When Sony denied final week that it was planning any type of launch occasion for its new PlayStation 5 console, that was solely type of true. Tokyo’s every day Covid-count was rising alarmingly into “third wave” territory, a lot of the preliminary gross sales of the machine had been on-line anyway and no right-minded company needs its identify related to a pandemic cluster.
However when you might have spent 74 years constructing your model on shopper merchandise — and have as highly effective and deep-pocketed a rival as Microsoft on your tail — a flashy launch is hard to withstand.
Simply earlier than the PS5 went on sale in Japan, Sony organized for Tokyo’s Kanda Myojin shrine to be lit up in its company colors and for futuristic, console-themed animations to bounce throughout its pious, 1,270-year-old precincts.
Sony’s alternative was even handed, and maybe extra telling than supposed. Kanda Myojin, which sits on the sting of Tokyo’s famously geek-frequented Akihabara district, has over time reinvented itself because the non secular residence of shopper electronics.
The shrine’s three gods — one warrior deity, and two of wealth and commerce — appeared the proper trio to maintain guard over an trade that, together with vehicles, as soon as spearheaded the pugnacious globalisation of brand name Japan. Kanda’s present payment to have a priest envelop your cell phone, iPod or laptop computer with a prayer of divine safety from cracked screens, malfunction or cyber assault is Y10,000 ($95).
The situation of Sony’s launch occasion can be a reminder of what Japanese shopper electronics have misplaced, not solely within the crowd-averse fearscape of Covid-19, however within the broader march of shopper electronics away from what Japan as soon as did so effectively.
In pre-Covid occasions, Akihabara was reliably the place for media to revel within the spectacle of a console launch, with big queues, elated first-comers and store employees affixing “bought out” indicators to empty cabinets earlier than even an hour had elapsed.
Past consoles, Akihabara was as soon as the pre-eminent check mattress for a parade of latest shopper gadgetry. Present gems embody Nintendo’s Swap, Audio-Technica headphones, Zojirushi rice cookers and the Casio G-Shock.
However Akihabara and Japan’s dominance of electronics has diminished as each the patron and the know-how have moved on. A part of the dialogue across the present “console battle” — Microsoft’s new technology Xbox also launched last week — has been whether or not this spherical would be the final.
The $150bn world video games trade seems to be substantially different to the way it did when each Sony and Microsoft launched their predecessor machines seven years in the past. Cellular video games, particularly, now account for slightly below half of worldwide video games revenues, consoles are only one platform amongst a collection of options and the worldwide gaming inhabitants now numbers within the billions. Additionally extremely vital has been the fusion of video games with social media, turning titles like Fortnite into digital environments for actions far past the sport itself.
Will the consoles themselves quickly develop into an anachronism in an period of streaming, mobiles and the doorway to gaming of highly effective new rivals like Amazon and Google?
Set towards that’s an argument that the worth of consoles has truly been elevated by the tech evolution. The machines — with their meticulously constructed working methods, big fanbases, gamer networks, gross sales channels and interfaces — are actually extra powerfully concentrated leisure conduits than nearly anything available on the market.
For Sony particularly, the PS5 is a machine that the corporate dreamt would exist lengthy earlier than it might. It’s a magical, globally put in unifier and distributor of content material that makes the acquisitions of CBS Music in 1988 and Columbia photos in 1989 appear to be a part of the coherent plan that successive Sony chief executives all the time claimed to have.
However the better significance of the PS5 could also be to Japan’s sense of itself. If, as many analysts anticipate, this machine goes on to outpace the PlayStation 4’s worldwide gross sales of 110m models, it’ll show Japanese gadgetry continues to be world-beating. Sony has not stated as a lot, however its use of the Kanda shrine for the launch occasion looks like a prayer for the safety of all Japanese devices.