the most out of the new technology, with the only noticeable standouts being Dance Central and Just Dance.
Secondly, Sony could have another PR nightmare on its hands – something very akin to one surrounding the PlayStation Vita – should it not follow through on the potential of the handheld. A big limitation to the Switch as it exists now is its outdated specifications. Should there be a PlayStation Switch introduced, its technology will have to live up to the graphical expectations of owners of a PlayStation 4 and even a PlayStation 4 Pro. The “console gaming on the go” catchphrase the company had when it launched its last handheld backfired on them significantly. Sony would have to devise a completely different marketing strategy, which is largely infeasible due to how much the Switch dominates its market and offers great incentive for purchase outside of its graphical potential.
Lastly and perhaps most importantly, there just isn’t a lot of profit motive for Sony to commit so many resources for a PlayStation hybrid. Sure, as I had previously mentioned, the Switch is selling very well and an argument could be had that that alone is enough incentive for the company to attempt mimicking Switch’s concept. But the market is already extremely saturated when considering the bigger picture. Nintendo’s Switch is, in many ways, a fulfillment of the tablet capabilities of the Wii U, thus it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that it itself occupies a portion of the tablet market. With the success of 2-in-1 computers and larger smartphones, indirect competitors also exist to eat away at market share. Though the Switch took a risk by debuting in this category, it’s already staked a claim with its success and will be the go-to choice when hardcore gamers want to play on the go. To be able to change this perception and combat more competition will take an immense effort, one that Sony may not be willing to invest in.
As awesome as it may be to think about, a hybrid PlayStation console is just not very practical. Though the designs for a PlayStation Switch are sleek and believable, the financial motivation just isn’t there. What’s more realistic, in my belief, is that Sony will further optimize its streaming capabilities, allowing users to play anywhere on almost any device while maintaining graphical fidelity and frame rate speed. Indeed, playing a PlayStation exclusive game like Horizon: Zero Dawn on a tablet may be possible one day, just not on a tablet branded with the PlayStation signage.
Of course, all of this is just conjecture. Sony could very well introduce something like the Switch tomorrow, for all we know. Though it’s in my belief that they won’t, we’ll all just have to keep guessing.