Despite the company’s issues with meeting consumer demand of PlayStation 5s, Sony Interactive Entertainment had one of its most successful years in 2020, recording $8.4bn in revenue and $762mn in profit. This was not only due to the PS5’s launch success, but also from its sales of blockbuster titles including The Last of Us Part II and Ghost of Tsushima among others.
However, recent months have seen Sony leadership make a series of decisions which have left a sour taste in the mouths of gamers. Aside from issues in acquiring a PS5, gamers have complained of a lack of next-gen titles, with Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Demon’s Souls being the most popular and others like Godfall making less of an impact in terms of critical reception and sales. This is perhaps not a surprise; launch titles are often delayed and given the continuing Covid-19 pandemic, further delays can be expected over the next year or so.
The first move which puzzled gamers this year was Sony’s decision to close the PlayStation Store for users of the PlayStation 3 and the handheld consoles PlayStation Portable and PlayStation Vita. This means that, from June 2021, users will not be able to make digital purchases on these platforms. The sudden nature of this decision has been the source of some controversy.
In itself, this move makes some degree of sense: the PS3, PSP and PSVita are older platforms and it is a financial burden to keep the PS Store up due to the lack of new sales being made on their respective stores. However, some developers have complained that they were not given advance warning of this move, with several studios blindsided by the news and being forced to make decisions on whether to continue developing their games or not.
Further, Sony has closed its Japan Studio, with most of its staff being let go. While it has not been the company’s main money maker, it holds sentimental value for many gamers having produced several classics over the years. Famous titles include Gravity Rush, Knack and The Last Guardian.
In addition, while Sony was originally established in Japan, the company has moved its Global HQ to California in the US. This change in strategy has angered Japanese gamers, and while Sony CEO Jim Ryan has claimed that the company was not abandoning its Japanese roots, its apparent shift to the Western market is too obvious to dismiss easily.
The latest controversy involving Sony concerns the treatment of one of its support teams, the Visual Arts Service Group, who had hoped to gain greater creative control and develop its own video games. Initially given the task of developing a remake of the 2013 hit The Last of Us, the VASG was not given the financial support they required and gradually the development project was handed over to the original developers of the game, Naughty Dog. In addition to this setback, the VASG has largely reverted to its previous support role, disappointing the team and leading to large numbers departures by senior developers.
All of this recent news has led commentators to speculate that Sony is taking a conservative approach to developing its games, preferring the tried and true success of established franchises and being less accommodating towards smaller and independent developers than was previously the case. While it is too early to make definitive claims this early, there certainly is cause for concern as it would not be the first time Sony became complacent and arrogant following years of success. The failure of the PlayStation 3’s launch and the length of time it took for the console to catch up to the Xbox 360’s sales figures came about as a result of this complacency.
It is highly unlikely that this generation of consoles will see Sony lose its spot to Microsoft and Xbox; it is already well ahead in hardware sales and, despite the recent controversies, is not haemorrhaging customers yet. This is not to say it does not face stiff competition from Microsoft, who has brought in a popular new subscription service in the form of ‘Game Pass’ and has purchased several large studios including Bethesda who have released giant titles including Fallout, The Elder Scrolls, and Doom to name just a few.
In any case, Sony has a job to do to win over the fans it has annoyed over the last few months lest it risk its main competitor getting ahead. Times are hard for people around the world and consumers will be looking closely to see which console (which can range in price anywhere from €299.99 to €499.99) will give them the best value for their money.