It’s been a strange year for PlayStation, hasn’t it? Objectively, the organisation is arguably at the peak of its power right now: revenue is ridiculous, it’s raking in more award nominations than the rest of the industry combined, and the PS5 has been such a runaway success that it’s forced retailers to implement lottery systems and other innovative technologies just to deal with the demand. For the most engaged of fans, though – the kind of people who frequent sites like Push Square multiple times a day – it’s honestly been pretty drab for a long time.
In terms of daily traffic, we enjoyed record visits last year, but it certainly wasn’t the news cycle that kept us afloat. Sony, we’ve noticed, has been edging closer and closer to Nintendo-style public relations for a while; it operates secretly, in mysterious ways, and gives us very little to work with. It feels like ancient history now, but many of you will recall that the specifics of the PS5 – its core features and user interface – remained shrouded in secrecy until literal weeks before the console’s release. Tentpole titles, like Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, remain sealed behind closed doors.
To be fair to the organisation, earlier this year it opened up a bit: Jim Ryan scheduled a rare interview with GQ and casually rattled off half-a-dozen or so key announcements – including the existence of a next-gen PSVR headset. The consequence, for the hardcore fans, is that we probably won’t hear a peep from the executive again until late in the summer; a disappointing State of Play took place in February, and the PlayStation Blog has been somewhat subdued ever since. This is just the way things are with Sony in 2021.
It’s hard not to look over the fence and feel a few pangs of jealousy; while PlayStation has a comparatively loaded slate of upcoming software, Microsoft is making big moves that threaten to disrupt the status quo. We’ve seen it complete its acquisition of Bethesda, effectively dwarfing Sony’s first-party operations, while its Game Pass initiative – regardless of financial viability – is making games like Returnal look like daylight robbery in comparison. PS Plus, to Sony’s credit, is outstanding value right now – but as time moves forward, PlayStation is going to need to react.
Frankly, the Bethesda thing has changed the game, and while we don’t expect Sony to roll over and let its tummy be tickled, it’s going to need to invest. The strength of the Japanese giant’s first-party studios is not up for debate, and its pipeline continues to be among the best in the industry, but with Japan Studio shut down, Media Molecule seemingly tethered to the largely unpopular Dreams, and Sony San Diego making MLB The Show 21 for multiple platforms – the formerly unstoppable PlayStation Studios is beginning to look a little light.
It’s really hard to criticise a platform holder that’s been banging out Game of the Year nominees on an annual basis, but with blockbuster games taking more time to develop than ever before, can Insomniac Games, Guerrilla Games, Sony Santa Monica, Sony Bend Studio, Sucker Punch, and Naughty Dog carry the burden of first-party development alone? Ryan’s said that PlayStation is committed to organic growth, and we’ve seen all of its studios staff up significantly over the past few years, but there’s going to be a reckoning in a few years once Microsoft’s teams get up to speed.
Sony will, of course, continue to do what it’s always done, which is to make ground-breaking games. But it does feel like some things are going to have to change: the news cycle, at this point in time, is dominated by a very disruptive competitor, and we can’t help but feel like it needs to make a bit more noise of its own. Moreover, it’s going to have to work harder than ever before to justify the value of its internally developed games, because its competitor is going to be dwarfing its output later in the generation for a nominal monthly fee. That’s a problem.
The consequence of the Bethesda buyout means that PlayStation is probably going to spend more than ever on timed exclusives – we know that it was, at one point, trying to lock down Starfield – but it’s going to need to do more than that alone. It’s probably, at some point, going to need an answer to Game Pass, and while the platform holder’s first-party pipeline remains as impressive as ever, there’s an argument to be made that a once world-beating stable of studios now looks minuscule compared to the competition.
Most importantly of all, the time of Sony sitting on the sidelines is probably coming to an end. It’s going to need the energy of the PS3 era if it’s to overcome the noise being emitted by the Team in Green; these long periods of silence from the platform holder can’t continue for much longer. As PlayStation fans there’s still so much to be excited about, but is the platform holder really making the most of everything it has in its arsenal? Competition breeds excellence, of course – and it’s becoming increasingly clear that PS5 is not going to have an easy ride.
The gauntlet has, in many ways, been thrown; let’s hope that Sony is up to the challenge.
How do you feel about the state of play for PS5 now that 2021 is well underway? Do you feel that Sony’s messaging has been as strong as it could be? Let it all out in the comments section below.