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Opinion: Sony seizes the moment

Gazumping Xbox by announcing first shows Sony has learnt hard lessons, writes Rob Crossley

There was a line, delivered by former PlayStation boss Kaz Hirai in 2006, that likely still haunts him to this day.

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He said: "The next generation doesn't start until we say it does".

It's probably the most unprofessional quote you'll have heard from a games industry executive - a mad moment when arrogance blends with disrespect - but such a claim was hardly out of character back in the days of PlayStation dominance.

With the first and second PlayStations, Sony shattered a thirty-year curse and produced two market-leading consoles in succession. It wasn't a tight race either - the PS2 typically had about two-thirds of the home console market and, by the end of it, sold three times more than the GameCube and Xbox combined.

What else was Hirai supposed to think?

The eventual downfall of PlayStation is well documented. Some would say that 70 million PS3 sales is hardly a failure - but that's not so reassuring considering Sony has slipped from total dominance to fighting for a third of the pie.

It was a calamitous fall from grace that was entirely self-inflicted. PS3 was produced at a time when Sony's self-belief reached a critical mass - the system was painfully ambitious, comically expensive and loathed by coders. In key territories across Europe, PS3 arrived about 18 months after the launch of the Xbox 360 and cost as much as Microsoft and Nintendo's consoles combined.

Amidst the turmoil and resignations and eventual fight back, Sony learned a key lesson: The next generation waits for no one.

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On February 20 a new PlayStation will be revealed (our sources have confirmed this morning, having tipped us off a few weeks back).

While recent alleged leaks of PS4 specs had triggered the inevitable debate on whether it's going to outperform the next Xbox, a Sony insider told me that this isn't going to be the focus at the company.

The war won't be won by producing the most powerful system, the person said. Sony is focusing attentions on fighting the Xbox business head-on with a well organised and timely console launch. No long waits, no executive hubris, no historic calamities.

Of course, this morning an industry insider offered a poignant reminder: "Victory will go not to those who make the most noise, but those who make the most impact".

But perhaps he is unintentionally praising Sony - the company that caught the entire industry off-guard on a grim Thursday in January. There is no doubt that the PS4 press conference announcement will have frustrated Microsoft execs in Redmond, specifically because it's so obvious that Sony has seized the moment after years of next-gen silence.

The company will undoubtedly reveal PlayStation 4 before the next Xbox is announced, and there's renewed speculation that the system will be released first too.

Hirai's unfortunate quote about the next generation was symptomatic of a wider problem within PlayStation - something which became a stabbing wake-up call for the business. But Sony's new eagerness to gazump Xbox and announce its console first shows that - through all the gloom and disorder - it has learnt hard lessons.

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