After Months of Negative PlayStation Headlines, Should Fans Be Worried?

If console manufacturers ever competed for ‘most negative headlines’, then the trophy would be passed around like a damn baton. Xbox had their fair share with the Xbox One, Nintendo and their strangely rigid pricing get plenty and recently, PlayStation have had… well, quite a lot. After what was in all reality a stellar generation with the PS4, it would’ve been quite hard for PlayStation to put a foot wrong, yet it seems they’ve lost their knack for dancing. 

Late last week I put out a “Six Games That Should Get A Remake Instead of The Last of Us”, dedicated to the news that the 2013 Naughty Dog survival horror is reportedly getting a remake. I added a note at the end that promised a more in depth response to Jason Schrier’s recent Bloomberg article about PlayStation’s ongoing fascination with developing blockbusters and nothing else – even at the cost of potentially huge sequels like Days Gone 2. This is that article, so strap in for what is likely to be thousands of words (5500, now I’ve finished it). Only instead of focusing only on Jason’s article, I’ve decided to write a commentary on what feels like months of negative PlayStation news. This type of long form content takes a lot of time to research and write up, so if you do enjoy, please let us know!

£70 Game Prices and MLB The Show Going To Xbox

First was the announcement that almost all of their first party games would be released at £70 – the highest price for a base video game ever. Well, £69.99, but you get the point. This is a clear £10 jump over the price of most games at the time. 

Don’t get me wrong, the price of AAA video games were going to go up eventually. They’ve barely seen anything more than a small price hike this side of 2010, and the required budget is rising nearly exponentially. Venturebeat, in regards to Red Dead Redemption 2, estimated that the mammoth Rockstar western cost around $170 million to develop and release. This is only a smidgen less than Transformers: Dark of the Moon cost to produce, at $180 million. For context, that film was the fifth highest grossing movie of all time when it released in 2011, reportedly grossing $1.1 billion worldwide. 

In fairness, Red Dead Redemption 2 is a video game that is almost incomparable to most before it (or even after). It’s a landmark achievement in video games and, by no coincidence, is the most expensive video game ever made. But with the continuing expectation of AAA games, and examples like PlayStation’s very own God of War and The Last of Us Part 2 leading the charge in terms of production quality and innovation, the price and pressure ramps up.

The prices of video games essentially devolved into a game of chicken. I have no doubt that we’ll see more and more third party developers and publishers, maybe even Nintendo and Xbox, lean into the £70 pricing, but someone had to be first. PlayStation took that shot, and have been shafted for it throughout general media and with good reason. Destruction AllStars, a game I reviewed at a disappointing 65/100, arrived with an RRP of £70. Of course, the developers (or PlayStation) back tracked behind the scenes. The game launched onto PS+, becoming free for all subscribers. When the game left the service, it was dropped to £17.99 to purchase. Call me cynical, but it certainly feels like someone realised they’d screwed up the pricing there. 

Likewise the upcoming Roguelite/ ARPG Returnal, developed by Housemarque exclusively for PlayStation, is releasing at £70. A common slice of ammunition for the Twitter console warriors, this promising title also looks to be overpriced. Housemarque have a long history of releasing exclusively onto PlayStation consoles, with their last Xbox game coming in 2012; Angry Birds Trilogy. Most of their games have been smaller titles, and Returnal seems to be their first big budget experience and has been the prime game chosen for extensive pre-release coverage. 

In another vein, MLB The Show is a franchise long released solely onto PlayStation consoles. It’s also the only MLB game on the market, as of 2014, giving PlayStation a huge sports exclusive; a rare thing these days. Until now anyway. In a huge slice of gaming news, MLB The Show 21 released onto Xbox Game Pass day and date. I’m sure you can see where this is going. Xbox Game Pass, at it’s entry level price, costs £7.99 a month and gives the user access to over 300 titles of varying quality and notoriety. In short, MLB The Show 21 is £69.99 on PlayStation, and comes with Game Pass with no extra charge on Xbox. 

Unsurprisingly, a PlayStation representative said this to Inverse:

“As part of the goal for this year’s game, MLB decided to bring the franchise to more players and baseball fans,” a PlayStation representative tells Inverse. “This decision provides a unique opportunity to further establish MLB The Show as the premier brand for baseball video games.”

