Pat’s Game & Watch: Is Sony Burying Itself?

By Patrick Young

Updated on 4/19/21: Sony announced this morning that they are reversing their announcement about the closure of the PSP, PS3 and PS Vita stores. The PSP store will close on July 2, 2021, while the latter two will remain fully functional for the foreseeable future. President & CEO of Sony stated in the announcement, “Upon further reflection, however, it’s clear that we made the wrong decision here.”

With the launch of the PS5 this past fall and its killer lineup of games, it seemed like Sony could not do any wrong (besides maybe producing enough consoles to meet demand.) However, recent developments from the company have sparked opinions across the industry about whether Sony is making the right calls with its flagship console and the games they are developing.

The onslaught of controversies started on March 22 when Kirk Mckeand of The Gamer reported that Sony would be closing down their PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable, and PlayStation Vita digital stores this summer. This was an opportunity for critics to begin a conversation about the importance of preserving old games, and how compared to Microsoft, Sony’s primary competitor, they do not seem to care too much about keeping their old titles playable.

Microsoft has made it a priority of their marketing in recent years to increase the amount of games people can play, anytime, anywhere, especially with their Game Pass service. The Xbox Series X is backwards compatible with games back to the original Xbox, and in some cases, even upscaling and enhancing them. Comparatively, the PS5 only is only backwards compatible with games from the PS4 era, with some PS2 classic games being purchasable from the store.

Image of the classic PlayStation 3 Store. Courtesy of Sony.

A couple weeks later, reputable journalist Jason Schreier of Bloomberg revealed on April 9 that at one time, there was a tiny, unnamed team leading development on a remake of The Last of Us (2013), but the project was ultimately shifted to the game’s original developers Naughty Dog, and that team disbanded. Schreier writes, “Sony never fully acknowledged the team’s existence or gave them the funding and support needed to succeed in the highly competitive video game market.” He goes on to discuss “Sony’s conservative approach to making games for the PlayStation 5,” the company developing seemingly fewer yet more big and ambitious games––spectacle at the cost of creativity.

As a PlayStation gamer, primarily, I would be lying if I said that these developments did not disappoint me. I had a PS2 growing up, ended up skipping the PS3, and ended up rejoining the family when the PS4 came out. Many of my fondest gaming memories and experiences have come from playing games on PlayStation consoles: running along tight ropes and pickpocketing thugs in Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus (2002); blasting away at ridiculous enemies with even more ridiculous weapons in Ratchet & Clank (2002); engaging in exhilarating deathmatch races in Jak X: Combat Racing (2005). Although Sony still supports Ratchet & Clank, with a new game coming this summer, those other series I would consider gone, and the likelihood of any new entries being slim to none. What’s worse though, is that those old games might as well have never even existed, since Sony provides no way for modern players to experience them.

I bring up these memories not as a cry for those series to return in particular, but to spotlight the types of game they are largely not developing anymore. Look at the Uncharted series, The Last of Us and Part II (2020), God of War (2018), Horizon: Zero Dawn (2017), Spider-Man (2018), Days Gone (2019)––all of these games control a third person character, with a realistic art direction, and a heavy emphasis on storytelling. I enjoyed if not loved all of these games, their quality is indisputable, but I can also see though that this to some, is a tiring trend.

Image from a 2019 PlayStation commercial. Courtesy of Sony.

Perhaps like in the early 2000s, when Sony was trying to compete in the mascot platformer market with Ratchet & Clank, Sly Cooper, and others, today the market is centered around big budget titles, meant to immerse the player in their worlds. It isn’t to say either that Sony isn’t still providing a diverse library of exclusive titles for their audiences: recently released Oddworld: Soulstorm is a puzzle platformer in the long running Oddworld series; Kena: Bridge of Spirits, coming later this year, looks like a playable Pixar film, with exciting combat and fun platforming elements; and the previously announced Sifu seems like an intense, stylized martial arts game, with simple yet rich visuals.

To say that Sony has become reliant on big budget titles, I think in some ways is truthful, but to say they do not care about the smaller studios working on more diverse projects is incorrect. I personally have felt that the company has provided in recent years a good selection of titles both big and small for its players. Obviously the big AAA titles are going to receive more marketing, more attention––there is more money there to be made and lost if not handled properly. However, I still think it would be helpful for Sony to reflect on the games that built the company to what it is today, and further, develop a way for its players to enjoy those previous titles. 

If you were thinking about jumping the Sony ship, I don’t think it’s time for that. There is still a lot of good here, and exciting things to come. With rumors of a Sony ‘counterpunch’ to Microsoft’s Game Pass, and the company not being at this year’s E3 Expo, all eyes will be on them as they head into this important stretch as a company. Will Sony fight back against the naysayers and empower their players, or continue to sink in controversy––we shall see. 

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