Almost A Platinum Trophy Of A Generation
It’s hard to believe that both Sony’s PlayStation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One launched nearly seven years ago back in November, 2013. Over this time, remarkable games have been produced, business strategies have been formulated and executed upon, and each mega corporation finds themselves confidently staring down the next generation of consoles. In this two-part article series, we’ll be taking a look back at what Microsoft and Sony did right and wrong this past generation.
RIGHT: The Price
I mentioned price as a “Wrong” in the Microsoft article so, of course, the $399 price tag that Sony announced at E3 2013 was virtually teed up for them after the competition just revealed the $499 Xbox One. If the $100 difference wasn’t enough for the two equally spec’d out machines, Sony took the opportunity to differentiate themselves from the intrusive DRM and used game policy fiasco that Microsoft just went through by simply stating the status quo. That’s all consumers wanted to hear at the time. So that messaging, along with the great price, set PlayStation 4 up to be the dominant console this past generation. PS4 is now the 2nd best selling home console ever at over 110 million units sold, trailing only PlayStation 2.
RIGHT: Killer Exclusives
During the lifespan of the PlayStation 3, Sony struggled to dig themselves out of the hole they found themselves in. They ended up finding their footing and that was largely thanks to Sony’s suite of 1st party developers which released ground breaking titles, such as The Last of Us, toward the end of the PS3 generation. Momentum only grew as the PlayStation 4 launched and gained commercial success across the globe. Sony 1st party studios cranked out mega hit after mega hit with the likes of Uncharted 4, Horizon Zero Dawn and God of War. Additionally they had critical 3rd party exclusives by way of Bloodborne, Persona 5 and most importantly, Marvel’s Spider-Man. By the time God of War and Spider-Man released in 2018, the perceived exclusive gap between PS4 and Xbox One was massive and helped propel Sony to the heights they reached this generation.
RIGHT: Locked Up Huge Marketing Deals
Contrary to some fanboys’ beliefs, (and Nintendo excluded) exclusives aren’t really the main driver for console sales. Sony and Microsoft depend heavily on 3rd party partners such as Take-Two, EA, Activision, etc to bolster their games lineup. Often times marketing deals are struck which offer perks to one platform over another or at the very least give off the appearance that there is some advantage to playing the game on platform X. Microsoft put more of an emphasis on this during the Xbox 360 era, but Sony seemed determined to lock up every major 3rd party partnership they could get their hands on. Everything from Call of Duty to Destiny to Read Dead Redemption 2 seemed to have Sony branding and marketing on it. And it worked. As unsavory as some of these deals can be, Sony did the wise thing for the platform by luring in the substantially sized casual gamer crowd.
WRONG: Little Diversity Among 1st Party Titles
In the midst of Sony basking in their 1st party success there was one nagging, and valid, complaint leveraged against them, “Where’s the diversity??”. Almost every one of Sony’s 1st party exclusives was a beautiful, 3rd-person, action/adventure/RPG…. with a photo mode. It seemed Sony had found a formula and was sticking to it. They even had 2 post-apocalyptic “zombie” games for crying out loud! Sony fans didn’t seem to mind, but the complaint holds water. Is having all your eggs in one genre basket a wise thing? Could genre fatigue set in? I believe so, and hopefully Sony will encourage their studios to carve out a unique mark outside of just this one popular genre.
WRONG: PS Now Floundered
Sony had high aspirations for game streaming back in 2012 when in purchased Gaikai, an emerging video game streaming company. Sony would turn this acquisition into PlayStation Now a video game streaming service which promised low-latency game streaming all without having to own the game itself. A somewhat forward thinking move considering there were no true heavy hitters in the streaming space at the time. The downside? Stream quality wasn’t great, you sometimes had to wait in a queue to play a game, and the price was laughably high. The service has come a long way both in terms of pricing and the actual product itself (mostly thanks to pressure from Xbox Game Pass), but PS Now has never found the success it was hoping for and certainly pales in comparison to Game Pass.
WRONG: Sony Stopped Courting Indies
You could also call this the “Switch effect”, but early on in the PS4’s lifecycle, Sony was doing an outstanding job of getting indie games onto the PlayStation 4. After getting panned from devs about how hard the PS3 was to develop for, they took a much more collaborative approach to the PS4 architecture. Their effort paid off and Sony saw numerous indie hits like Resogun, Transistor and The Witness grace the console early on. I mention Nintendo’s hybrid console at the top of this section because it can’t be denied that the Switch became the de facto indie machine once it gained steam in 2017. Pair that with the fact that Sony suddenly seemed less interested in courting indie devs (now that the PS4’s library had been padded out), and it just seemed like quality indies on PS4 came to a drip feed.
Since the success of a console largely relies on the library of games, I believe Sony is in a great spot heading into next gen. They clearly have the stable of developers to get the job done. This time around let’s see if they can leverage their services in a way that actually gives Microsoft a run for it’s money.