Shocker, the decision to release one of their exclusives onto Xbox wasn’t PlayStation’s decision. Who woulda thunk it. Unsurprisingly, for those that own both consoles, the choice is easy; play it on Xbox and save £70. Quite how big of a hit it is is uncertain, as I can’t seem to locate concrete sales figures for any of the recent MLB titles, but given how popular baseball is in America it doesn’t seem unreasonable to contribute at least a few million unit sales to the series. 

But, like I said, the pricing scheme isn’t necessarily PlayStation’s fault. Their suite of first party studios aren’t exactly strangers to making high quality, and high cost, AAA games. 2020’s Last of Us Part 2, a game I gave our site’s highest review score of 98/100 to, has been estimated to cost in the region of $100 million to produce. Cory Barlog, famed God of War 2018 director, even weighed in on the rumored game price increases before they were confirmed, saying on Twitter that:

I think, when you consider the various viewpoints, PlayStation arguably doesn’t deserve the stick they’re currently getting for the increased prices of AAA games. It was going to happen eventually, it was inevitable in the grand scheme of things. When Nintendo’s landmark exclusive Breath of The Wild is still £59.99 after four years, there’s bigger things to worry about if I’m honest. PlayStation just lost the game of chicken, perhaps in relation to the ever-increasing production quality of their video games and the long line of exclusives on the horizon like Horizon: Forbidden West and the much anticipated God of War sequel. I think that there’s a degree of ignorance in not thinking that Xbox or Nintendo would do it if they thought they could get away with it, or even that they won’t do it in the coming years.

But, in the same breath, do I want to pay £70 for Returnal? A game that looks to offer more or the less the same experience as Hades or Dead Cells? Not particularly. I’m not an idiot, I know that Returnal will cost more to make. It’s graphically and technically superior, runs on more demanding hardware, and has more complex gameplay (along with advanced animations, motion capture, and also featuring full acting performances), but it’s still a game that comes across like a Vanquish inspired AA production; even if that’s not the case. Until other developers and publishers brave that next step in video game pricing, PlayStation will continue to get ripped apart for the new costs, deserved or not. That is, until the AAA first party games people want arrive on the scene. Then I suspect they won’t care.

The Shutdown of Japan Studio, and Staff Departures

Back on the 25th February, VGC got a hold of a source that told them that PlayStation was closing down it’s long-standing (in fact, it’s oldest) first party developer; Japan Studio. 

Japan Studio has a long and storied history with PlayStation. It’s the studio that PlayStation started with, as it was formed in 1993, and the first PlayStation console released in 1994. In the 28 years of their existence, Japan Studio developed or had a hand in around 350 games across six different consoles for PlayStation. They were involved in or solely responsible for highly regarded titles and franchises such as Ico, Ape Escape, Everybody’s Golf, Demon’s Souls (2007), Wild Arms, Knack, Shadow of the Colossus, LocoRoco, The Last Guardian, and Gravity Rush. 

In fact, in a fact that is somewhat unknown to most, Japan Studio was heavily involved in the development and production of Bloodborne, a game that is widely regarded as the best that FromSoftware have delivered. In a 2015 video by IGN called “Making Bloodborne: Part 2”, head of external development for Japan Studio, Masami Yamamoto, who has now left Japan Studio, reveals that the initial pitch for Bloodborne came from Japan Studio, not FromSoftware:

“We started this project because we had been hoping to create a new game with Miyazaki-san and FromSoftware since the success of Demon’s Souls and other regions.”

He went on to say that:

“Usually, developers come to us with their ideas to start a new project. Bloodborne was a bit of a special case. As we had a strong desire to work with Miyazaki-san, we brought the idea (of Bloodborne) to FromSoftware.”

Then-president of SIE Worldwide Studio, Shuhei Yoshida, goes on to say that:

“There are lots of, you know, ideas thrown and discussed between the studios, Japan Studio and FromSoftware, but when the idea came to me the pitch already had that very dark, darker kind of setup.”

