The PS4 Pro and Sony’s marketing problem

The PS4 Pro has serious potential. It has decent internal specs, a reasonable price point, and follows the popular base PS4. But we’re a less than a month away from the release date, and Sony’s marketing and PR wing feels asleep at the wheel. Performance claims, especially for those without 4K displays, are vague. And there’s few titles or publishers with Pro enhanced games ready for 2016. As someone bullish on a more iterative console cycle (for both Sony and Microsoft), that’s worrisome.

Granted, tech and home theater enthusiasts in the market for a PS4 won’t hesitate for the Pro. They already own 4K set or PS VR, or plan an investment in either over the next year or two. But this is a niche minority of potential buyers. For everyone else, Sony needs to step up its game and provide more information.

The Pro isn’t a routine tech release. This is the first time two consoles both labeled “PS4”, with the same game library and similar feature set, are on sale side by side. Yet one has $100 price tag for premium performance. That’s commonplace in consumer tech, but a first for game consoles. And consoles historically are very sensitive to price differences. Unless the marketing situation changes, I see few outside the enthusiast market paying extra for the Pro.

Sony doesn’t get a free pass here with its long history selling consumer tech either. The Pro needs more than a press conference and Mark Cerny’s highly technical hardware walkthrough, and soon.

Sony can start with a full list of studios and titles adding Pro support. Cover games with support on day one, patches to legacy titles, and new releases for 2017. Systems live or die by their games support, and if publishers are taking a wait and see approach, that doesn’t bode well. Sony has stated new releases “will be able to take advantage” of the Pro, but that doesn’t add much clarity.

Sony also needs a clear, succinct pitch about which console is right for each consumer. 4K is a straightforward dividing line. Sony could push the Pro only to those with a 4K set now or planning an investment soon. Steer everyone else to the cheaper Slim. That’s unorthodox for consumer tech; usually reviewers or store staff help answer this question, not the manufacturer. But this isn’t an orthodox launch.

Buying guidance centered on 4K underplays the Pro’s performance and graphical benefits on standard 1080p sets. But I suspect buyers that care about this will find this information for themselves through coverage elsewhere.

Then again, a soft pitch around the Pro may suggest Sony has more priorities than sheer sales. Sony may be positioning the Pro as a “flagship” device to get buyers excited about the brand. A Pro paired with a high end 4K display and the right game could impress reviewers and customers alike. This creates a halo effect around the entire PlayStation ecosystem.

Wildcard theories aside, if Pro sales are soft, it’s going to be a black mark against PlayStation. Worst of all, it has a high potential to dissuade the larger console market to take risks. It’s in Sony’s court to change this.