Sony’s rollout of PS5 info has been unconventional, to say the least. The company fired a volley confirming the next-gen console back in April 2019 via a sudden and surprising interview with Wired, well before its intended “Holiday 2020” release window. We got a bit more info in October, but then radio silence. Those expecting a PS5 reveal event in February 2020 to mirror the PS4’s road to release in 2013 were met with disappointment. Instead, we’ve simply seen the logo and gotten an arguably dull (for the layman) presentation of the foundations that went into crafting the PS5 architecture. With the console allegedly still on track for release later this year and Microsoft’s marketing of the Xbox Series X hitting its stride, many are wondering when Sony will kick off PlayStation 5 marketing for the masses. Given current events as a massive pandemic fills the world with uncertainty, now isn’t really the time.
To be fair, historically, Sony didn’t even start into strong PS4 marketing efforts until the actual box and price were revealed at E3 2013. That’s when preorders opened up, games were revealed, and the hype train really departed the station. At this point, through the various Wired interviews and Mark Cerny’s presentation, we know about as much about the PS5 as we did about the PS4 during March 2013, so we aren’t all that far off that timeline. But given Microsoft’s very complete unveiling of the Xbox Series X, showing off everything from specs, to the controller, to the final design of the console that will be in your living room, Sony’s PS5 push looks almost nonexistent in comparison.
What’s unclear is exactly how the coronavirus outbreak has affected Sony’s plans for the PS5 this year. We know that Mark Cerny’s presentation was originally intended to be a GDC talk presented to developers and other folks in the industry. Its design was never meant to be the “PS5 reveal” proper, but the cancellation and postponement of GDC forced Sony’s hand. Cerny still wanted to talk about the architecture—this was a big milestone Sony still wanted to meet—but now the hour-long tech talk was billed for public consumption where it likely wouldn’t have been before. As one of the earliest companies to begin making adjustments to its event attendance due to coronavirus, it’s entirely possible Sony has canceled other internal plans not yet made public surrounding the reveal and marketing path of the PS5 that could have helped contextualize the talk a little bit more.
PS5 Marketing 2020 Plans
Back in January when Sony announced that it wouldn’t be at E3 2020, the company said it would instead be holding “hundreds of consumer events” throughout the year to showcase PS5 and PS4 games. Sony already wasn’t planning to attend the summer games expo even before COVID-19 came and turned not only the industry but the entire world upside down. Jim Ryan’s reveal of the PS5 logo at CES 2020 further hammered on the point of community, leading to additional speculation about the return of PlayStation-centered events like PlayStation Meeting and PSX.
Coronavirus has really upset Sony’s plans around “community” and the “hundreds of consumer events” that were planned for this year.
In fact, Sony was to have a big presence at PAX East 2020, not showing off anything PS5 related, but with the first publicly playable demo of The Last of Us Part II. Sony would go on to cancel its attendance at PAX East due to mounting coronavirus concerns at the time, and even though PAX East itself wasn’t canceled, it would be the last big gaming event before the outbreak created sweeping cancellations of events like GDC and E3. (Even though GDC is technically “postponed” with a GDC summer event planned, I have a strong feeling that one will end up canceled as well.)
The uncertainty and general mishandling of the coronavirus outbreak at the highest levels really leaves the rest of 2020 up in the air. When is it safe to start having expos and conventions again? What plans are now being tabled, put on hold, or changed altogether thanks to stay at home orders, lockdowns, and wide changes to social interactions and gatherings previously taken for granted? What does it mean for Sony’s “hundreds of consumer events?” And perhaps one of the biggest questions, how will the impacted economy affect both the supply chains needed for manufacture of the PS5 and consumer financial strength for purchasing the PS5? Even with the rosy and overly optimistic outlook that coronavirus will be a distant memory by holiday 2020, the rippling economic impact could mean the world simply isn’t ready for a pricy next-gen console launch.
There’s no doubt these same conversations are happening internally at Sony via Zoom meetings between execs working from home. When is the right time to start the PS5’s marketing push? To show off the console? To show the controller? To show games? Do they stick to the holiday 2020 release window (as is currently the plan) or do they delay, whether forced by supply constraints or by choice based on the state of the economy? The only clear answer is that the time is not now. The world has a few more things to worry about than stoking the fires of fanboys who want to argue about teraflops (while simultaneously exposing the fact that they didn’t watch or understand Mark Cerny’s presentation that clearly outlined why teraflops are an ineffective measurement of a console’s capabilities).
Mark Cerny’s technical presentation was fascinating for some, but far from the marketable “PS5 reveal” some thought it would be.
While I certainly wouldn’t say no to a breakdown of the DualShock 5 or that PS5 tear down that Cerny promised in his talk—we’ve even posed a number of questions of our own about the console—I understand that we’ve got a few other things to worry about right now. If Sony begins a strong marketing push on the PS5 right now with the uncertainty that remains this year, it’s setting itself up with a flimsy foundation in case it needs to pivot when the need arises. If the holiday 2020 launch date does get pushed, it can offset the disappointment by using that time to really start marketing the features of the console.
The road to the PlayStation 5 was already unconventional without a pandemic, but with everything that’s going on, we understand if you take your time Sony. We’ve still got The Last of Us Part II and Ghost of Tsushima to look forward to, not to mention Final Fantasy VII Remake. The PS5 isn’t releasing until holiday 2020 (at least) anyway, so whether we hear more about it now or in a few months doesn’t really matter. What is certain is that when Sony is finally ready to lay out a path to the PS5, it needs to do so with a firm and decisive hand. It needs to be ready to answer the questions that players have about the console. It needs to be ready to sell the features of the system, not just the specs and dev benefits. What does a PS5 mean for the player? That’s the next question Sony needs to answer. When is it coming? What does it look like? What’s it going to cost? How does the architecture of the console coalesce into an experience for the player? However, we’re not quite ready for that big push, as much as we might want more information right now.
Seems great in theory, but what does it mean for a player in practice? Those are the next questions Sony needs to answer.
Arguably, we’re not really at a place all that different from where we were at this point in 2013, eagerly anticipating the next wave of information from Sony. That wave didn’t come until June, even without a pandemic to worry about. Either way, now isn’t the time for PlayStation 5 marketing to get lost in the noise of the uncertainty of the world. People are understandably distracted. 2020 is an unusual and tumultuous year Sony, and it’s only March. Take your time. Do this right. We can wait.
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