Two credited Bloodborne producers who recently left Japan Studio, worked at Sony not FromSoftware; Masaaki Yamagiwa and Ryo Sogabe.

So Japan Studio has a storied history with PlayStation, and despite delivering a ton of games that could be described as filler, have also had a direct hand in delivering some of the highest regarded games ever made. In response to VGC’s article, Sony gave them a statement that said the following:

“In an effort to further strengthen business operations, SIE can confirm PlayStation Studios JAPAN Studio will be re-organized into a new organization on April 1.  JAPAN Studio will be re-centered to Team ASOBI, the creative team behind Astro’s PLAYROOM, allowing the team to focus on a single vision and build on the popularity of Astro’s PLAYROOM.  

“In addition, the roles of external production, software localization, and IP management of JAPAN Studio titles will be concentrated within the global functions of PlayStation Studios.”

According to VGC:

“People with knowledge of the matter told VGC that Sony Japan Studio simply hasn’t been profitable enough in recent years; the developer wanted to create games that appealed to the Japanese market first with hopes of having global appeal, while PlayStation wants the kind of global hits that its other first-party studios produce.”

We’ll come back around to the “global hits” narrative a bit later when we circle back to Jason’s article. 

In essence, it seems that PlayStation no longer saw the need for Japan Studio to exist the way it had done up until then. Outside of hits like Shadow of the Colossus, Bloodborne, and Gravity Rush, the studio pumped out or assisted in the development of hundreds of games that weren’t hugely popular outside of Japan and niche markets, and probably can’t be considered AAA. Some, like Ape Escape or LocoRoco, developed some level of western success sparking sequels and spin-offs. Others, like White Knight Chronicles, would get barely any western coverage at all outside of reviews, and weren’t critically well received at all. 

Thing is, while the closure of Japan Studio might make sense in terms of business, there’s been a wave of top tier staff leaving PlayStation as a result. As I mentioned above Masaaki Yamagiwa and Ryo Sogabe, producers of Bloodborne, both announced their departure. Keiichiro Toyama, creator of Silent Hill and Gravity Rush, has left and created a new group called Bokeh Game Studio.

Toyama was quickly joined by Gravity Rush designer Junya Okura, and Kazunobu Sato; producer on The Last Guardian. Many of these departures could well be inspired by the general lack of hits coming from Japan Studio, but it’s also been theorised that continued focus on creating western hits has collapsed Sony’s interest in developing games for its home country, with many outlets citing PlayStations increased focus on blockbuster experiences; a prime example being the 2016 shift of their headquarters to California, instead of Tokyo.

Is this a bad thing? For the average western consumer, no probably not. The shuttering of Japan Studio won’t affect the games that millions are interested in, games like Spider-Man 2, God of War: Ragnarok (or whatever they will be called), Horizon: Forbidden West, and the games coming out of their other studios. Japan Studio likely wouldn’t have put out any blockbusters in the coming years, at least not like Sony would want. 

But there is the question of variety. Shadow of the Colossus and The Last Guardian, both co-developed by Japan Studio, are two of the most beloved games of the last two decades. Bloodborne is a game that simply wouldn’t have happened without Japan Studio’s initial pitches. Cult classics like Ape Escape and Everybody’s Golf wouldn’t have made their way into the world. In a lineup currently dominated by third-person action games, it doesn’t hurt to have the injection of flair and oddity that Japanese game development brings to the table. Let’s do a roundup of games released in recent years for PlayStation:

  • The Last of Us Part 2
  • God of War
  • Spider-Man
  • Spider-Man: Miles Morales
  • Horizon Zero Dawn
  • Final Fantasy 7 Remake
  • Days Gone
  • Death Stranding
  • Ghost of Tsushima
  • Uncharted 4
  • Bloodborne

It’s easy to spot the themes here. Sure, every single one of these games has unique gameplay elements and inspirations. All of them have separate characters, stories, and worlds to explore. But all of them are cinematic, third person epics. The main outliers are Bloodborne and FF7 Remake, and it’s no coincidence that those games are both developed by Japanese studios. FPS series Killzone was killed off months ago, and their only sports franchise is now multi-platform. The next entry in their acclaimed racing series, Gran Turismo, isn’t due till 2022.

