Last week, a report from Bloomberg teased a singular focus for Sony’s future on consoles. The company wishes to emphasize the development of massive blockbusters and little else, focusing on deep, engaging experiences that are guaranteed to sell millions of copies while building upon existing franchises or establishing new, reliable IPs in the process. It’s a vision I’ve felt the company veering towards for a while now, but never did I expect it to be stated in such blunt, cynical honesty. Such an approach is working beautifully, so Sony naturally has no desire to change course, but I can’t help but feel it will hurt the medium in the long run.
Ever since the release of the original PlayStation, the company’s exclusive output has been wonderfully diverse. First-party output could range from quirky platformers such as Tokyo Jungle to serious narrative adventures like Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us. There was room for everything, and Sony seemed to welcome all manner of creativity under its exclusive umbrella. However, this direction has slowly shifted course, a trajectory which became clearer towards the end of the last console generation.
Ghost of Tsushima, Days Gone, The Last of Us Part 2, Horizon Zero Dawn, and God of War all share a common strand of DNA. They are third-person action titles with a heavy focus on narrative, with some incorporating open-worlds with all the hallmarks you’d expect from such a genre. While all of these games are incredibly well made and are a joy to play, I can’t help but feel they’re rather homogenous when compared to what Sony and its studios were producing only a generation or so ago. I always know what I’m getting with a Sony exclusive, which I’m not sure is a good thing in a medium which is capable of more things than ever.
Even Sony is being relatively cutthroat with the franchises that can bask in its pool of quality. Days Gone, which was a commercial success yet failed to resonate with critics, had a sequel pitch rejected as the studio was asked to begin work on a new title and contribute to other projects. Sure, Deacon St John’s redneck motorbike apocalypse wasn’t on par with Sony’s usual exclusive bangers, but it tried a lot of different, experimental things in a genre which often stuck to tired staples. But this sadly wasn’t enough, and thus, the cables were cut on the franchise. Never say never when it comes to a sequel, but I hope Sony Bend is working on something equally experimental.
Japan Studio being shuttered and the mass exodus of talented staff leaving Sony behind is something I think will be seen as a colossal mistake in the years to come. The development house is responsible for countless PlayStation classics. Gravity Rush, Tokyo Jungle, Everybody’s Golf, Knack 2, and even Bloodborne were helmed in some manner by the studio, and now it’s gone forever. It’s an unfathomable loss, and I hope it doesn’t signal a dramatic shift away from Japanese talent on Sony’s platforms. If it does, I’ll be heartbroken.
News of The Last of Us being remade for PS5 tells me everything I need to know about Sony’s attitude towards its future exclusives. It’s all about prestige, widespread critical darlings that resonate with millions of gamers. These games are great, but they’re becoming more and more predictable as time goes on. We’ve had our watershed moment of emotional resonance in virtual storytelling, so it’s time to stop tugging on exposed heartstrings and focus on something more nuanced. I don’t care if my virtual kid gets killed, I’ve seen it all before.
The upcoming closure of the digital PS3, PSP and PS Vita digital storefronts only furthers this fractured message. Gaming history is incredibly important, and Sony is allowing this to fade away with no immediate solution in sight. It’s not just that we can’t play these games anymore, those who created them will be losing work forever, only having access to them in a strange, inaccessible form.
Compared to Microsoft, Sony’s vision for the future of gaming is a gorgeous yet claustrophobic tunnel, while Xbox is stepping onto greener pastures where anything is possible. Perhaps we’ll see a change of heart in the months to come, part of me really hopes so. Games are becoming more expensive to make and thus riskier to produce, and I don’t blame Sony for focusing on guaranteed successes, but the company shouldn’t throw away its legacy for such security.
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Jade King is one of the Features Editors for TheGamer. Previously head of gaming content over at Trusted Reviews, she can be found talking about games, anime and retweeting Catradora fanart @KonaYMA6.
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