In the wake of the Activision Blizzard buyout news, all eyes are on Sony
Where is Kevin Butler, Director of Rumour Confirmation, when you need him?
I’ve been a PlayStation owner (and fanboy – Ed) for nearly two decades now, and to say the latest news is a bit of a disappointment would be an understatement. This is a gut-punching, take your breath away point in gaming history for PlayStation owners; The largest gaming publisher buyout in history, by the competition!
Xbox head Phil Spencer has already reassured Sony gamers that existing agreements will be honoured…
…but – and this is a big but – we heard a similar story regarding games under the ZeniMax Media acquisition. Despite these reassurances, there’s a very real possibility that after the current deals expire, console gaming’s biggest franchise, Call of Duty, could become an Xbox exclusive.
And just like that, the landscape of being a PlayStation owner changed.
Sony shares dive 13% overnight
As reported by Bloomberg, Sony had almost $20 billion wiped from its valuation overnight, a 13% drop in value, as a direct consequence of the news. It’s likely that Sony shares will bounce back, but it represents a lack of confidence in Sony’s ability to react to the shift in trends and potential future move away from hardware-based gaming we currently enjoy.
But how has it gotten to the point that, simply by potentially losing Activision Blizzard games on PlayStation, Sony shares are plummeting in the stock exchange the day after? To be honest, it’s a situation partly of their own making. Over the course of the last ten years, Sony has narrowed the field of the genre of its first-party studios’ output to pretty much nothing else other than 3rd-person action-adventure games.
Back in June 2019, Jim Ryan, CEO of Sony Interactive Entertainment, was interviewed by CNET and confirmed that Sony was committed to making story-based games and that it was, “certainly not a genre of gaming [Sony will] ever walk away from.”
Now we all know this is what Sony excels at, but there are only so many times you can replay God of War, Ghost of Tsushima or Ratchet and Clank before you want to play something else. For many, that something else is often an online multiplayer game, and although many enjoy the wonderful selection of online racing or sports games available on the PlayStation Network, the majority, and even this 50-year-old writer, still enjoy shooting the crap out of people online with their buddies. To quote a PlayStation advert, when asked what is your favourite snack, “I consume a healthy amount of suckers online every day“
Multiplayer games, especially popular FPS like Call of Duty, are the glue that holds the PlayStation experience together. However, take the behemoth that is CoD, and to a lesser extent Overwatch, out of this equation, and suddenly the holes in the PlayStation lineup are exposed and raw for all to see. The shortsightedness of Sony’s lack of diversity in its first-party studio output is astonishing.
Sony has mistakenly assumed that third-party multiplayer FPS games will always be around. They have even tried to court those developers by throwing money at them for timed exclusive content. In hindsight, what a waste that was. Currently, there are no Sony first-party FPS games, unlike Xbox which has had the ubiquitous long-running Halo series. The last and only active first-party FPS Sony have is what’s left of the online community of Killzone Shadow Fall, which was released as a launch title on the PS4 back in 2013. Yes, there are other games still to play, like Battlefield and Rainbow 6, but none are as popular or indeed synonymous with the genre as Call of Duty.
The other area where Sony has ploughed in time, effort and money, is into the VR field of gaming, which is a huge but smart gamble. Sony recently announced the PlayStation VR 2, alongside new first-party VR games and VR studio acquisitions. This could be Sony’s ace in the hole, as we have seen the Meta Quest 2 recording record sales over the holiday period, not to mention the current Metaverse trend that all of the major players are investing in.
So what can Sony do now?
For the sake of this discussion, we won’t consider the idea of Sony responding in kind with a publisher buyout of their own, though this would be a good move for them, with the likes of Ubisoft, Square Enix and others a good fit for the brand. Instead, we’ll look further into what Sony has in its own armoury. When you do, you could argue that this story actually started on or around April Fools Day, 2012, when Sony officially announced the closure of the developer, Zipper Interactive.
Zipper Interactive were the studio behind the extremely successful PlayStation exclusive series, SOCOM, but also developed the hugely ambitious First Person Shooter, MAG. Even to this day, there are Facebook groups and websites full of die-hard SOCOM fans, petitioning Sony to bring the franchise back, but those cries have been unanswered. Surely now would be the time to explore the rebooting of this franchise?
Sony also has Resistance and Killzone in its library. Although the studios that make them are still active (Insomniac and Guerilla games), they have both been given resources to work on those aforementioned third-person single-player adventure games instead. However, rumour abounds that Guerilla is going to be, or may have already begun, working on a multiplayer game after they have finished with Horizon Forbidden West. Could that game be a Killzone reboot?
It is also no secret that Sony is about to announce a revamped PS Plus/PS Now in response to Xbox Game Pass, which is expected to have multiple tiers and include some backward compatible PS1/2/3 titles. Although this announcement will be a welcome distraction, it needs to have a price point to match or even better that of Xbox Game Pass. If it doesn’t, then it will be yet another body blow for PlayStation fans, already forking out £70 for new games.
Finally, Sony needs to do something else it is notoriously bad at, which is communicating with its fan base. As usual, Sony is saying nothing while the competition is walking away with a prize jewel. You have to hand it to Microsoft, they have pulled the rug from under Sony’s feet. Hopefully, this will bring the fighting spirit and competitiveness out of Sony in response. The gaming division is the area that props up the company as a whole, so they need this. Third-person action-adventure and VR games will only get them so far, no matter how many awards they win.
Microsoft’s shift to a gamer-focused value-oriented approach has won it lots of (well-deserved) praise recently. In response to this, I hope Sony comes out fighting, as that means gamers, whatever your console of preference, will be the winners.