By shutting down Japan Studio, PlayStation cut off an extremely creative, if hit and miss arm of their first party content. While it’s easy to justify by saying “their games didn’t make enough money”, it’s still a mighty shame. On the one hand, I don’t blame Sony for this decision. Japan Studio is one of the longest running studios in history, and that had to end eventually. But, despite not playing many of them, it’s a sad day when I won’t see ‘Japan Studio’ on a game’s credits.

Astro’s Playroom, and the Shuttering of PS3, Vita, and PSP Stores.

UPDATE: As of the literal second this went live (sods law am I right), PlayStation have seemingly reversed the decision to halt transactions on the PS3 and Vita store. Here’s what PlayStation had to say:

“Recently, we notified players that PlayStation Store for PS3 and PS Vita devices was planned to end this summer. 

Upon further reflection, however, it’s clear that we made the wrong decision here. So today I’m happy to say that we will be keeping the PlayStation Store operational for PS3 and PS Vita devices. PSP commerce functionality will retire on July 2, 2021 as planned. “

Worth noting that PSP transactions will still become impossible from the original date; July 2nd 2021. Anyway, fuck me and my time, but it’s good news that PlayStation has back tracked on this. Not to mention surprising. Anyway, back to the article.

In a dose of irony, Astro’s Playroom stands as a nod to a version of PlayStation that no longer exists. In a report on March 22nd, Kirk McKeand of TheGamer published an article stating that the PS3, Vita, and PSP stores would be closed down from July. 

Fans rushed to defend PlayStation, claiming that the news was untrue. Sadly, Kirk and TheGamer were proven correct (who knew that verified sources actually worked amirite), when PlayStation announced it themselves a week later. 

The news, given PlayStation’s general disregard for legacy content and backwards compatibility over the years, wasn’t all that surprising. This is the news from PlayStation:

“We are closing PlayStation™Store on PlayStation®3 consoles on 2nd July 2021 and on PlayStation®Vita devices on 27th August 2021. Additionally, the remaining purchase functionality for PSP™ (PlayStation®Portable) will also retire on 2nd July 2021.”

While you can still download and play any games that you’ve purchased through any of the three stores, from the disclosed dates it will be impossible for any future digital purchases to be made. This is a huge blow to any collectors who were slowly making their way through the stores, but it’s also a general disregard to the history of PlayStation. The PS3, despite initially falling short of the Xbox 360, eventually came out on top. Considering games like Infamous, The Last of Us, Uncharted, Demon’s Souls, LittleBigPlanet, God of War 3, and more all released onto the platform, the shuttering of the PS3 store specifically is an odd one. 

In an interesting turn of journalistic insight, Kirk McKeand added to his earlier report with an article focusing on developers of games for the affected platforms. In it, he describes how developers of these games are now rushing to make other versions in order to preserve their creations, or not:

“Developer John Berry spent several years developing Licky the Lucky Lizard Lives Again, a free-to-play, procedurally generated platforming game built exclusively for PS Vita. When the store closes, the title will be lost forever without a new port.

“There are no current plans to port the game to other platforms,” Berry explains. “I’m currently developing a new game, so I’m pretty deep into that at the moment. Maybe at some point in the future, just for the sake of preservation.”

“It’s true that I’m not losing income, but I was pretty angry when I found out about the store closing, to be honest. I don’t understand the logic. Surely if PlayStation’s back-end systems were in good order, there could be a one-time migration/upgrade done to unify all content from all previous generations into one store. This is just the latest example of Sony’s failings when it comes to online infrastructure. Granted – some of that is speculation on my part.”

For other less fortunate developers, sales projections are on the line:

“Elsewhere, people are losing money. Pablo Checa, a developer from Spain, released his first commercial game in September 2020 for PS Vita, Switch, Xbox One, and PS4. While the game – a shmup called Task Force Kampas – will still be purchasable on other platforms, Checa estimates that the loss of Vita will wipe out between 20-40% of projected sales profits. The studio’s next game, El Gancho, was also planned for Vita, but the developer can’t make the deadline and will have to cancel. Others are crunching to beat it.”

