Walk into the eSports arena at Durham College and turn your head to the left and you’ll be greeted with three of Sony’s PlayStation 5 consoles hanging on the wall.
That’s a sight for sore eyes for me, who’s been primarily supporting Sony all my life. Ever since my first console, the PlayStation 2, my gaming experience has been dominated by the likes of Uncharted, Ratchet and Clank and God of War throughout every gaming generation.
However, violent winds of change are coming to the game industry, in part due to Xbox’s confidence in satisfying its loyal fan base. If Sony doesn’t take action, they could get left in the dust.
Recent months have shown the underlying difference between the two console developers. Xbox, the cool uncle who’s unafraid to play ball, is in stark contrast to Sony’s out-of-touch, corporate-focused mindset.
Just take the announcement of the PlayStation Portal, a hand-held device that seems strangely similar to the Nintendo Switch, or Valve’s own Steam Deck. The only problem: the PlayStation Portal can only stream games over a wireless connection, it also lacks the massive Steam library and Nintendo’s enticing library of legacy titles. After hearing about the announcement for the Portal, I could only be left asking who this is for?
It gets worse when you look at the internal emails from Xbox CEO Phil Spencer, leaked as part of the FTC vs. Microsoft trial that provide some insight into Xbox’s thought process. They aren’t backing off the console war any time soon.
Take the recent acquisition of Activision Blizzard. Microsoft purchased Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion, the publisher of blockbuster titles like Call of Duty, World of Warcraft and Overwatch. To anyone backing Sony who read that, the implication is clear. One day, games published by Activision Blizzard will not exist on PlayStation.
This is going to be hard for Sony to ignore, Call of Duty stands as one of Activision Blizzard’s major breadwinners and pulls in millions every year. Even if that’s a decade from now, Sony will need to look for something to replace the Activision Blizzard-shaped hole in their library.
Sony made the mistake of pushing to keep Call of Duty on Sony consoles for longer than intended. They got what they wanted, but the rest of their library suffered. What was originally a deal to keep Activision titles on PlayStation until 2027, became a deal to keep just Call of Duty on the console for ten years.
This means that, barring Call of Duty, Sony can, and possibly will, miss out any Activision Blizzard title immediately after the deal fully closes.
Sony did buy Bungie for $3.6 billion, which is a step in the right direction. Bungie’s years of development crafting first person shooter titles can create solid competition for Call of Duty, hearkening back to the days of the seventh generation when Halo vs. Call of Duty was all the rage.
It should be noted that, in the same announcement, it’s clear that Bungie will continue to have full freedom to make games for any console of their choosing. At the time of writing, there are no plans to make Bungie titles exclusive to PlayStation.
Contrast this to Xbox, which isn’t afraid to play dirty and keep exclusive games to themselves. The recently leaked emails list Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls 6 as an exclusive game. This year, Bethesda released Starfield only on Xbox and PC in 2023.
If Elder Scrolls 6 doesn’t come to PlayStation, it would not only be a historic first in the franchise, but a major loss to PlayStation. The previous game in the franchise, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, sold over 60 million copies in its run since 2016.
Sony has options. Larian Studio’s RPG Baldur’s Gate 3 made a major splash when it was released this year, garnering staggeringly high ratings across the board. As an RPG-focused studio, Larian Studios could create solid competition for Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls franchise. Larian Studios is also a significantly smaller studio, which makes them a pretty considerable investment compared to Bethesda, which was bought by Microsoft for $7.5 billion in 2021. Sony also nailed Baldur’s Gate 3 as a timed exclusive on PlayStation 5, meaning it will stay a console exclusive for a little while. Score one point for the blue team.
Perhaps Jim Ryan, CEO of Sony Interactive Entertainment stepping down will bring a needed change to the PlayStation landscape. It’s part of the reason many are cheering on his departure from the company. As hopeful I am, it might be time for Sony to take the gloves off and step into the ring to keep their position as the king of ninth-generation consoles.