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PlayStation CEO Jim Ryan says more PlayStation 5 units will be available than PS4s in 2013

(The Washington Post illustration; Sony)

The choice for buying a PlayStation 5 is simple. It’s $499, unless you don’t care about having a disc drive, then it’s $399.

That simplicity was by design, said Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO and President Jim Ryan in an interview with The Washington Post on Wednesday. PlayStation announced earlier that day the pricing of the next-generation machines, and a Nov. 12 launch date.

“We want to give gamers clarity, we want to give them certainty,” Ryan said. “We want to future proof them so that they know the console they buy will be relevant in several years time. It’s a considerable capital outlay, and we want to make sure people know they are buying a true next-generation console."

This is in stark contrast to the Xbox series of consoles, S and X, which offer more nuanced differences (4K vs. 1440p resolution being one example), with an even greater price difference of $299 and $499 respectively. While the Xbox Series S will be the cheapest next-generation game console, Microsoft has caught some heat for a confusing branding strategy.

Microsoft to release $299 Xbox Series S, a smaller console with a smaller price, Nov. 10

Ryan also claims that the pricing of the PlayStation 5 machines was decided “quite early this year,” and that Sony always intended to offer a version of the PlayStation 5 at the same price point as 2013′s PlayStation 4. The coronavirus pandemic hit, however, and new issues about distribution emerged. The canceling of the E3 event in June caused the entire industry to reconsider its plans.

For now, Ryan said Sony will have more PlayStation 5 units ready for sale than they had PlayStation 4 units in 2013. About 2.1 million PlayStation 4 units sold worldwide two weeks after its 2013 launch, with a million in the first day alone.

“For quite some time, in the early part of covid, that picture was far from clear,” Ryan said. “Just as the supply things was unclear, would there be any market? Would anyone be allowed to go outside? Would any shops be open? This has been a year like no other. But all of that just reinforced our resolve, and the path we determined at the start of the year was absolutely the right one.”

Ryan said he’s heard a lot of discussion about PlayStation’s more old-fashioned approach to the gaming business, betting on its suite of first-party developer studios to deliver exclusive titles on a generational basis.

“We’re not saying it’s perfect, but it’s our approach. We like it,” Ryan said. “We just like to be a bit more nuanced.”

No one can argue against the success of that approach. The PlayStation 4, with more than 112 million consoles sold over seven years, has had a stellar year with exclusive titles like “The Last of Us Part II,” “Ghost of Tsushima” and “Final Fantasy VII: Remake,” which take up three of the top five spots for best-selling titles in 2020 so far.

What makes a remake? We asked the “Final Fantasy VII: Remake” and “Resident Evil” developers.

“We have quietly but very steadily been investing in those studios,” Ryan said. “We now have, I humbly submit, four or five of the best studios in the world."

While it wasn’t mentioned in Sony’s official announcement, developers of certain games later confirmed that PS5 exclusives like “Horizon: Forbidden West” and “Spider-Man: Miles Morales” aren’t exclusive at all. They’re both releasing PS4 versions, which may irritate a few Sony fans who took to heart Sony’s commitment to “next gen” development. The belief is that developing games across generations stifles creativity, and hampers the technological ambitions of the game, since it has to cater to an audience with less powerful machines.

“No one should be disappointed,” Ryan said. “The PS5 versions of those games are built from the ground up to take advantage of the PS5 feature set, and we have an upgrade path for PS4 users to get the PS5 versions for free. It’s about people having choice. I’m really quite pleased about the situation.”

Ryan also said that of the thousands of games tested for PS4 backwards compatibility, “99 percent” can be played on the next console. Sony also announced a new service called PS Plus Collection, which will offer 18 PS4 first-party titles for download to subscribers to the PlayStation online service. It’s a tremendous freebie for anyone who plays their PlayStation online, and a good entry point for anyone new to Sony properties like “The Last of Us.”

Ryan said he expects up to four years for the PlayStation 4′s expected life span, which makes sense considering the console’s large install base. The PlayStation 2 had a life span of about 13 years, and developers continued to support it several years after the PlayStation 3 approached its middle age.

“The PS4 community will continue to be incredibly important to us for three or four years,” Ryan said. “Many will transition to PS5, we hope if we do our job well, but tens of millions will still be engaged with the PS4.”

Sony has also expressed increasing interest in porting games to the PC, as we saw earlier this year with the releases of “Death Stranding” and “Horizon: Zero Dawn.” Sony has also been pushing its brands and characters to film and TV shows, with an “Uncharted” Tom Holland vehicle and “The Last of Us” HBO show in the works.

“The vision is that while we very much respect the primacy of PlayStation as the principle resting place for the great gaming intellectual property we have, we kind of think it’s time to explore extending the IP,” Ryan said. “We think both of these steps are perfectly logical and rational things for us to do. We should be making that IP work a bit harder as an acquisition tool for the PlayStation community."

Read more:

PlayStation and Xbox are not in a ‘console war.’ They’re racing in different directions.

Microsoft to release $299 Xbox Series S, a smaller console with a smaller price, Nov. 10

What makes a remake? Not even developers really know.