Will Sony’s PlayStation 5 be a Game Changer?

In June, Sony announced details of the highly anticipated PlayStation 5, one of two ninth-generation consoles expected to be released in November 2020. This new console will feature a CPU that’s based on the AMD Zen 2, with eight individual cores and a maximum clock speed of 3.5 GHz.

It will be capable of producing 8K Ultra High Definition video using the custom-designed AMD RDNA 2 GPU. One of the most awaited features of the console’s graphics will be real-time ray-traced rendering, which will create more accurate-looking lighting effects.

The new DualSense controller will also contain upgrades on the DualShock 4, including haptic feedback in the triggers, improved in-built speakers, and a new microphone.

With the prospect of a major step up in performance, it’s no surprise that gamers are excited about the release of the new PlayStation 5. In fact, Sony has predicted to sell6 million units between its release and the end of March 2021. The console will certainly be a commercial success, but will it also be a game-changer?

Unique Gaming Landscape

When the PlayStation 4 was released in November 2013, the gaming landscape looked very different. Rockstar Games had just-released Grand Theft Auto V and Angry Birds, Star Wars II and Despicable Me: Minion Rush were two of the most popular games on mobile devices.

It would be four more years until PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Fornite would be released (and five before Fortnite Battle Royale). Since then, these games have revolutionized mobile gaming, with PUBG MOBILE being the third most-downloaded mobile game of 2018 and the second in 2019.

These two titles were joined by Call of Duty: Mobile, which was released to iOS and Android at the end of 2019 and reached 150 million downloads in just a few months.

Crucially, all three games are free-to-download and free-to-play, marking a major shift in the way that video games are monetized. As of May 2020, Rockstar Games had sold 130 million copies of Grand Theft Auto V across PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and PC, while there have been over 400 million downloads of PlayUnderknown’s Battlegrounds and 350 million of Fortnite.

Casual Games

Besides these free-to-play first-person shooters and battle royale games, casual games have been growing in popularity. Throughout most of the last decade, the game Candy Crush has been in the top ten highest-grossing games in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.

Casual games are categorized as games that can be played for brief periods and are typically available for download on smartphones. The popular titles from 2013, Angry Birds, and Despicable Me: Minion Rush are two examples in this category.

Demand for these has been growing fast since smartphones began receiving widespread adoption, and in the first half of 2020, casual games saw a 30% increase in demand. Mobile gaming as a whole only increased by about half of that, at 17%.

This isn’t a blip though, demand for free-to-play games that are categorized as “hyper-casual” increasedby 150% throughout 2019. Hyper-casual games are those that offer instant gameplay, can be enjoyed for just a couple of minutes, and played an infinite number of times. Card games like blackjack, Texas holdem, pontoon, and Omaha hi-lo and puzzle games like Candy Crush and sudoku can all fit this description.

iGaming Also Growing

In addition to casual and mobile games, the iGaming sector, which provides online casino games, poker, and sports betting, is also enjoying growth. In the first quarter of 2020, major players in the online industry such as 888poker announced that average daily revenue was up 18% on the previous year.

In 2020, European online casinos and poker sites are expected to exceed revenues of €25billion for the first time, where the market for these online poker, slots, and table games is quite mature. In newer markets, like parts of America and Africa, significant growth is also expected.

Despite a rise in popularity for casual games, consoles are still an important part of the video gaming market

Still a Place for Consoles

It isn’t necessarily a zero-sum situation for the gaming market. This increase in demand for casual games and online poker hasn’t dampened the market for video game consoles. Google’s Stadia project, which was originally tipped to be a “console killer” has been plagued with teething problems, proving that locally run games will still be around for some time.

Although PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds has enjoyed almost three times more downloads than Grand Theft Auto V has had sales, Rockstar Games has made significantly more money.As of December 2019, Sensor Tower had generated $1.5 billion of revenue from PUBG, while Epic Games has generated $915 million from Fortnite. However, these figures are eclipsed by the $6 billion that Rockstar Games has made from Grand Theft Auto V from the sales of the game and the microtransactions from GTA Online.

Research has also shown that casual gamers and traditional console gamers have very different approaches to their gameplay. More than 55% of all gamers play for less than one hour at a time, around 15% play for more than 2 hours per session.

Casual gamers tend to be older, while console gamers tend to be younger. Younger players also tend to spend more time playing in each gaming session and on average across the week.

Faster load times and better graphics are also factors that console gamers value, and these can’t be offered on mobile devices. Therefore, the consoles are here to stay.

Game Changer?

At least at first, the PlayStation 5 will co-exist with the PlayStation 4. Sony plans for strong backwards compatibility and for many titles to be released on both consoles for a while. Demand seems to be high for the new console though, and it will certainly be profitable for the Japanese company.

It will be a step up in performance, graphics, and features, and will be highly desirable for console gamers, but it may not start a revolution in gaming.

It won’t convince casual gamers to put down their iPhone and pick up a DualSense controller. Nor will it be a popular device for playing online poker. It wasn’t designed for either of these things though, so that shouldn’t be particularly surprising.



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