For many developers, as outlined in Kirk’s article which you should all read, developing ports for their games for the sake of preservation would take an incredibly long time, in part down to PlayStation’s frustrating infrastructure, and in part due to other development commitments. Video game preservation is no joke, and while no company is currently doing things perfectly, PlayStation is no doubt the stick in the mud. 

Things like this don’t directly affect me. I rarely play older games, and specifically I never owned a PS3, Vita, OR PSP, believe it or not. But our other writer Kyle relishes older experiences across a variety of platforms, as do many others. 

Part of PlayStation’s success throughout the PS4 era comes from the lessons learnt during the PS3 and PSP/ Vita generation. In fact, to cycle back to Astro’s Playroom, the pre-installed PS5 3D platformer from Team Asobi now stands as one of the only real callbacks to that legacy. 

In the very first level of Astro’s Playroom, Gusty Gateway, the first reference to legacy PlayStation is one that few will recognise immediately. Credit to IGN for these examples

Early in the area, you’ll find a Bot running around with flower petals following him, and he has a flower bud up on his head. This is a direct reference to the critically acclaimed Flower for the PS3. Initially released on the PS3 and Vita, this was the game that made thatgamecompany’s reputation soar, quickly followed by Journey – a game that many would call one of the best. 

Had it not been for the PS4 port, Flower would no longer be purchasable digitally anywhere.  

The next reference is that of Ape Escape, the series developed by Japan Studio; now shuttered and the franchise presumed dormant/ dead. This is quickly followed by a reference to Tearaway, a game made by Media Molecule in 2012. Had it not been for a 2015 port, this game would also be inaccessible as it was only initially released on the unsuccessful Vita. 

Astro’s Playroom has been widely praised by myself and many others for its clear respect and appreciation for the history of PlayStation, a history that left a mark on many people’s childhood or even adulthood. But, in a feat of true irony, it also shows a respect that PlayStation themselves don’t seem to harbour. Whether it’s Flower, Ape Escape, Tearaway, Siren, Gravity Rush, PAIN, Resistance: Fall of Man, LittleBigPlanet, LocoRoco, or more besides. Astro’s Playroom pays dozens of tributes to PS3, PSP, and Vita games throughout the experience. 

It’s probably a coincidence that most of the chosen references from these platforms received some kind of PS4 port over the years, as they’re obviously some of the most popular games in question. The two facts are related. But while there’s these games that have been immortalised, for now, courtesy of the PS4, there are hundreds or thousands of other games across these platforms that will be lost forever – seemingly only for financial reasons. Many of these games won’t have physical releases for collectors, meaning that aside from piracy and then emulators, these games will just… cease to exist. 

I’m no businessman, that much is clear. But I hold a huge respect for video games as an artform, and thousands of artists are about to have a portion of their legacy just… deleted. PlayStation obviously don’t want to maintain these stores any longer, but by simply removing access to the stores, they’re preventing indie developers everywhere from accessing perfectly viable storefronts. Let alone the developers now left in limbo. 

Jason Schrier’s Article, Days Gone, and PlayStation’s Obsession With Blockbusters

Now, to address the main inspiration for this essay. As I mentioned in my Remake article last week, Jason Schrier did what he does best and published an excellent piece on the current culture at PlayStation, their focus on blockbusters, and their misuse of Bend and rejection of a Days Gone 2 sequel.

Sony is home to a group called “Visual Arts Service Group”. This company has a long history of assisting with PlayStation first parties. As Jason puts it: 

“The San Diego-based operation helps finish off games designed at other Sony-owned studios with animation, art or other content and development.”

According to Jason, the group decided they wanted more agency in it’s creative decisions, such as leading game direction instead of just assisting on other projects. To help achieve this, director Michael Mumbauer hired around 30 developers in order to form a new team. Jason claims that:

“The idea was to expand upon some of the company’s most successful franchises and the team began working on a remake of the 2013 hit The Last of Us for the PlayStation 5.”

