With IFA in full swing over in Berlin and Apple’s traditional showcase lined up for next week, September is always a busy time in the world of tech. However, this year it looks like the gamers will be joining the announcement party with Nintendo rumoured to unveil the NX later this month and, first up on September 7th, Sony’s latest “Playstation Meeting” (catchy name guys) live from New York. It’s a brave or very confident company that organises something on the same day as Apple. So, with that in mind, here are the five things that we’re hoping feature at next week’s show.
1) Specs and launch details for the PS4K/Neo
Well, this is clearly the big one isn’t it?
We’ve had official confirmation of a new, more powerful PS4 codenamed “Neo” since June, when Sony gave an interview in the Financial Times. But since then, and despite a November launch being originally rumoured, everything has gone kind of quiet. Nothing at E3 (as, to be fair, they had indicated), nothing at Gamescom, nothing in between, just nothing.
Of course, maybe it was just part of the original plan – to tease a new machine early, focus on PSVR and then bring the two together at a Sony specific event when all eyes are on them. But, if so, it’s an interesting contrast to Sony’s approach to the PS4 slim, which is still waiting for an official confirmation despite being a real, working thing that’s apparently sat in warehouses and occasionally breaking into the wild on places like Gumtree.
And since that original interview, Microsoft have not just announced the Xbox One S but gone ahead and released it – not only make their console smaller and more desirable but also adding some subtle upgrades in the process which could steal some of Neo’s thunder. They have also surprised the world by announcing Project Scorpio and sharing some pretty impressive specs and a late 2017 launch date, along with Xbox Play Anywhere and the “end of console generations”. Is the Neo even the same machine that Sony had intended back in June? Are they agile enough to change plans at such a late stage in development? Could it still really launch in just two or three months time? Is it wise to launch so close to the slim model we’ve seen tested? We are surely about to find out.
2) Software demos
With Neo, PSVR and hey maybe even some kind of PS4 Slim (shock horror!) I’m expecting the big headlines of the event to be all about hardware – but Sony have been successful this generation by focussing on the games. And as their plans appear to be more advanced than Microsoft, I’m hopeful that this means we’ll get to see Sony’s new machine in action to help bring to life the inevitable Powerpoint slide showing the numbers, letters and gigaflops. I do love a good slide though.
Sony has shown they are not afraid to show “target footage” of new titles and while this could backfire (anyone remember that first Killzone 2 teaser at E3 2005?) it would be a great way to get people excited about the new machine. However, my feeling is that we’ll see some demonstration of upcoming or existing titles with “Neo mode” (or whatever) enabled. As well as showing off the new hardware, this would be a great way to help gamers understand how the two models will coexist and appeal to both potential Neo and PS4 Slim buyers. Sony will have a tightrope to walk talking up the new machine without aggravating existing PS4 owners or dissuading potential PS4 Slim customers.
The accepted wisdom seems to be that games for Neo will be a mandated minimum resolution but that any other improvements (be that better framerates or increased effects) will be left to the developer to decide on. Although it might not be possible (particularly given EA seem to have built a closer and closer relationship with Xbox over recent years) I could see something like Battlefield 1 demonstrating this perfectly. It would be possible to show how owners of both specs will get a great game the same experience just with Neo offering an additional level of fidelity and polish. With Sony going second in this respect, they will have seen the reaction to Microsoft’s slightly vague notion of “no exclusives” and have an opportunity not just to explain how this new, fully-compatible gaming world works, but to show it.
3) Clarity on PSVR
Partly building on the point above, perhaps, but one thing I’m both expecting and really hoping for is a bit more clarity on how each of the two models (taking the original and slim as one) will run with PSVR. Based on the specs and the apparent consensus of people much better placed to comment than me, I have to say that I’m still doubtful that the “standard” PS4 will be able to keep up. It might technically “cope” – and given Sony’s PR so far, I can’t imagine the fallout if it doesn’t – but I’m expecting Neo to deliver a much better and maybe more comfortable experience and to be marketed as such.
Again, Sony will have a tightrope to walk in this respect – encouraging current owners to dive in to PSVR but still positioning Neo as a premium device, worth the additional investment. I’m also expecting a formal bundle deal with Neo (as well as plenty of unofficially ones) so I’ll be looking for more details on both these points before putting down any of my cash. Morpheus and Neo together again, just like old times.
4) Something to justify the North American PS+ price rise
Back in late July, Sony announced some pretty significant price rises for PS Plus in the US and Canada. They were quick and right to point out that “this marks the first time that PS Plus membership prices will increase in the U.S. and Canada since the launch of the service in 2010” but an annual increase of $10/20% (it’s $20/40% in Canada!) is still a significant chunk of change, however dominant their market position. Yes, this only brings the US pricing into line with Xbox Live but that will only draw more comparisons in terms of reliability and value. Given the location and timing of the event (the price rise comes into effect from September 22nd) I wouldn’t be surprised to hear it get a mention here.
But how can Sony do this and still sell it as a positive (assuming they aren’t just cocky enough to rub the price increase in people’s faces)? Well, we now know that September’s free games will be the critically acclaimed “Journey” and the well-received and relatively recent “Lords of the Fallen”. With these both landing the day before the Playstation Meeting, I’m expecting Sony to make a point of highlighting this step-up in value and to commit to continuing the trend in October and future months.
And as for the rest of the world? Well, there is no word yet of any increase for the UK (although prices for one and three month subscriptions did rise already last year) or other regions. Perhaps the past year’s exchange rate movements mean that we get the benefit with none of the (current) extra cost? Well maybe, but history and the general pattern of gaming pricing mean I’d not be surprised to get our own announcement soon. Personally, I wouldn’t like it but I do still think PS+ (and Xbox Live, and EA Access) subscriptions offer pretty good value considering what you get for them.
5) Confirmation of the PS4 slim
Because, well, for goodness sake Sony …
… just announce the damn thing already!
So that’s what I’m expecting from next Wednesday’s event but how about you? Let us know in the comments below.