Would it be fair to call Sony‘s Manhattan-based Feb. 20 shindig “P-day”? We might as well, what with that PlayStation logo headlining Sony’s “Meeting 2013” event teaser site — a site that’s now sporting a mini-history of most of the hardware that falls under the renowned moniker’s umbrella.
My memories of the first PlayStation’s earliest days are mixed. Maybe that’s because I was playing the thing months in advance. The guy I worked for — the store manager of a Babbages — paid a shedload of cash for a Japanese import model. He liked to drop it in the store display window, then run the Ridge Racer start screen demo to see how many passerby would stop to gawk, or ask what the heck it was. Remember when video games still had that power over us?
Don’t worry, this isn’t my PlayStation retrospective, which, like yours, could probably fill a book three people want to read. Let’s talk instead about Sony’s ballyhooed Wednesday evening event, 6:00pm ET, where we’re expecting to see the company’s next-gen game system. TIME Tech editor Doug Aamoth is kindly attending in my stead and should have all the details straightaway, and you’ll be able to watch things unfold live courtesy the event site.
I’ve already scribbled down a few lessons I hope Sony’s learned since the PS3’s debut in November 2006, so here’s another list — this one of things I’m not expecting from the event. Like…
…something that isn’t the next PlayStation. We don’t know what we don’t know, to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, but the way this typically works is, a company announces it’s holding a major media event, the press speculates irresponsibly, and if that speculation morphs into certainty (as it has in this case), the company typically follows up with some sort of off-the-record denial to recalibrate expectations. Sony’s done nothing to quiet the rumor mill here. In fact you could say it’s poured rocket fuel on the rumormongering with its PlayStation retrospective videos, all but guaranteeing that what we’ll see tomorrow night is the next PlayStation. That said, whether Sony dubs it a “PlayStation 4,” something awful like “PlayStation Orbis,” or just goes with something catchall like “PlayStation,” Apple iPad-style, is anyone’s guess.
…a look at the new console and nothing else. Hardware, schmard-ware, we want software that’s interesting, not just pretty. I don’t expect Sony to go into elaborate detail about the next PlayStation’s backend systems, but I’m predicting (okay, really more hoping) that we’ll see event time given to whatever nifty new ecosystem this thing’s going to live in, including some of its hypothetical features, like game streaming (recall that Sony picked up streaming company Gaikai for about $380 million last summer and may be planning to tap that technology in lieu of, say, hardware-based backward compatibility, or for cross-platform gaming). I know, I’m not a huge fan of game streaming either, but I’d rather hear about stuff like that than how many polygons this thing can shove around.
…much about motion-control. Motion-control’s spotlight moment may have passed, but it’s still pretty young technology. Microsoft‘s seemingly cool but too often clumsy Kinect did well enough off the block (driven, I suspect, mostly by hype), but sales slowed to a crawl by mid-2012. Sony’s more precise PlayStation Move — better received overall by critics — started even slower and never quite caught on. (Sony blames this on a lack of compelling software; I concur.) That said, I’m betting Sony’s going to redouble its motion control efforts, angling the experience more toward casual players, but that we won’t see much (or anything) about this at the event. That’d be fine by me, and shouldn’t be interpreted as the company jumping ship.
…much, if any, talk about pricing. The PlayStation 3 was, by all accounts, way too expensive at launch: $500 to $600, plus $60 a pop for games, plus whatever else you had to buy to get started, say an HDMI cable, which back then could go for upwards of $50. Whether you blame Sony for not taking a bigger margin hit (by selling for $300 to $400 at launch) or simply the hardware design team for overbuilding (some estimates put Sony’s PS3 manufacturing costs at $800 per system), the sequel to the bestselling game console in history (Sony’s own PS2) launched with negative momentum and, though it eventually made up for some of that lost time with price cuts, still lags behind the Xbox 360 in worldwide sales today. Early reports are that Sony’s next PlayStation could debut for $400, but given how much time there is between now and a probable fall launch timeframe — a timeframe during which manufacturing costs could change — don’t expect Sony to throw out specific numbers.
…a quiet, respectable, Apple-style briefing. This is Sony we’re talking about after all. Like Microsoft, the company doesn’t seem to know how to stage a presser that doesn’t feel like a garish Lady Gaga, WWF, Cirque de Soleil mashup. Speaking of, hopefully the company won’t be as pretentious as Microsoft was with its E3 2010 Project Natal (Kinect) launch, forcing everyone to don creepy cult-like ponchos and watch Cirque performers pull off crazy-cool gymnastics that had nothing to do with the actual technology…sort of like suggesting Taylor Swift is going to come play your house if you buy her new album.
…actual hands-on time. I’m thinking this event is meant to be a tease, a chance to highlight a handful of key system features while showing a few graphics-angled sizzle reels and maybe trotting out a few developers to demo stuff. My guess is Sony’s going to keep its powder dry for E3 2013, where, having hyped the merciful you-know-what out of this thing for months, it’ll pull the curtain all the way back and let us scribble to our heart’s content about what it’s like to actually use the thing. Expect to walk away with more questions than answers when the curtain drops, in other words.
What else might we see? In the “wishful thinking” column you could put a Sony designed and branded PlayStation phone (unlikely), a Sony designed and branded PlayStation tablet (surely not), a PlayStation Vita price cut (probable: Sony just dropped the Japan model’s price) as well as news about new Vita games (or updates on previously announced ones) and maybe even a swan song PlayStation 3 price cut. The irony of Sony announcing a reasonably priced next-gen system while dropping the cost of its original wallet-burner would be sweet indeed.