Shooting first: what it means for Sony to go first into next-gen

Sony is expected to announce its next PlayStation console at its February 20th press event. Every day until then, Shacknews will look at PlayStation's history, and analyze what that could mean for the company's future.
As many Star Wars fans know, shooting first is quite a big deal. Many believe that by releasing Xbox 360 a year before its competitors, Microsoft was able to thrust the brand from third place to second place, only behind Nintendo's massively successful Wii. PlayStation 2 also launched a year before the Gamecube and Xbox--outselling both of these consoles combined. One generation prior, PS1's year-long advantage had it outselling the late-coming N64 by more than a 3-to-1 margin. Given those numbers, it's no surprise that companies want to make sure they are not left behind in the console race. These transitions give every manufacturer a huge opportunity, as previous success does not guarantee future returns. The top execs at Sony are all very aware of this reality: it only took one console--PS3--for Sony's plummet from first place to last place. It only took one console--Wii--for Nintendo to nearly quadruple its footprint. For the past few months, both Microsoft and Sony have been playing "next-gen chicken," with executives from both companies putting on their best poker face. Sony has been keen on suggesting Microsoft would lead next-gen development. "Why go first, when your competitors can look at your specifications and come up with something better?," Sony CEO Kaz Hirai recently told The Times. SCEA CEO Jack Tretton also echoed a similar sentiment, suggesting Sony wasn't in the race to get their machine out first. "We've never been first, we've never been cheapest, it's about being best," he told GameTrailers (via CVG). "And I think if you can build a better machine and it's going to come out a little bit later, that's better than rushing something to market that's going to run out of gas for the long-term." So, why the apparent change of heart? Why is Sony rushing to announce its console before Microsoft? It could be a sign of confidence. If rumors are to be believed, it appears that the upcoming systems from Microsoft and Sony will be largely similar, with both consoles using pretty much the same CPU and GPU combination. From a specs perspective, it seems that the only real difference between the two systems will be the amount of RAM both consoles can use--and early reports suggest the new PlayStation will actually "power past the new Xbox." In fact, Digital Foundry recently concluded, looking at what it assumes to be final spec of both consoles, that "Orbis looks like the tighter, more powerful, more games-focused design." By revealing a more powerful console first, Sony will certainly make a splash--something that could potentially lessen the impact of Microsoft's eventual unveiling. Sony could be doubling down its focus on the hardcore gamer with the next PlayStation console, a market that is being increasingly marginalized by "casual" friendly mobile and social games. Couple a more capable hardware solution with Sony's staple of first-party developers and a free-to-access PlayStation Network, Sony could position themselves as the more impressive alternative to Microsoft's next console, which will undoubtedly increase its focus on multimedia functionality. Of course, Sony could be rushing its PS4 announce simply because it has no other choice. The Japanese hardware giant has been financially troubled for some time, with eight consecutive quarters of losses. Take a look at Sony's stock, which has been hammered over the years. Sony needs investors--and not just gamers--to get excited for their company again. After the most significant drop in four years, the company clearly wants to deflect bad news with a big, bombastic press event.

Sony's stock has plummeted over the past five years

At this point, it seems likely that not only will Sony announce its next console before Microsoft, but will release their new hardware first as well. It seems analysts were right, with RW Baird's Colin Sebastian saying in 2011: "between Sony and Microsoft, we expect Sony to be first to market perhaps as early as 2013." But, going first isn't necessarily the best move. Let's not forget that Sega launched the Dreamcast a year before PS2--and exited the console market two years later.