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Sony tangles with the mystery of PS4's success, fights to understand the future


Sony Worldwide Studios president Shuhei Yoshida recently admitted he's a "bit nervous" about the success of the PlayStation 4. The console has sold 10 million units and the current generation is trending stronger than last. Will it run out of core customers?

"You need to understand why your products are selling well so you can plan for the future, right? It defied the conventional thinking," Yoshida recently told Eurogamer. "Lots of people thought the dedicated game hardware might not be needed going forward, but still lots of people are very excited."

The rightful concern Yoshida brings up is that Sony will exhaust the core customer. That the number of consumers interested in playing video games is a finite number that the company will rapidly reach with the new console. The good news for Sony is its initial market research is showing it's obtaining lots of new customers who didn't own a PS3, with some who didn't own any last-gen hardware.

This could be viewed as good news for gamers. If Sony still has plenty of players to reach, the company will focus resources into interesting and eye-catching games to expand the game-playing audience of the console.

Microsoft's "sports, TV, sports, TV" mantra during the reveal for Xbox One was likely predicated on the exceptional sales of Xbox 360 outside the gamer demographic and its overwhelming use as a Netflix device. The logic was sound on the surface, but the flaw was that while Netflix - and general TV/sports options - is a bonus to console ownership, people still obtain a game console for the games. Sony obviously understood that.

This isn't unlike Nintendo's difficulties getting the non-traditional audience it created with the Wii to upgrade to the Wii U. A gamer will upgrade to a new console with compelling games. The massive non-traditional audience Nintendo created with Wii lacked a compelling reason to upgrade.

What Sony is trying to figure out right now is what to do with its runaway success. It has to work hard now to understand who these PS4 customers are, what they are using the console for and adjust course so that the console is delivering games for its core audience and whatever these new customers are after.

Yoshida notes the company is working on adding many new features to the firmware, network services and game library to keep the momentum going and "reach a wider audience than we were able to do on PS3." Sony is clearly in research mode, so now's the time to make the suggestions for them to keep the ball rolling.

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