What the PlayStation 5 says about the future of gaming

Sony’s PS5 cometh.
Sony’s PS5 cometh.
Image: REUTERS/Issei Kato
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Sony put to rest months of speculation yesterday by giving Wired more details about its highly anticipated next-gen game console, the PlayStation 5. It expects to unveil the PS5 in time for the 2020 holiday season, coinciding with the release of Microsoft’s own next-gen machine, the Xbox Scarlett. Both consoles will feature the latest AMD Ryzen processor and Navi graphics chipset, a combo that will allow games to load faster and more efficiently.

The PS5 will feature a solid-state drive instead of a hard drive, which will allow for speedier and more efficient storage. For years, game consoles have been bogged down with sluggish hard drives that take up a lot of space but are cheap to produce. With the new drive, games will not only load faster, but they’ll take up less storage. The PS5 will double as a 4K Blu-ray player, better to accommodate the growing number of people who own 4K televisions. It’ll support screen resolutions of up to 8K and 120Hz refresh rates, making it ideal for virtual reality games. Sony’s next-gen console will also support ray-tracing in the hardware, a rendering technique that allows for complex lighting and sound effects. In short, games will load faster, take up less space, and look a lot better. 

The announcement of the PS5 comes at a rather uncertain time for Sony’s gaming business. In April the company scrapped its long-term sales targets after sales of the PS4 began to lag. It was the first sign of trouble for an otherwise popular system. The PS4 has been a massive success for Sony, reaching the milestone of 100 million units sold this June, the fastest of any game console. According to Fortune, sales of the six-year-old console have even outpaced its direct competitor, the Xbox One. (While Microsoft stopped disclosing sales figures for its consoles, the Xbox One is estimated to have sold at least 40 million units.

Serkan Toto, CEO of Tokyo-based consultancy Kantan Games, thinks that while the PS4 was no doubt a “key product” for Sony, a successful PS5 could generate another five to six years of solid revenue for the company. “I think if Sony keeps its cool, prices the hardware right and (most importantly) continues to push out exclusive software, the PS5 can be another winner for them,” wrote Toto in a message to Quartz. Bluepoint Studios has already confirmed that it’s working on a game exclusively for the PS5.

Gaming in the current era is more social than ever, and players are used to getting a lot of information in real time. Sony Interactive Entertainment president Jim Ryan detailed in a blog post how the new console will address this: “Multiplayer game servers will provide the console with the set of joinable activities in real time. Single-player games will provide information like what missions you could do and what rewards you might receive for completing them—and all of those choices will be visible in the UI. As a player you just jump right into whatever you like.”

Both the PS5 and Xbox Scarlett will be tailored for a gaming environment that has changed rapidly in a period of just under six years, since the PS4 was released in 2013. Games have grown more sophisticated in design and more technically ambitious. Broadband internet has grown more ubiquitous, allowing for the rise of online multiplayer, independent, and streaming games. Open-world offerings like the Grand Theft Auto series, Red Dead Redemption, Far Cry, Assassin’s Creed, and Witcher have created an immersive environment where players are more collaborative than ever. Hits like Halo and Fortnite have become their own cultural phenomena, raking in billions of dollars in profit and converting millions of first-time players into bona fide gamers. 

But while the industry is expected to generate $152.1 billion this year, the future of consoles is less certain. The rise of cross-platform, cloud-based, and mobile gaming suggest players increasingly will be less tied to a single device, or to owning the physical games themselves. Google Stadia and Apple Arcade both offer players a subscription service for games. While Sony and Microsoft have their own subscription game services—PlayStation Now and Xbox Game Pass—neither company has revealed exactly how they’ll play a role in their new consoles. 

Correction: An earlier version of this article called Google Stadia a “Netflix-like” subscription service. Instead, Google says the Stadia Pro service would give gamers access to roughly one free game per month. It also incorrectly referred to Apple Arcade and Xbox Game Pass as streaming services.