2012 will likely be considered a transition year for all the console makers, and Sony will be right in the thick of things. The current generation consoles have been holding their ground years beyond what we all expected. There's a division in the criticism between those who feel a more powerful system is necessary and others who feel the current power is sufficient.
No matter your stance on the issue, Sony is taking strides into the next generation of gaming. The PS Vita has already launched in Japan, with a worldwide release coming in February, and the rumors of a PlayStation 4 are creeping into the media. Of course, the PS3 is nowhere near finished, and Sony has some great exclusive titles lined up for the PS3 this year. So is the deck stacked in their favor, or does Sony need to bluff their way to win in 2012?
Well, let's start with what will be making headlines earliest in the year—the Vita. With impressive first week launch sales and then a sharp decline ever since, most have already jumped ship and called the Vita a doomed project. I wouldn't call it that yet, but I also wouldn't claim the Vita has an obstacle-free road ahead of it.
First, whether or not you personally put the Vita and the 3DS on the same comparison chart, the fact is that they are the only two high-branded portable devices designed predominantly for gaming, putting them in direct competition. The broad demographic is different, yes, as Nintendo has always been able to tap into a younger audience, with strong 2011 holiday sales for the 3DS confirming that parents have shelled out the cash for the now price-friendly portable. The Vita, however, missed a North American holiday launch, but likely wouldn't have fared as well anyway because it caters to the Sony population, which is an older breed of gamer. This might actually be their biggest hurdle.
Here in the U.S., many PlayStation lovers are dedicated to the brand and will be at the retail stores on day one. But the moderates may stay on the fence a lot longer, as most are able to get a portable fix through their smartphones and don't particularly care to lug around another device, especially one as bulky as the Vita. With a strong title lineup for the release, none will say that Sony had a software flub if sales are bad. No, if sales go south, it will most likely be because the audience just doesn't need the device to be satisfied on the go.
What Sony should do, then, is market it differently—not so much as a portable device, but more as a supplement and extension of the PS3. The game shows of 2011 have revealed some of the cross-platform capabilities between the PS3 and the Vita, with innovation that could set a new bar for compatibility between future consoles and portables. Sony should focus on that aspect, unlock every feature it can, and sell it as the must-have supplement for every PS3 owner.
Oh, and a price drop might be necessary. While I don't expect the price to change before the worldwide launch, the Sony execs will certainly be watching the sales figures closely. If the numbers aren't good, we may see the price tag go down a notch—my guess would be $199 for the Wi-Fi unit and $229 for the 3G. It would mean more of a profit loss with each system sold (much like PS3 after its birth), but could prove fruitful in the long run. I'll stay positive, though, hoping the poor sales are localized to Japan, and that we'll see a strong showing over here. Either way, we'll see for certain in less than a month.
Next are all the rumors concerning a PS4 on the horizon. While I don't doubt that we'll see one eventually, I think the horizon is a bit farther away than 2012. What Sony should do concerning their next-gen platform is nail down some key features they want incorporated in the system, particularly anything new, rather than just slapping in a beefed-up processor and calling it a day. With those at least down on paper, then Sony needs to be watching closely for any announcement of a new Xbox system. We all know the Wii U is on the way, but unlike the Vita/3DS battle, Sony's direct console competitor is not Nintendo.
If we hear anything about the non-Nintendo next-gen consoles, it probably won't be until E3 this year. Even then, I certainly wouldn't count on any playable demos, but simply a quick presentation and possibly some trailers using just the guts of the planned CPU and GPU. No, I expect 2012 will be the year of rumors for both Sony's and Microsoft's next systems, with only official announcements and basic information being divulged at the expos.
What Sony can and should do in 2012 is keep the nice pace of exclusive titles for the PS3 throughout the course of the year. The biggest game on everyone's radar is probably (and should be) The Last of Us, which we know has already been in development for a couple of years, so we're crossing our fingers that Naughty Dog will have it finished before the end of the year. There are other high-profile games in the pipeline though, like Twisted Metal, Starhawk, a new Sly game, and The Last Guardian (from the makers of the must-play ICO and Shadow of the Colossus). The surprise exclusive may actually be a downloadable title in Journey, which has been getting a lot of press because of its unique style and gameplay, and may wind up gathering a massive cult following.
But this may not be enough for Sony to keep us salivating, so we'll hope for some fresh demos of upcoming titles at each annual convention, or even a surprise launch of an exclusive that Sony has kept well under wraps.
It's a big year for Sony. They're not only focusing on software releases this year, but also on a worldwide portable platform release and quelling the PS4 rumors. Though I don't think anything short of a global calamity could launch Sony into a pit of doom, 2012 is certainly going to be an important year for the company, and one in which we'll start seeing hints at whether or not they'll be able to reclaim their pedestal in the next console generation.
Date: January 23, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central. This week's is also purely a work of fiction*