It’s almost been ten years since LittleBigPlanet released, a PlayStation 3 exclusive that would record a 95 on Metacritic and eventually go on to sell around 4.5 million units as of 2010. It was a success, but like so many of Sony’s games at the time, its numbers didn’t really match its reception. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves would follow in 2009, winning a string of Game of the Year awards and cementing Naughty Dog’s status as one of the world’s best developers. It took almost a year to sell 3.8 million units.
The Japanese giant, rebounding from a disastrous console launch, would go on to release a string of high-profile exclusive games throughout the remainder of the generation: God of War III, Heavy Rain, Killzone 3, inFAMOUS 2, Twisted Metal, Starhawk, and many more. Some did well, others less so – but none of them truly set cash registers alight. Sony would eventually sell over 80 million PS3 consoles, but while the platform holder’s output was undoubtedly respected by core gamers, it never really landed any huge hits.
There’s a famous tweet from Microsoft’s Aaron Greenberg which pretty much summed up the climate at the time:
It was hubris from an executive who’s never particularly been subtle, but it’s a snapshot of how weakly PlayStation’s first-party games performed; they were well-liked by fans and critically acclaimed, but it wasn’t until The Last of Us that it finally managed to turn things around. Naughty Dog’s survival horror sold eight million units in a year, and now stands at 17 million units with its PS4 remaster included.
Sony has turned critical success into commercial success this generation, and its first-party franchises are bigger than they’ve ever been. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, the latest edition in a franchise that had been routinely outsold by the likes of Halo and Gears of War, sold 8.7 million units in six months; Horizon: Zero Dawn, a brand new IP, eclipsed 7.6 million units in a year, and; God of War amassed five million units in a month. These are staggering statistics.
The PS4’s popularity has surely played a part in this stunning transition, but we reckon Sony’s track-record is also starting to pay. The company, as a publisher, has spent ten years building its first-party brand as a signal of quality, and while there have been misses like The Order: 1886 along the way, it’s largely been consistent for a decade now. That pays off, and when the good review scores almost inevitably roll in, it creates consumer confidence.
But the company’s also vastly improved its marketing approach. One of the chief criticisms of the firm in the PS3 days was that, even when it had scrapped its David Lynch-esque marketing campaigns, it still never really put enough weight behind its games. But it’s been borderline perfect this generation: look back at how Horizon: Zero Dawn was expertly introduced, and how Sony would go on to canvas television, magazines, and conventions with the franchise to ensure people knew about the game.
While it’s hard to get excited about sales numbers and profit sheets, the organisation deserves this success because of the creative risks it’s taken and continues to take. Sucker Punch could have rested on inFAMOUS, but it’s moved on to Ghost of Tsushima, and who’s to say that won’t be PlayStation’s next big record-breaking success? The Last of Us didn’t really need to exist, yet the platform holder put its faith in Naughty Dog, and now its successor looks likely to be one of the biggest hits of the gen.
Unless you were around in those PS3 days, it’s difficult to illustrate just how much of a turnaround has occurred; Sony’s games were good, but they were not particularly popular at all. That couldn’t be less true anymore, and it bodes well for the future, too. When the PS4 was introduced, it was done so with the Helghast and Delsin Rowe taking centre stage; the PlayStation 5, meanwhile, will almost certainly see Aloy and a rejuvenated Kratos under the spotlight. What a difference a generation makes, eh?
What do you think has caused Sony's first-party to explode over the past few years? Have the products improved, or is it the result of good marketing? Maybe you think it's a mixture of both? Go through the gears in the comments section below.