On November 9th, Sony held their Q2 FY2023 Earnings Release. While most of the information was irrelevant to gaming, new interim Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO Hiroki Totoki gave some small updates. Giving us some meaningful news for the PlayStation brand. A public-facing Sony has been hard to come by this year. The gap has left room for rumors to run wild about canceled projects within PlayStation studios. Along with major shakeups at the top of the company.
First Party Software Sales
From their release, we have included a chart (see above) where Sony has published updated sales figures for its own games. Most notably Spider-Man 2 has sold over 5 million copies within its first three weeks. The milestone is a new achievement for Sony.
Along with that, we see Horizon Zero Dawn has crossed 20 million units sold between consoles and PCs. Along with 2018’s God of War which sold 23 million units across consoles and PCs. It is easy to note that PC releases for flagship AAA games have given the overall count a significant boost.
The bad news here is Returnal’s inability to cross 1 million units sold. At just over 500,000 copies sold Returnal remains one of the worst-performing PlayStation games in some time. Likewise with Ratchet and Clank, even with the PC boost it has just crossed 1 million units.
Then there are things that make you wonder what is going on over in the world of PlayStation. Right in the middle of the list you will see Detroit: Become Human. As a second-party game, I am a little surprised it is there while some other games are not. Most notably Gravity Rush is missing. You would imagine that Gravity Rush 2 would be here, especially given the rumors of an upcoming animated feature film. The same thing can be said about Uncharted The Lost Legacy. Sony has the innate ability to confuse PlayStation fans.
From the Sony Webcast
Almost all of the 63-minute webcast is irrelevant to the average fan but, there are some small tidbits here from the Q&A section that we can extrapolate. Sony left many of the details around the PlayStation division unsaid although, the Q&A did not let them slide.
Approx 6:38 Mark
“Regarding PlayStation Plus, by continuing to offer attractive new features and content to our users such as cloud streaming of PS5 titles from October in our top tier service “Premium” we aim to increase engagement while further expanding the competition ratio of our top tier services..”
This moment underscores the total disconnect Sony has with the PlayStation audience. Month after month fans continue to ask for better monthly games. In addition to improvements with the Classics Catalog. If they really wanted to grow the service, they would add 25 to 50 classic games, along with adding day-one third-party games like Payday 3 and The Calisto Protocol.
Approx 29:00 Mark
Totoki is asked about cuts and cost-cutting across the gaming division. The question specifically mentions a story that was published by Bloomberg regarding Bungie and layoffs. Subsequently following that story there were mixed rumors about layoffs at other PlayStation studios.
Totoki, “This is based on the reporting in the media and I think it is about Bungie. Last year in July we acquired Bungie and the Destiny franchise to strengthen new game titles to be developed and to support live service games at SIE studios… As part of that Bungie, to have the efficiency throughout the company, to indirect divisions we cut around 100 people to reduce costs to labor. These personnel cuts and the impact on their profitability is already incorporated into the current forecast. So at PlayStation, we have reviewed this and there were personnel cuts.”
We know contractors working on the untitled Last of Us multiplayer game have been pulled off the project and let go. Yet Totoki does not acknowledge any “SIE proper” layoffs. According to Totoki, around 100 people at Bungie have been let go. I assume this number and the lack of acknowledging any SIE cuts, discounts contractors. With that, it sounds like aside from Bungie, no full-time employees at PlayStation have been laid off. This should quell rumors of canceled projects across the brand. I personally can account for rumors of four games at SIE being canceled. While there is a ton of ambiguity here, it sounds like nothing has been canceled.
Approx 30:00 Mark
Totoki is asked about live service games, again tied to the stories of layoffs and rumors that some PlayStation games like the live service The Last of Us game have been canceled. Specifically, Totoki is asked if Sony is still targeting to release 12 live service games by FY 2025.
Totoki, “Last year, for FY25 we were to have 12 titles… We are reviewing this. So the titles, we have not been able to meet the gamer’s expectations but we are trying as much as possible that these will be played by the gamers and liked by the gamers for a long time… The 12 titles, six titles will be released by FY25. That is our current plan. Then the remaining six titles, as for when they will be released, we are still working on that… So in the mid to long term, we want to indulge this kind of service, and that is the unchanged policy of our company but, its not that we stick to certain titles but, for the gamers, game title quality should be the most important. That is how I feel about it, thank you.”
What Does This Even Mean?
There is a lot to unpack here. First, Sony is ambiguous here in their messaging, I would be annoyed if I were an investor. They clarify that six live service games will be released by FY25 (April 2025), and six will be released after. If the first six games are, MLB 25, MLB 26, Foamstars, Helldivers 2, Concord, and Fairgames that is one thing. If the six games are, Marathon, Concord, Fairgames, The Last of Us, Twisted Metal, and Horizon, that is an entirely different company. What I want to know here is, does Sony count third-party exclusive game Foamstars as one of its 12 live service games? Also, does Sony count each iteration of MLB The Show as one of its live service games? What about the upcoming $40 second-party Helldivers 2? Why is nobody asking this question?
Likewise, are we to assume that the 12 live service games in development at SIE are the same 12 games that were referred to in May 2022? If that is the case, then for sure nothing at SIE has been canceled. Unfortunately, we will never know the answer to this because nobody within reach of PlayStation PR will ask nor, will PR respond. Finally, if the 12 live service games are the same games from last year, that means the new second-party studio Deviation Games has not had their game canceled. For those that do not recall, Deviation was founded in 2020 by ex-Call of Duty franchise leadership. In May, VGC reported almost half the studio was laid off. At the same time, it seemed all but confirmed Sony had canceled their partnership. Have we just learned that this was not the case?
What we do know is that the rumors of internal struggles around the additional live service games appear to be true. As of last spring, Sony planned on releasing 12 live service games over a four-year period. That number is now six. Astonishingly, SIE has delayed half of its live service games. With Grand Theft Auto 6 potentially releasing in the fall of 2024, this may turn out to be a good thing for PlayStation. Still, if things stay on track, SIE could publish as many as 10 first-party games over the next two years. The way things have been going, that sounds impossible. Moreover, Totoki does not sound too convincing.
Hiroki Totoki on his new interim role at SIE, “Starting in October, I became chairperson. On April first, I will be the provisional CEO for the interim… this will be for a maximum of one year. I will be acting CEO and during this time, my most important mission will be to find the succeeding CEO.”
Here we get a roadmap to who will eventually replace Jim Ryan as the acting CEO of SIE, and who will lead PlayStation. This part is incredibly relevant to PlayStation fans as each new leader PlayStation has had, brings a brand new direction for the brand. Along with new leadership, each change of the guard has brought entirely new faces and ideas. Will the new CEO dump or try and salvage PS VR2? What will the leader do with all of the live service games in limbo? Will SIE close failing studios like Media Molecule? Will it make ambitious investments by buying large publishers like Take-Two Interactive or Square-Enix? It may take three to five years before we find out but, it will not start until a new CEO is named.