TOKYO – PlayStation stands out among the long list of famous Sony brands as one that hasn’t faded or succumbed to a nimbler competitor. Months after hitting global markets, the latest version of the video-game console went on sale early today in Tokyo, a big shift from times when Sony was ascendant enough to launch flagship products in Japan first.
The PlayStation 4’s much awaited arrival in Sony Corp.’s home market is the first time Japan did not get a major Sony game machine ahead of other markets. With much riding on the PS4’s success, the commercial advantages of targeting overseas markets outweighed the sentimental pull of a hometown launch.
The PS4, Sony’s first video-game console in seven years, went on sale in the U.S. and Europe in November.
Sony officials say more time was needed to prepare game software attractive for Japanese, but analysts say Japan wasn’t a priority for Sony’s game division.
The PS4 has proved a hit so far, selling 4.2 million units worldwide last year, outpacing rival Microsoft Corp.’s Xbox One at 3 million.
But analysts say Sony, headed to a $1.08 billion loss for the fiscal year ending in March, needs more than a successful game console to reverse its dimming fortunes.
In recent years, out of Sony’s long list of well-known brands – Walkman, Vaio, Bravia, Cyber-shot, Handycam, Aibo – only PlayStation has managed to hold its edge. Its share price is today just one third of its 2008 value.
It’s also cutting its global workforce by about 3 percent, or 5,000 people, by the end of March 2015 as it restructures its PC, television and other businesses. Some 3,500 of the job losses will be overseas and 1,500 in Japan. That comes on top of the 10,000 jobs cuts Sony announced over the previous year.
Even the future of the PlayStation 4 is not assured because game players are switching increasingly to mobile devices. The switch to mobile games is especially pronounced in Japan, where Sony has never had to take the threat from Xbox One seriously.
Yasunori Tateishi, who has written books on Sony’s fall from grace, fears that eventually Sony will be reduced to its entertainment business such as music, movies and perhaps games.