On June 13th 2016, the Head of Microsoft’s Xbox division, Phil Spencer, confidently announced Project Scorpio. It was to be the most powerful console ever made, boasting six teraflops of power – enough to rival high end gaming PCs – and it would be released in fall 2017. Though they haven’t confirmed this, it seems Scorpio signals the end of generation 8 and the start of generation 9, and that Xbox would be at the forefront.
While Xbox fans rejoiced at the news, PlayStation fans were not phased, as just days before in a small feature in the Financial Times, Sony President Andrew House revealed that the rumoured PS4 Pro – codenamed Neo – was real and would be revealed at a later date. That date was September 7th 2016, and after an awfully boring press conference, it was clear that Sony had been outflanked.
While the PS4 Pro is a more powerful iteration than its predecessor and it allows better graphical fidelity – including 4K and HDR -it is no match for the still-rumoured specs of the Scorpio. While the Scorpio is a jump into the next generation, the PS4 Pro is a mid-generation revision on the current hardware, something akin to what Apple does with its products.
The PS4 Pro is an unforced error by Sony, and one which Microsoft is keen to capitalise on. It just wasn’t necessary. The PS4 has sold almost double the Xbox One and was winning the console war comfortably, so there was no need for Sony to revise it halfway through. It’s possible to surmise that Sony had a plan for this generation; release the PS4 in fall 2013, update it mid-generation if needed, and then release the PS5 in 2018. OK, that means only a five-year generation, but that is actually closer to the norm. The last generation was an anomaly in lasting as long as it did, and it was probably due to the financial chaos of 2008-9. The point is Sony didn’t need to update the PS4 mid-generation because they were comfortably winning.
There are two reasons Sony would feel the need to release the PS4 Pro; caution, to cover what Microsoft might do, or arrogance, to show everyone who is on top. The former was unnecessary and the latter was dangerous. Either way, Microsoft has caught Sony out. They were backed into a corner by the success of the PS4, and while Sony were sure they would do something to combat that – and they did by releasing the Xbox One S which is very close to the PS4 Pro’s specs – Sony didn’t think they would effectively cut their losses and start again. Project Scorpio is that new start.
So what can Sony do to combat Scorpio? Well, even if they could design the PS5 – which this writer believes they probably already have – order the components and have them manufactured for a fall 2017 release, how can they ask their customers to buy three consoles – they consider PSVR to be a console – in 12 months? The best they can do is a fall 2018 release, which gives Microsoft a year head start, and all PlayStation fans know what happened the last time that was the case.
Sony is arguing that at this time they actually see their main competitors as the PC sphere. In a recent interview with the Guardian, Andrew House said: “I saw some data that really influenced me, it suggested that there’s a dip mid-console lifecycle where the players who want the very best graphical experience will start to migrate to PC, because that’s obviously where it’s to be had. We wanted to keep those people within our eco-system by giving them the very best and very highest [performance quality]. So the net result of those thoughts was PlayStation 4 Pro – and, by and large, a graphical approach to game improvement.” Whether Sony truly believes that the PC market is their biggest competitor or they are trying to deflect attention away from the Scorpio/Pro comparisons, it’s clear Sony believe they are fighting on two fronts. While the Pro covers the PC front, it has been out-manoeuvred on the console front.
I think that if Sony could have, they would have changed the specs on the Pro to at least be closer to the Scorpio, but it was just too late. Sony has made a mistake with the PS4 Pro; it is an unnecessary revision to a hugely successful console. They should have allowed the PS4 to carry on its merry way and been putting their vast resources into the PS5, so they could match Project Scorpio. The PS4 Pro is a jump but the Scorpio is a huge leap, and Sony is in danger of being left to chase its coattails.