An increasingly-justified fear of irrelevance seems to be driving Sony’s every move these days. Its latest public display: yesterday’s clearly-too-soon announcement of the PlayStation 4. It was by nearly all accounts a bizarre two-hour ordeal that featured no launch date, no pricing, and no product.
Everything about this event, from the lack of specifics, to the Office Space slides with MS Paint brains, to the creepy old man head, points to a rushed announcement. Why? Why did Sony need to talk on February 20th? Why not wait for a presentable product? Some playable games? Anything real? And why release the technical specs after the event, having just filled a room with reporters for two hours? Even the official press release feels sloppy, listing PlayStation 4 itself after the new controller and camera. Everything about the announcement is weird.
It’s easy to get sidetracked and ridicule Sony (again), but this is a teachable moment. People would have happily waited longer for a comprehensive, exciting product launch. It’s been nearly seven years since the last PlayStation was revealed; would another month or two have tipped some scale? Whoever this was aimed at — developers, hardcore gamers, casual gamers — the utter lack of usable information makes the timing questionable at best.
There are also competitive repercussions: Sony has now shown its hand way ahead of time. Microsoft is not expected to announce its next-generation Xbox until E3 in June, leaving more than three months to respond accordingly. If Sony’s offering ends up superior to the Xbox when that announcement happens, then Sony hasn’t gained much, because we still don’t know what it has or what it can do, and it’ll be months-old news. If Sony’s offering ends up inferior, it will be upstaged and stale.
If you’re going to strike early, you must strike hard. A strong offering is strong at any time. The same goes for a weak one. The difference is knowing what you have, and adjusting the message accordingly. Sony did not do that yesterday, and has now lost the opportunity to do so tomorrow.