Console wars kick off as Sony’s PS4 goes on sale in the US

Sony gets early lead ahead of Xbox One launch next week

Hundreds of fans lined up for hours to get their hands on what Sony is calling 'the most powerful gaming console to ever hit the market.'

 

Sony kicked off the next generation console war with the launch of its PlayStation 4 in the US at midnight.

The console is forming the centrepiece of chief executive Kazuo Hirai’s corporate turnaround strategy. Robust PS4 sales would provide much-needed momentum after Sony posted a surprise second-quarter loss last month.

If enough people buy the device, and the subscription PlayStation Plus service, Tokyo-based Sony stands to generate billions of dollars from sales of movies, TV shows and music, as well as games.

The console goes on sale in Europe on November 29th.

Sony has a one-week jump in the US on Microsoft, which starts selling its pricier Xbox One on November 22nd.

“Gamers are tired of that PS3 that they’ve had for six or seven years, and they’re ready to buy a new one,” Michael Pachter, an analyst with Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles, said this week on a webcast. “Especially given that the Xbox One costs 100 bucks more, I think that you’ve got to give Sony a nod for faster out of the gate.”

Sony’s lower €399 price gives it the advantage over the €499 Xbox One, according to Pachter. Sony’s forecast for sales of as many as five million consoles by the end of March may be low, he said, with the PS4 likely to sell out through January.

The two top combatants in the $93 billion-a-year industry are employing different pitches to holiday shoppers for machines that are similar on the inside. The PS4, with a combined processor and memory from Advanced Micro Devices, is built on a PC-like design comparable to the Xbox One. Sony is employing a newer, faster type of memory that could provide an edge with graphics and help win over hardcore game players.

The company also will benefit from efforts to woo independent developers, according to Andrew House, head of Sony’s worldwide game operation.

Both Sony and Microsoft are responding to shifts in the video-game industry, especially the loss of players to tablets and mobile phones. Nintendo, for example, has sold 3.9 million Wii U units since November, far below the company’s estimates.

To spur sales, Sony and Microsoft are offering powerful web-connected consoles capable of delivering games and entertainment, such as TV, films and music.

“It represents a very large opportunity, not just for PlayStation but for Sony overall, to create in essence our own entertainment community,” Mr House said in an interview. “Until now, we didn’t have a large networked consumer base.”

Within 12 months, Sony will begin streaming original programming to the PS4, House said, in a nod to the material owned by his company’s entertainment divisions. It is also courting independent game makers with expanded developer funds, and will offer free indie games with PlayStation Plus.

The PS4 will be available in 31 other countries by January and will go on sale in Japan on February 22nd.

Microsoft, which has been pitching the Xbox One’s motion- sensing Kinect camera as a controller for all forms of living room entertainment, has focused its message on applications and exclusive content, such as a live-action TV show from Steven Spielberg.

The improved Kinect will make it easier for users to multitask - whether it’s video phone calls on Skype, playing Forza Motorsport or checking scores on ESPN, said David Dennis, a Microsoft spokesman.

There won’t be much in the way of indie games for the Xbox One kickoff, though “you should expect to see plenty coming soon”, Mr Dennis said.

The PS4 camera also supports voice and facial recognition similar to Microsoft’s Kinect. Marketed as optional, it’s required to play the pre-installed PlayRoom augmented reality game.

Sony has said it doesn’t see the camera as priority, for now, for serious gamers.

“There are plans for innovation on these machines even beyond gaming,” said Tony Bartel, president of GameStop.

About 70 million current PlayStation owners use the company’s PlayStation Network to access online services.

“The PlayStation Network and PlayStation Plus are going to be front and center of our efforts, a lot more than it has in the past,” ¨Mr House said.

Over the long-term, Mr Pachter also gives Sony the edge, forecasting sales of as many as 120 million PS4 players, compared with 100 million for the Xbox One and 30 million for Nintendo’s Wii U.

“A 20 per cent price difference means 20 per cent higher sales, plain and simple,” hesaid yesterday in an e-mail. “If and when Microsoft cuts the price, they’ll sell the same number of units, maybe Microsoft sells a bit more.” (Bloomberg)

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