PlayStation is steering its business in a new direction, and gamers are renowned for their reluctance to change. A recent mid-term strategy meeting elaborated on Sony’s intention to look beyond its traditional walled garden, bringing its content to more platforms and mediums. This, as is perhaps predictable, has prompted plenty of doom-mongering. But we believe that with the right approach, this is an exciting time to be a fan.
The industry is changing, as it goes through a round of consolidation. As more publishers and developers get purchased, this represents an existential threat to PlayStation, which doesn’t have the deep pockets of some of its rivals to compete. It’s important to remember that Sony is no pauper – its $3 billion purchase of Bungie is evidence of that – but it can’t match some of the cash being tossed around by the likes of Microsoft and Tencent.
PlayStation, much like Nintendo, has some major strengths that will be difficult to dethrone, though: its first-party franchises are one of them, and its community of long-standing and passionate consumers is another. Like any good business, Sony wants to grow its audience to be as large as possible, and it’s realised that its own ecosystem is an obstruction to that. The biggest games in the world, like Fortnite, are available on everything – from console to PC and mobile.
There’s a tricky balancing act that PlayStation is managing here, because one of the appeals of its ecosystem is that it’s the only place to find games like The Last of Us: Part 2 and Ghost of Tsushima. But it intends to accelerate investment in PC ports – one of the reasons it purchased Dutch support studio Nixxes is to help with this – and it’s perhaps realised that there’s little value in clutching to first-party releases like God of War once their traditional sales window has elapsed. That game has sold another one million copies since launching on PC earlier this year, and it’s had minimal impact on the momentum of the company’s consoles.
Many of the people buying Sony’s PC ports were unlikely to ever purchase a PlayStation, so this is effectively a new revenue stream for the firm which, in the digital age, will have a long tail. It’s also important to remember that there will be people experiencing games like Horizon Zero Dawn and God of War for the first time that love them so much they simply have to purchase a PS5 to play Horizon Forbidden West and God of War Ragnarok as early as possible – which all feeds back into the traditional business model.
The same is true of PlayStation Productions and Sony’s new cross-media strategy. There was a poll on the site recently gauging interest in upcoming television shows like HBO’s The Last of Us, and about 25 per cent of you said you don’t care about the adaptation at all. That’s because it’s not necessarily for you. If the series is successful, it will still appeal to existing fans of Naughty Dog’s survival horror games, but as we observed with The Witcher recently, the real ambition here is to convince those who’ve never heard of Joel and Ellie to fall in love with them. This, once again, all feeds back into the traditional business model.
In fact, you can apply this exact same philosophy to so many of the initiatives Sony’s been teasing. Mobile games, if handled correctly, can potentially be big money-spinners on their own – as we’ve seen from the likes of Genshin Impact and Pokémon Go. But they can also convert people into long-time fans. An example of this is Pokémon Sword & Shield, which is now the second best-selling Pokémon game of all time, with the success of Niantic’s mobile adaptation almost certainly playing a part in that.
The key thing to remember here is that all of this represents additional investment into PlayStation – it’s not an either/or situation. In its briefing, it noted that while its investment into live service (more on that shortly) could represent 55 per cent of its business by 2025, it’ll actually increase spending on its traditional business model as well. Now, you could argue that said increase merely accounts for inflation and rising costs, but even if that’s the case, it means that even in the worst possible scenario it’ll continue to spend on single player games to the same level as it always has. PlayStation, as a whole however, will be receiving roughly double the investment in total.
This is a good thing, and it’s why you shouldn’t really be worried about live service games. Sony would be incompetent if it ignored the trends that it’s observed with Fortnite and Genshin Impact, and thus it must try and create its own alternative to these. The key thing is that it does it properly, and acquisitions like Bungie seem targeted at ensuring it has the best knowledge and practices in place to make its live service projects a success. It’ll only take one hit from the 12 titles the company has planned to potentially fund brilliant single player titles for years to come.
Now obviously this is a rose-tinted outlook at what’s unfolding, and a lot of it will depend on execution – after all, if the television shows, PC ports, mobile games, and live service titles suck, then this whole plan falls apart. But Sony, for as much as we criticise it, is more than capable of creating great products, and it has all the pieces in place for success here. While it’s fine to be sceptical, it’s really important to remember that the Japanese giant is investing more into PlayStation with all these initiatives. And if it’s successful at growing the brand, which is unquestionably the goal here, then that ultimately means more of the franchises and characters that we love.
How do you feel about Sony’s current trajectory? Are you concerned about some of the things you’re hearing, or excited by the potential? Do you think this is a risky path to plot, or do you feel PlayStation is best placed to capitalise on all these new initiatives? Think it through in the comments section below.