Unlike its competitors, Sony reinvents itself with each subsequent generation. There are franchises that have stood the test of time, but generally we see the platform holder evolve as it transitions from console to console. Aloy, for example, will very likely be the poster child of the PlayStation 5 – a household name who only got her debut game a couple of years ago.
While the frequent makeovers help to keep PlayStation feeling fresh, it also means that a lot of loveable series get left behind. Venture into any enthusiast forum, and you’ll find people begging for a new instalment in The Getaway or a continuation of the Sly Cooper franchise or a MotorStorm reboot or an Ape Escape revival. The list goes on and on.
The problem is that Sony has limited resources, and between developing brands at their peak (like The Last of Us), creating new intellectual property (like Ghost of Tsushima), and pushing fresh technology (like PlayStation VR), there’s not always opportunity for that Folklore follow-up you long for. But could the company potentially license out dormant brands to willing publishers and developers?
SEGA, in many ways, has become a very interesting organisation. Best known for Sonic the Hedgehog and the 16-bit days, the company’s quietly become a PC powerhouse, consistently putting out big hits like Football Manager and Total War. But the Japanese firm’s also recognised that it has a stable of sensational IP under its umbrella, and it’s starting to license them out.
Look at Shenmue III, for example – the long-awaited sequel to Yu Suzuki’s coming of age opus. The game has been crowdfunded by fans, with a new development studio fronting production duties. It’ll be published globally by Deep Silver, with SEGA uninvolved. Yet, the original creator still retains rights to the franchise – it’s simply licensing the brand to Ys Net et al.
Streets of Rage 4 is another example of this strategy. The game is being developed by Lizardcube and Guard Crush Games, with French firm DotEmu handling publishing duties. SEGA is involved to an extent, but once again it’s acting as a licensor, dishing out brand rights rather than dirtying itself in the game development trenches.
There are downsides to this approach, of course. We have no clue whether Shenmue III or Streets of Rage 4 will be any good, and should they release in a sub-standard state, then they could effectively damage their respective brands. With SEGA maintaining a hands-off approach, it doesn’t have a whole heap of input into the creative direction of these titles.
But the alternative, potentially, is that they don’t exist at all – and that’s certainly the case for a lot of Sony’s dormant franchises. What if a decent developer and publisher duo came to the PlayStation maker and pitched an enticing Jak & Daxter project? There’s an argument that, if it has no plans to make its own entry, it could license the name out and keep the series alive.
Developers, generally, like to create their own franchises, and that’s understandable. But there’s also opportunity here should the platform holder allow it: to work with established brands that already have large fanbases. SOCOM is one series that’s talked about a lot – signing a licensing agreement with Sony could give an otherwise unremarkable military shooter the kind of attention that it needs.
We think it’s an interesting suggestion. The company has a licensing program for merchandise and accessories, and it’s spawned a wealth of “official” products, from wallets to tea cosies. But why not extend that same philosophy to game development, and allow passionate teams to bring back PlayStation properties that have spent far too long in the archives?
It’s clearly not opposed to the idea, as Harmonix crowdfunded and released Amplitude on the PS4 and PS3 a few years back, and that’s an IP that the manufacturer owns. So why not do this more often? As long as the pitches are good, then what is there to lose? Developers get to work with well-liked series, Sony’s able to keep ancient IP alive, and fans get the franchises they’ve been asking for.
Do you think licensing out certain series to third-party developers and publishers could work in Sony's favour? What sort of franchises would you like to see treated in this way, and which developers and publishers do you think would make a good match? Bring an old brand back from the dead in the comments section below.