The next PlayStation is closer than you might think.
Not only is Sony already talking about the successor to the wildly successful PlayStation 4, but the company is making some pretty clear moves to prepare.
With over 90 million PlayStation 4 consoles in the wild, Sony is ahead of the competition from Microsoft and Nintendo by tens of millions of units. But can the PlayStation stay on top as the game industry transitions to digital storefronts and streaming services?
That's the big question! Here's a look at what Sony needs to maintain its lead:
1. More than anything else, Sony needs major exclusive games.
Say what you will about the relative differences between the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One — in the long run, we'll look back at the two consoles as remarkably similar pieces of hardware.
What differentiates the two mainly is games: Sony simply has more major exclusive games than Microsoft. Whether you're talking about "Uncharted" or "Bloodborne" or "Spider-Man" or "God of War" or, well, the list could go on and on.
Microsoft has some biggies — like "Halo" or "Forza" — but this generation of consoles was primarily led by Sony because of a consistent stream of excellent, exclusive games.
But that well is seemingly running dry: "The Last of Us: Part II" and "Death Stranding" are the last two unreleased major games announced as exclusively coming to the PlayStation 4.
Sony is even outright skipping the annual game industry trade show, E3, in 2019 for the first time ever. The reason? There weren't enough games to show.
"We wanna make sure that when we do come together at some point, bring all our fans in under the invitation that PlayStation has something marvelous to share with you, we wanna make sure that we do. And E3 this year just wasn't the right time for us," PlayStation head Shawn Layden told Business Insider in early 2019.
2. A move toward PlayStation as a digital platform.
Will your PlayStation 4 library transfer to the PlayStation 5? Here's hoping!
(Sony Interactive Entertainment)
With few exceptions, new generations of game consoles come with the expectation that anything from the previous system will not work on the new console.
PlayStation 3 games don't run on the PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Wii U games don't run on the Nintendo Switch. Such is the way of most modern game consoles — with the exception of the Xbox One.
Instead, Microsoft turned its Xbox Live subscription service into a kind of persistent digital library. If you owned digital Xbox 360 games, and those games are supported on the Xbox One, then you automatically own them on your new console once you log in with your Xbox Live account.
It set an important precedent: With the Xbox One / PlayStation 4 generation of game consoles, console owners expect their digital purchases to carry forward like they would on smartphones.
But Sony never quite caught up with that notion, and it remains an important distinction between Sony and Microsoft's consoles. With the PlayStation 5, Sony has a chance to fix that oversight — and it must, as Microsoft is likely to tout this persistence as a key feature of its platform.
Moreover, with nearly 100 million PlayStation 4 consoles in the wild, this decision has a far-wider impact than most others.
3. A real push into video game streaming.
Sony has been operating a subscription-based video game streaming service in PlayStation Now for five years-plus at this point.
The service enables players on PlayStation 4 and PC to stream PlayStation 2, 3, and 4 games without a download. It costs $20/month or $100/year.
PlayStation Now hasn't made a major splash despite being the only service that's widely available to consumers right now. The reasons for that are complex and varied, but its limitations and high price are two main factors.
If the promise of game streaming is to bring your games to any device, PlayStation Now fails to do that. It offers a slightly-aged library of games on devices that are capable of playing brand new games.
If Sony is going to compete with the likes of Google Stadia and Microsoft's Project xCloud, it will need to offer something more competitive than the current iteration of PlayStation Now.
4. Fully embrace cross-platform play.(Epic Games)
The video game business is shifting in major ways — to streamed video games and digital purchases over physical discs, and to cross-play between competing platforms.
That shift has already begun: If you play "Fortnite" on Xbox One, you can play it with your friends on PlayStation 4.
"Fortnite," however, is still the exception to the rule — and that's largely Sony's fault for dragging its feet on allowing cross-platform play. The company offered weak excuses as to why it wasn't allowing cross-platform play for nearly a year before giving in, and only then it was a concession to "Fortnite," the biggest game on the planet.
With the PlayStation 5, Sony should embrace cross-platform play as a platform-level standard across all multi-platform games. There is no reason that the next "Call of Duty," for instance, should have to silo players to individual platforms.
5. A continued push into virtual reality, with support for the PlayStation VR headset.
Sony's ongoing support for virtual reality has been surprisingly consistent across the last several years, and it's paid off: Nearly 5 million PlayStation VR headsets have been sold.
The company is seemingly continuing that support — a recent PlayStation presentation focused primarily on upcoming PlayStation VR games.
Though the overall base of PlayStation VR owners is still small, it's comprised of PlayStation's most ardent supporters. Supporting these core evangelists with the next PlayStation is a crucial step in Sony maintaining its foundational base.
Perhaps more importantly, PlayStation VR is a key differentiator for Sony's PlayStation 4 over the competition. There are literally no other home game consoles that offer anywhere near the VR experience that Sony's PlayStation 4 does, and it could be a key differentiator with the PlayStation 5 as well.
When do we expect to see the PlayStation 5? Reports point to a reveal at some point in 2019.
The PlayStation 9, coming in 2078, was first advertised as a goof by Sony in an ad campaign for the PlayStation 2.
Sony straight up announced its ongoing work on a successor to its current game console, the PlayStation 4 — which it may have already hinted will be called the PlayStation 5.
Starting as early as May 2018, Sony executives were openly discussing work on the new console. And with PlayStation skipping E3 2019 this June, it's entirely possible that the company will hold its own event specifically to announce the next PlayStation.
That said, while we know little about what the console will be, we do know that it might not arrive until 2020 or later.
"We will use the next three years to prepare the next step," former PlayStation head John Kodera said in May 2018.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
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