While 2020 wasn’t a great year for everyone, it sure was for PlayStation. Sony successfully launched nine major platform exclusives alongside seven major second party releases. Add on another four partnered games that each topped NPD’s and you have a killer year. Sony dropped nearly 20 reasons to stay with PlayStation this generation. With that, they were able to move over 3 million PlayStation 5 consoles. Regardless does Sony have the capacity to do it again? Will the PlayStation brand be able to grow further as the PS5 becomes the hot holiday item? Heading into 2021 we wanted to evaluate the state of PlayStation.
The New Guard
Something happened at Sony near the end of 2019. A complete restructure of the PlayStation team starting from the top down. In October, the head of the PlayStation brand Shawn Layden left. He was followed by the heads of both second and third-party development. It didn’t stop there. Fumito Ueda, the creator of The Last Guardian and Ico received funding from Epic Games and departed the team he led at Sony Japan Studios. Keiichiro Toyama (Gravity Rush, Silent Hill) and the leads at his team within Sony Japan followed suit shortly after. Not to be left out, the development heads over at Sony Bend departed shortly after releasing Days Gone.
We will probably never find out how one of the world’s most successful entertainment companies became so fractured. How can one company replace all of these important figureheads and still be successful? The people that worked the Destiny, Call of Duty and, Crash Bandicoot deals are gone. Everyone who was in the room when Spider-Man was given to Insomniac is no longer there. The same people that convinced Kojima to work with Sony are no longer there as well.
With the PlayStation 5 launch, we got the final consignment from the old guard. Every partnership, every deal, every new IP going forward will be overseen by an entirely new management group. With the exception of indie games, which remains Shuhei Yoshida’s job. It’s going to be exciting to see what that means. Will deals with teams like Housemarque and BluePoint continue? Could yearly deals expand beyond Square-Enix and Activision? Might Sony abandon VR as Facebook buys up more and more studios? With so much turnover, everything is on the table. 2021 will be the first look we get at their new direction.
Sony really delivered with the first-party titles in 2020. Ghost of Tsushima, The Last of Us 2, Astro’s Playroom, and MLB The Show 20 were all met to critical and commercial success. You have no further to look than our Golden Lance Awards to see that. Going forward may be a different story. You have to wonder how Covid WFH restrictions on top of the typical Sony 1st party delays will impact their calendar. God of War: Ragnarok should be the first game you cross off that 2021 list. I will be shocked if they can stick the landing and release it before the 2021 holidays.
While it’s unlikely Sony will have a pairing as great as The Last of Us 2 and Ghost of Tsushima in 2021, they still have Horizon Forbidden West. Throw in Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, Gran Turismo 7, MLB The Show 21, and now we are talking about another great year. There is the possibility that 2021 will be the first year MLB The Show is published by Sony on other platforms. Then you have GT7, which has already removed the “early 2021” verbiage from its TV spot. Not to mention as the first mainline GT game in over seven years, it will come out when it’s ready.
To help with that we have unknown first-party games. The team in San Diego is working on a remake of an action-adventure game. Their previous work was performance capture for the last five Naughty Dog games as well as the most recent Star Wars projects. I am going to pencil in an Uncharted remake. Although it could be any popular action-adventure Sony IP like Syphon Filter, or you know, Uncharted.
The next place you could possibly look for a new PlayStation first-party 2021 game could be within Sony Japan. Sony Japan Studios in some way shape or form worked on over 15 PS4 games. They are off to a great start on the PlayStation 5 with Astro’s Playroom and Demon’s Souls. Will we get something small, in the vein of Patapon, LocoRoco, and Everybody’s Golf? Or was the departed Toyama and Team Siren working on something during the three years after Gravity Rush 2 that is ready to launch without them? Sony wouldn’t cancel a game that spent over three years in development, would they? That would be their last chance to get a first-party AAA game out of Japan for the foreseeable future.
