Sony says that last generation's decision to launch later than its competitor was what prompted it to reveal first this time.
While the Xbox 360 came out quite a bit earlier than the PlayStation 3, this time around, both consoles came out at relatively the same time, and Sony actually went ahead and revealed its own next-gen system a little while before Microsoft. Now, at the Develop Conference in Brighton, SCEI president Andrew House has revealed why Sony went first, and, why it elected to not actually show us the box at its reveal event.
"I think we were probably earlier in the announce than we have been previously, and that was very deliberate," House stated. "I wanted to be out there first with the first announcement for this generation so you've got an opportunity to stake the ground and hopefully take something of a leadership position. Again, we'd had the experience of launching later than our competitor and that played very heavily to many of the thought processes and decisions made about PlayStation 4."
As for why we didn't see the actual machine, "This is one where I think honestly we were a little caught off guard and wrong-footed," he admitted. "If you look back at our history of previous reveals, we generally always went with explaining what the concept would be, articulating what package the overall consumer experience was going to be and then later revealing the hardware. So this felt very natural and normal to us."
Ultimately, it boils down to House's indecisiveness on the console's design. The original design for the PS4 didn't quite fit with his hopes, so he had to offer feedback to design chiefs and send them back to the drawing board. Following this, five sketches were brought forward, all of which House thought could have worked.