While Sony has not been able to keep PlayStation 5 consoles on the shelves, it continues to lose the weekly social media battles for mindshare. Their flagship first-party MLB The Show 21 is now included in Xbox Game Pass. It appears second-party Japanese studio Kojima Productions is about to follow suit. Pair this with the sunsetting of three internal SIE Japan Studios teams. Let’s not forget the tremendous backlash from closing the older PlayStation stores. All this while an awful game of musical chairs has been made public involving Sony Bend, Sony San Diego, and Naughty Dog.
It is very well that these changes are everything Sony needs to position itself for a new generation of leading the market. Yet, it is just as likely that these changes are going to set Sony back. Tens of thousands of gamers bought PlayStation consoles for MLB The Show. The three years of Kojima hype surrounding P.T. and Death Stranding sold consoles. Whether Sony wants to even consider that as a possibility or not. It happened. These audiences are now going to be pointed elsewhere for their games. Combined, the moves can not be good for Sony if they want to continue to hit home runs.
A Whole New Ball Game
As of last week, it was not all doom and gloom. Following news of second party studio addition Haven, is the new second party team, Firewalk Studios. Consisting of former Destiny, Call of Duty, BioShock, and Guitar Hero developers. Now, collectively they are working on a new AAA multiplayer title exclusive to PlayStation. Development began in 2018, and we could be seeing the first glimpse of their new title sometime soon.
One thing is for sure, it is not just business as usual over at Sony. The PlayStation brand is evolving and it may take three to five years to see if these moves blossom or wither. Recently Head of PlayStation Jim Ryan said, Sony plans on having more exclusives than ever before as well as an undefined Xbox Game Pass competitor. Neither of these really line up for me because this is not consistent with what Sony has been doing thus far.
What About A Party?
- First Party: PlayStation owns the IP, development studio and publishes the game itself. Nearly 100% of the game is made by SIE employees. Currently, SIE has 14 Studios. Each may be broken into multiple teams.
- Second Party Partnership: While Sony does not own the studio or publisher. They have financed the development of the title and may or may not publish it. They also may or may not own the IP. Sony generally is responsible for marketing all of their second-party titles. Notable examples include Returnal and Death Stranding.
- Third-Party Partnership: Sony does not own the studio developing the game. While they may invest in the development and or marketing of the title. These are vague and open-ended. They could be something as small as Sony bringing the game to trade shows. Or something like Spider-Man being exclusive to PlayStation in Marvel’s Avengers. Another great example would be the more recent timed exclusive Resident Evil Village demos. As well as Resident Evil trailers that end with the PlayStation branding.
- Third-Party: The publishing and development of the games are not funded in any way by Sony. They may assist in any capacity to resolve issues, lend out development tools, and certify the game. These are games like Madden and Borderlands.
Look for Sony to evolve the PlayStation Plus lineup. If it means making the “free” monthly games more relevant. Which is something Sony has clearly already started doing with the PS5. Or evolving how the PS Plus Collection works by adding more games. They could also move the more than 600 PS One Classics, PS2 Classics, and PSN games from the old storefront to a subscription service. Both things combined could be a perfect response to what Xbox has done with Game Pass.
Outlook On PlayStation In 2021
While Sony has now promised more exclusive games than ever, it is hard to lay out all 14 internal teams at Sony and say, “ok this team and this team have a game we don’t know about that is coming out next year.” None of that really exists right now. Most of Sony’s teams presented last summer with the PS5 or launched games in the final two years of the PS4.
So if you take what Sony is saying at face value, that they will have more games. Then look at what they are doing with these new second-party teams. In addition to what they are already doing with games like Final Fantasy XVI. It appears over the next two to three years we are going to see Sony lean on a lot of outside help to round out their lineup of exclusive games.
For their sake, I hope they do. There is a chance that their big 2021 game Horizon: Forbidden West gets delayed a few months into 2022. Then you have them relying on Returnal, Ratchet and Clank, and Kena: Bridge of Spirits to round out their 2021 lineup. This is in addition to some more indie titles as well as a $70 Final Fantasy 7 Remake Intergrade DLC expansion.
Bottom of the First
So while Sony has had an awful spring, when it comes to winning those mindshare wars. It has three plays here; Keep delivering on those PS Plus titles every month. Get the PlayStation Classic and back catalog titles onto a new subscription service. Also, show off those second and third-party exclusives that are going to fill the gaps over the next two years.
2021 will be another year without a true E3. If the year comes and goes and Horizon is delayed, Returnal and Ratchet have to meet commercial success. Otherwise, Sony will be turning to Ember Lab and their small team to knock it out of the park with their first game ever. There is a path here for industry analysts and the hardcore audience to look back at PlayStation’s 2021 and say, “this was not a great year for Sony.” With whatever Sony does for this summer’s news events as well as the critical and commercial reception of Returnal and Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, PlayStation needs to play a little catch up here over these next two months.