Leaning on Third-Party Support
GT7, Ratchet & Clank, and Horizon are all going to be massive releases for Sony but that’s just going to make up three months of the year. After the last State of Play, it’s clear rumors of Sony using third party exclusives to lock down big games for the first year of PlayStation 5 are accurate. Deathloop, Ghostwire: Tokyo, Grand Theft Auto V, Final Fantasy XVI, are all going to be timed exclusive in some capacity on the PlayStation 5 this year. When Marvel’s Avengers gets its free patch for next-gen consoles, you can bet that Sony exclusive content is coming with it.
Along with Marvel, Sony seems to have Warner Bros. locked down for marketing partnerships. Most notably, this includes Harry Potter Hogwarts Legacy, Suicide Squad: Kill The Justice League, Gotham Knights. This is only what we know so far. There are rumors of many more partnerships with Sony on exclusive content including Capcom and EA. If Microsoft doesn’t increase their install base, it becomes cheaper to buy the exclusive rights to some content or the entire games themselves. Sony only needs to cover the lost revenue from the competitor’s platform, not the development costs.
Rounding Out With Second-Party
Sony has done a remarkable job finding passion projects from small to mid-sized studios, funding them, and elevating them to the main stage. We saw this with games like Death Stranding, Resogun, Fall Guys, Iron Man VR, and Nioh 2. Even games like Yakuza and Persona can fall within this category. 2021 will be no exception. Two of the first major PlayStation 5 games to get 2021 release dates were Destruction AllStars and Returnal. Both of which will be second party games.
Destruction AllStars is a modern Fortnite-look-alike take on Twisted Metal. While Returnal is an ambitious rogue-like third-person sci-fi shooter from Housemarque. The team that had previously worked on arcade-style indie hits for the PS3 and PS4. Both of these games have incredibly high ceilings and incredibly low floors. Returnal is very niche and more often than not games like Destruction AllStars fail to catch on. If Sony can hit on both of these they are going to have a monster 2021. This is just the beginning of their second party 2021 games.
The Future of PSVR
One thing is for sure, 2021 will give us no answers to the future of PSVR. If you went out and spent the money on PSVR at any point in the past two years, it must have looked really nice seeing it next to the legacy hardware in Astro’s Playroom. I am not sure what’s a bigger slap to the face, playing an amazing sequel to Astrobot Rescue Mission without VR. Or getting to the end and seeing the PSVR headset laying out near the Vita and PSP. It’s incredibly disappointing that the PSVR headset is not natively supported by the PlayStation 5. If it’s a sign, Sony sure is laying it on pretty thick.
I think the biggest problem for PSVR is the lack of true PS5 support. Right now the PSVR runs in an emulated PS4 mode so PS5 games and accessories can never be compatible. Although Facebook is a close second for the biggest problem. Their Quest 2 has been selling very well. What was once a personal toy for Mark Zuckerburg now has the team acquiring full studios, particularly studios working on PSVR games. If Sony doesn’t have a stockpile of VR related deals in the works, 2021 will be an off-year for PSVR. With that even if they do have a stockpile of deals made, they could save them for PSVR2 and take the year off anyway.
PlayStation As A Service
Recently President of Sony Interactive Entertainment tipped his hat that Sony may have something in the works related to subscription-based platforms. Then you have the May 2019 Microsoft Azure and Sony partnership related to gaming. Where there’s smoke there is fire. 2021 could be the year for Sony to expand on what they are doing with PlayStation Now and rebrand it. A new name for the service, as well as an improved platform, is the very least I expect from Sony during 2021.
2021 could also be the final year of two monthly PS4 PlayStation Plus games. Don’t be surprised if Sony alters how they handle the free games tied to the service. I fully expect them to make some sort of change at the end of 2021. It could be going to one PS4 game and one PS5 game per month. It could be dropping PS4 all together in favor of two PS5 games. Or Sony can try and steer people to a new Game Pass-like or XCloud-like subscription model.