Yesterday, PlayStation boss Jim Ryan said he would like his company’s games to one day be as productive as music or movies. He would love to see a world where potentially “hundreds of millions of people” could enjoy them. It’s the future type that many gaming executives are talking about, but one that Sony does not seem to have any interest in actually achieving.
Ryan’s remarks came during a 20-minute interview GamesIndustry.biz on GI Live: London, where he, despite being billed as a keynote fires chat, actually did not say a lot that was remarkable. What does he think defines PlayStation? Games, community and “fire”. What makes the PS5 so “cool?” The games of course. Which is his favorite? Ratchet and Clank: Rift AparOf course, the PS5 tech showpiece you can pick up this holiday season for $ US70 ($ 96).
Instead of commenting or being asked industry questions about crunch, availability or game preservation, the most interesting thing was to get out of the mouth of Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO, his desire to “see a world where the games we make on PlayStation can be enjoyed of many tens of thousands of people, perhaps hundreds of millions of people. ”
Right now success with the current console model, a really good PlayStation hit, you talk about ten or 20 million people who can play that game. We’re talking about games that pile up against music, we’m talking about games that pile up against movies. Music and movies, they can be enjoyed by almost unlimited audiences.
And I think some of the art that our studios do is some of the finest entertainment that has been made anywhere in the world. And to a kind of gateway to the audience for the wonderful art, wonderful entertainment that our studios make … to lock the audience for it at 20 or 30 million, frustrates me. I would love to see a world where hundreds of millions of people can enjoy these games.
It’s an admirable mood, especially, as Ryan points out, because of the implications it would have for developers and players that their hobby opens up to a much wider audience. “It’s potentially really amazing and really powerful,” Ryan said. But it also seems bizarre contrary to Sony’s current strategy around the PS5.
The company has not made video game streaming a central piece, nor has it invested heavily in PS Now, which Microsoft has with Game Pass. It does not release many small games or mobile games. And the company only started bringing some of its biggest blockbusters to PC – years after they originally came out. It’s not Sony’s fault that a pandemic has led to a lack of production and rising global supply chains, but even if you could find a PS5 in stores, it represents high-end in console games compared to the Xbox Series S, Nintendo Switch, and Switch Lite.
If anything, it looks like Sony is doubling down on the prestigious blockbuster model and investing heavily in a small slate with big releases. PS4 joined the last generation Marvel’s Spider-Man, Ghost of Tsushima, and The Last of Us Part II, each of which was released to strong sales and general criticism. god of war won Game of the Year at Game Awards 2018. Herman Hulst, former head of Guerilla Games, maker of Horizon Zero Dawn, was promoted to head of Sony Worldwide Studios. And now 2022 must bring successors to many of these games, while others will not be long in coming. It might continue to make the PS5 the ‘coolest’ console on the market, but it does not seem like a recipe for reaching out to someone who is not already on board.
“Sony’s focus on exclusive blockbusters has come at the expense of niche teams and studios in the PlayStation organization, which has led to high revenue and less choice for gamers,” reported Bloomberg in April. Instead of investing in smaller teams to pursue more experimental projects, Sony has reportedly doubled down on new recordings and sequels to its most successful series. Japan Studio, which was responsible for a number of exciting smaller projects during the PS3 and Vita days, was reduced and switched around earlier this year. And some independent developers complained over the summer that Sony may be hard to work with compared to Microsoft and Nintendo.
Ryan clarified the ideology at the heart of modern PlayStation in an interview with TMTPost around the same time. “Players only remember the best games rather than OK games,” he said. “If it’s the best game, players might want a sequel and they’ll buy a sequel too, but no one really cares about a game that’s just ok.”
However, this mindset has its critics, including from previous iterations of PlayStation.
“Right now, we’re narrowing down to genres and sequels and certain types of games,” Shawn Layden, former CEO of SIE Worldwide Studios, told GamesIndustry.biz in July. “Favorites like my own, like Parappa and Vib tape, these things do not seem to get a chance to get out on stage. It’s bad for the industry and for fans. Over time, it leads to a crumbling of the gaming industry if we just keep talking to the same people and telling the same stories in the same way. ”
Layden, who suddenly stepped down from Sony in 2019 a few months after Ryan took over, has recently been a critic of rising development budgets, urging companies to embrace shorter, cheaper games instead. This mood has also become a rallying cry for others in the industry. “I want shorter games with poorer graphics made by people who get paid more for working less, and I’m not kidding,” FanByte Media’s Jordan Mallory tweeted in June 2020. In August this year, indie developers answered the call with the bundle “Shorter games, worse graphics”.
Video games and the people who make and play them have always had a chip on their shoulder about their status in the wider culture. Today, gaming is a global industry of $ 180 billion ($ 246) billion, no one but Internet diseases are asking if they are still art, and Hollywood is desperately snapping, no matter what gaming IP it may be. But it is still not as ubiquitous as music or television, especially outside of mobile and PC. PS4 sold out PS3 with an estimated 30 million units. The PS5 could even sell another 30 million more. But that would still put it behind the best-selling console ever: the PS2. A console for which it could be noted that there was the most amazing selection of games of all lengths and budgets.
“In order for us to grow audiences into games, we need to go where they are,” Layden told GamesIndustry.biz back in the summer. “We have been here for 25 years, they know where we are and they have not come yet. And there is a reason. We need to discover and interrogate that reason. ”
I’m sure there are many reasons, but I doubt another one Horizon Zero Dawn or god of war will be the answer.