PlayStation 4 is slowing down a little -- and where only a short while ago that would have been a the-sky-is-falling kind of pronouncement, right now it's probably fine.
The console, coming up shortly on its sixth birthday, has outperformed all expectations and is now the second-best selling home console in history -- comfortably ahead of the PS1 and the Wii, though still tens of millions of units behind the staggering performance of the PS2. A bit of softness in its sales figures at this point, with the full-year sales numbers being revised down from 15 million to 13.5 million units, suggests that the PS2's record might remain unchallenged, but it's not actually damaging in terms of the PlayStation business overall, either for Sony or for its third-party partners.
If the PS4's sales are slowing at a faster than expected pace -- and to be clear, that minor full-year shortfall doesn't really show the scale of the downturn in the graph, with Q2 shipments of PS4 hardware actually down some 28% year-on-year -- the real question is not what it means for PS4 itself, whose place in the market is already well-secured, but what it means for the planned transition to PS5 next year.
"The figures are far from a crisis but projecting this decline forward and factoring in the uptick in PS5 news, it's easy to see sales flatlining earlier than Sony allowed for"
Thus far, the signalling from Sony, limited as it has been, has suggested that the company is keen to strike a balance between the old and new platforms. Broadly similar architecture and shared online services mean that the PS4 to PS5 transition should, in theory, be very smooth compared to Sony's previous generation shifts -- and opens up the potential for an increasingly discounted PS4 to stay on the market as the company's entry-level console for several years after PS5 arrives.
It's unlikely that Sony plans to be particularly radical in their positioning of this strategy; more than any other platform holder, Sony has done very well, thank you very much, from the old-fashioned console business model and has little incentive to try to upset that process too much. The overlap between PS4 and PS5, however, seems set to be a bit more comprehensive than in previous generations, with the older console remaining a viable option in its own right -- not just "pick this up for your kids to play cheap older games," great though that business opportunity can be -- while the PS5 sells itself initially to a higher-end audience on the basis of new functionality and prowess. On paper, this kind of transition would result in much smoother finances for Sony throughout the generation shift, while also hopefully opening up new demographics for the PlayStation platform overall.