Is there a problem with Jim Ryan’s PS5? (Image: Sony)
One reader is frustrated with Sony’s approach to the next generation, and thinks the PS5 needs to adapt more to the threat of Xbox and Game Pass.
Last month it was announced that PlayStation would be closing Japan Studios. It’s the latest in a series of missteps as Microsoft rectifies past mistakes and makes bold moves in the gaming market, such as Xbox Game Pass and the Xbox S series wallet.
Some five years ago, PlayStation dominated the gaming console market, while Microsoft was still catching up after the notoriously disastrous launch of the Xbox One in 2013. Still, you have to constantly strive for success in order not to slip, and that’s exactly what has happened at Sony in recent years. This can be summed up in a few key mistakes.
The biggest challenge will be the lack of investment in acquiring or expanding leading studios. During the launch of the PlayStation 4, Microsoft took over several game studios and closed the console generation with the announcement that it had bought out Bethesda. In the same generation, Sony only acquired Insomnia Games, but closed two studios. Sony could have invested more in acquiring the studio to strengthen its first-party offerings if it had wanted to.
During this time, brilliant studios like FromSoftware, Io Interactive and Respawn Entertainment have changed hands (and last year there was even talk of Sony buying Remedy Entertainment). Now that Microsoft has 23 game studios (there were only eight at the beginning of last generation) compared to Sony’s 12, only half of Microsoft’s games should be very good, and will beat Sony. As expected, Microsoft has already announced that Bethesda’s upcoming games will be exclusive to Xbox and PC, which is a blow to PlayStation players.
The second problem is Sony’s lack of foresight. Sony acquired Gaikai in 2012, then OnLive infrastructure, and has had just about every generation of consoles to establish itself as a pioneer in cloud gaming. And yet they missed this opportunity (excellent article on this at The Verge).
Yes, Sony released PlayStation VR in 2016 (unlike Microsoft’s HoloLens, which has yet to reach consumers), but it was really held back by a lack of killer apps (like Half Life: Alyx on PC VR). Sony has also failed to offer a credible alternative to Microsoft’s Game Pass, which is currently luring many players to the Xbox ecosystem.
Sony also lost the performance battle against Xbox – the PS4 Pro and PlayStation 5 are not as powerful as Microsoft’s counterpart. The visual differences may only be apparent to gamers with a keen eye, but performance is important and has some bearing on console purchase, especially for mainstream gamers (just look at Microsoft’s continued marketing around the Xbox, the most powerful console).
The stories that Sony has sidelined Japan, cemented by the fall of Japan Studios, are the company’s latest mistake. As many others have noted, this cultural heritage and diversity of vision has arguably been one of the Japanese company’s greatest strengths. However, Sony is now leaving Japan behind in an attempt to make PlayStation a more global (read: American) brand. This is not the way to go, Microsoft already operates this way and could far surpass Sony if they wanted to, as they have much deeper pockets – they have now.
The only way Sony can continue to innovate and be smart with the PlayStation, just like Nintendo and what they did with the Switch. For this, Sony could use the support and help of its home country. And this is not the time to scare away talented game developers and close down game studios in their home countries.
There’s no shortage of mistakes from Sony, from Fortnite’s cross-play, to the announcement that Sony believes in next-gen, only to announce games like Horizon Forbidden West and Spider-Man: Miles Morales will also appear on the PS4. The PlayStation 5’s relatively unintuitive dashboard is related to the current issues with the DualSense controller. At the same time, Xbox has taken important initiatives in terms of backwards compatibility (Auto HDR and FPS Boost) and cross-generational and cross-platform play (Smart Delivery and Cloud Savings, PC Sync).
It’s a shame that PlayStation has deteriorated so much in recent years, relatively speaking. There was an attitude within the company: We’re fine, we don’t need to do anything else, general manager Jim Ryan seemed to insist. You only have to look at companies like Nokia or Kodak to see what happens when you don’t try to keep up with the competition and lack foresight.
You could argue that Sony can bounce back from a bad generation, as it did with the PlayStation 3, Microsoft with the Xbox One, and Nintendo with the Wii U. But there’s more at stake here. Sony is an ailing company that relies heavily on its entertainment division for revenue, so it’s unlikely to survive another setback. On top of that, the market is slowly evolving; cloud and mobile games are growing and devouring console games, so there may not be a new generation of consoles like in the past to start the recovery.
For now, Sony is building on the success of the previous generation, but if they continue on this path, we’re likely to see a relative decline. This is not only a problem for PlayStation players, but also for Xbox players. Sony’s weakening and deletion could mean that there is no strong competition for Microsoft in the games market. It would be better for everyone if Sony realized its predicament.
Reader Hiroki Takahashi…
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