It's been a good year for Sony and the PlayStation 4. 2017 was the year of the Nintendo Switch, with Nintendo rocking the world with its hybrid console. Right behind Nintendo was Sony, continuing to make gains with the veteran PlayStation 4.
2018 was a year of strength for PlayStation 4. The best-selling exclusive in the United States and United Kingdom was Marvel's Spider-Man, and God of War was right after it on both the NPD and UKIE/GfK charts. Much of the rest of the top 10 of both charts—Red Dead Redemption 2, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, and Far Cry 5—were multi-platform titles, which have historically sold better on the PlayStation 4. The console rounded its fifth anniversary in November, celebrating 86.1 million systems sold; calendar aligned, that's rather close to the sales of the PlayStation 2, the best-selling console of all-time.
With another banner year behind it, what should players be looking forward to from the PlayStation brand in 2019?
We Need Some Release Dates (And More Games)
If you read my similar look forward for 2018, you'll find I said the same thing. At the time, the list of exclusives without firm release dates included Marvel's Spider-Man, Days Gone, God of War, The Last of Us Part 2, Ghost of Tsushima, Death Stranding, Detroit: Become Human, and Kingdom Hearts 3, with at least two of those games having been announced at E3 2016. Given 2018's releases, that list is down to Days Gone, The Last of Us Part 2, Ghost of Tsushima, Death Stranding, and Kingdom Hearts 3.
Kingdom Hearts 3 is no longer a PlayStation 4 exclusive, but it might as well be given that previous franchise releases were on PlayStation platforms. It's coming on January 29. Days Gone is coming in April 26, after several delays. And… that's the end of the firm release dates. Looking at potential release windows isn't much better. After its first reveal at PlayStation Meeting 2013, Dreams is reportedly coming to PS4 in 2019, but its official listing on the PlayStation website is "TBC." The same is true of Ghost of Tsushima and Death Stranding, while The Last of Us Part 2 has no official date whatsoever. Given what has and hasn't been seen of the latter three, I'm not expecting to see them in 2019 at all. Finally, there's the remake of MediEvil which has been announced as coming in 2019, but isn't listed on the official PlayStation site at all.
Sony is relying heavily on existing announcements and releases from third-party developers. Some games will be true exclusives, like Judgment, Catherine: Full Body, and Shenmue 3. There will also be titles similar to Kingdom Hearts 3, which might be coming to other platforms, but will likely perform the strongest on PlayStation 4. This list features Resident Evil 2, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, and Devil May Cry 5. But in terms of pure exclusive titles, the PS4 feels light in 2019. Where's Bloodborne 2, Sony?
This is part of the reason that Sony skipped having a PlayStation Experience in 2018.
"Now that we have Spider-Man out the door, we're looking down into 2019 to games like Dreams and Days Gone. We wouldn't have enough to bring people all together in some location in North America to have that event. We don't want to set expectations really high and not deliver on it. It was a hard decision, but we have determined that this year we will not hold PlayStation Experience," said Sony Worldwide Studios chairman Shawn Layden on the PlayStation Blogcast.
A month later, Sony announced that it would also be skipping E3 2019. Some took this to mean that Sony might offer another show around E3, like Electronic Arts has done the past few years. The company shot that one down as well.
"We will not activate or hold a press conference around E3," PlayStation senior vice president of communications Jennifer Clark told Game Informer.
Essentially, what you see is what you get for the most part. There won't be a cavalcade of announcements in June from PlayStation. 2018 was the banner year with Spider-Man, God of War, and Red Dead Redemption 2; 2019 is just getting a few other titles out the door.
A Look at the Future of PlayStation
Last year, I said that the general timetable of PlayStation console generations means we'd likely see a PlayStation 4 successor in 2019 or 2020. I'm still holding to that idea. And I think Sony skipping PlayStation Experience 2018 and E3 2019 is pointing to the platform holder going big in late 2019 or early 2020. I'd expect a tease of the system at a PlayStation Experience 2019 event in December, with a release in 2020.
Ghost of Tsushima had a hands-off, in-person demo at E3 2018, and it felt real early. The Last of Us Part 2 had a gameplay trailer at the same show, with similar footage being shown off behind closed doors. Death Stranding has had one recent gameplay trailer that didn't really give much an indication of how the game will actually play. I'm guessing all three of these titles will be crossover games for PlayStation 4 and the next PlayStation console.
Outside of those games, Sony is a bit low on games that could come to the next PlayStation. Guerrilla Games is well-placed to deliver a system-selling sequel to Horizon Zero Dawn, and Japan Studio might have something new, but otherwise it's tapped out. Polyphony Digital probably won't deliver another Gran Turismo until 2021 at the earliest. Bend is doing Days Gone, Naughty Dog is working on The Last of Us Part 2, and Sucker Punch is developing Ghost of Tsushima. Making some of those games cross-generation takes the load off.
The PlayStation 5 will likely be an incremental leap over the PlayStation 4 Pro. The PlayStation 4 was a custom system-on-a-chip based on AMD's Jaguar architecture. One report from Tweaktown points to the PlayStation 5 having a discrete graphics chip. An AMD Zen+ CPU, backed by an AMD Navi GPU and potentially GDDR6 RAM. The aim is probably to make a system that can hit 60FPS at 4K resolution; I doubt developers will universally use the power to those ends, but it's a good benchmark.
Use of similar AMD architecture would likely allow some form of backwards compatibility with the PlayStation 4. Assuming the incremental boost over the PS4 Pro, backward compatibility would allow the next PlayStation to get an early start for consumers. Some games would be exclusive to the next PlayStation, but others could bridge the gap and work on both generations.
Also, I don't think Sony will follow Microsoft, who is reportedly planning a cheaper Xbox streaming console to go alongside the next Xbox. Network infrastructure in many places worldwide doesn't seem to be there yet, and Sony took the lead this generation by keeping it simple.
PlayStation Game Pass
If there's one thing Microsoft is doing right with the Xbox One, it has to be Xbox Game Pass. The subscription service gives players access to all of Microsoft's first party games and a host of other titles for $9.99 a month (or cheaper if you find a good deal). Not only does it provide value for players, but it allows Microsoft to improve the communities of its assorted online games. The company has called the service an "early success," and it plans to bring it fully to PC in the future.
Neither Sony or Microsoft are there to leave money on the table. Microsoft started the subscription wars with Xbox Live, and Sony followed with PlayStation Plus. Sony upped the ante with the Instant Game Collection, and Microsoft followed suit with Xbox Games With Gold. Now that Microsoft has Xbox Game Pass, Sony could potentially follow and do something similar.
"Now" being the operative word. Sony already has a game streaming subscription service called PlayStation Now. PlayStation Now offers up streaming PlayStation 4 games, but the selection trends away from newer titles, and streaming is rife with connection problems and input lag. Sony has begun down this path, allowing players to download PS4 games to play them on their systems, but "new" on that part of PlayStation Now covers games like Bloodborne, which came out in 2015. The catalog needs to expand to more recent games. Smart money is on creating a cheaper tier on that service—it costs $19.99 a month—that only offers the current generation titles. This would function like Xbox Game Pass, but also potentially act as a gateway to the full PlayStation Now experience.
I'm unsure Sony would give away its biggest new games. Titles like Spider-Man or God of War are system sellers, but alternate games like Dreams could likely benefit from Sony's own Game Pass. I'm not entirely sure this is something coming in 2019, but a lean year is a good time to launch something like Xbox Game Pass, as Microsoft has shown.
It's 2019 and the PlayStation 4 could hit the 100 million console milestone. So far, we have a lean year ahead in terms of games from Sony itself, but third-party partners will continue to pick up the slack. There was no PlayStation Experience and the company is leaving E3 behind, but late 2019 or early 2020 could give us the shape of the next PlayStation. Overall though, the PlayStation 4 is in good shape.