Now, I’ve already offered an opinion on a Last of Us Remake. The short answer is that I don’t need it, but I would almost certainly play it and enjoy it. However I also think such a project is a shame when there’s likely so many unexplored ideas out there, and other PlayStation games that could use a remake. Financially, such a project would make a lot of sense, but it seems Sony didn’t agree:

“But 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, according to people involved. The studio never even got its own name. Instead, Sony moved ownership of the The Last of Us remake to its original creator, Naughty Dog, a Sony-owned studio behind many of the company’s best-selling games and an HBO television series in development.”

As a result of the lack of care by Sony, and the restriction placed on creative control, Michael Mumbauer and most of the other leads have left, according to Jason. All of this is written by Jason in order to demonstrate a growing idea that PlayStation are less willing to take risks than they were before – arguably the risks that have led them to the market dominance they currently hold. 

As Jason points out in the article, more and more focus has been put on the blockbuster studios at PlayStation. In fact, since 2015, most of PlayStation’s notable exclusives have come from the ‘big three’ of Insomniac, Naughty Dog, and Sony Santa Monica. The increased focus on games like The Last of Us Part 2, Spider-Man, Ratchet & Clank, God of War, and other titles like Horizon and Ghost of Tsushima mark a focus on the ‘sure thing’.

I’ve already discussed the closing of Japan Studio today, and that is the clear pointer that PlayStation no longer cares about funding the small first party experiences. The less obvious but still popular games like Everybody’s Golf and Gravity Rush. This is all echoed within Jason’s article, and it leads to the current hot topic; Days Gone.

Days Gone was a much anticipated game in the run up to its 2019 launch. Developed by Sony Bend, previously best known for classic franchise Syphon Filter, this open world post apocalyptic zombie game landed with less of a standing ovation than PlayStation fans had come to expect. Riddled with technical issues, and a pondering plot and world that left the game too long for many people’s tastes, it’s something of an outlier amongst the rest of Sony’s first party portfolio. 

Sitting at a still respectable 71/100 on Metacritic, Days Gone was nonetheless successful; sitting at 19th on 2019’s best sellers list according to an article at Push Square, behind mammoth titles like Jedi: Fallen Order, Pokemon Sword and Shield, Modern Warfare, Borderlands 3, and FIFA. But, despite good sales and a surprising amount of fan love (seriously, I predict that Days Gone will be ‘cult classic’ status in a decade), PlayStation rejected a sequel pitch. As Jason Schreir writes:

“Oregon-based Sony Bend, best known for the 2019 open-world action game Days Gone, tried unsuccessfully to pitch a sequel that year, according to people familiar with the proposal. Although the first game had been profitable, its development had been lengthy and critical reception was mixed, so a Days Gone 2 wasn’t seen as a viable option.”

This strikes me as a strange one. To be perfectly transparent, I haven’t played Days Gone. This website wasn’t a thing when it was released, and I had no reason to play a game that I didn’t want to/ need to, like I might do now for reviews. But, despite all of the reported issues with the game, it did well. It built a dedicated fan base, so much so that over 40,000 people have now signed a petition to get a sequel greenlit

It doesn’t make much sense to me, a business outsider, that a sequel pitch wouldn’t get at least a development run-out, even if it didn’t make it to the final product. If a game makes a profit, and there’s a market for it, what’s the problem? Well, as Jason outlines, it comes down to PlayStation’s growing focus on the sure thing; the guaranteed win:

“Just when it hoped to enter production on the remake of The Last of Us, Mumbauer’s team got called in to help when another big game fell behind. Release of The Last of Us Part II had been pushed to 2020 from 2019 and Naughty Dog needed the Visual Arts Service Group to polish it off. Most of Mumbauer’s team, along with some of the 200 or so other staff at the Visual Arts Service Group, was assigned to support Naughty Dog, slowing down progress on its own game.”

“Then, the roles got reversed. Sony sent word that after the completion of The Last of Us Part II, some people from Naughty Dog would help out with T1X. Mumbauer’s team saw this as their short-lived autonomy being stripped. Dozens of Naughty Dog staff were joining the project, and some had actually worked on the original The Last of Us, giving them more weight in discussions about T1X’s direction.”

So, to summarise, not only did PlayStation pull the team in charge of The Last of Us Remake away to work on the upcoming sequel, they then assigned members of the original team to the project, further strengthening the idea that Naughty Dog were given special treatment, further removing agency from Mumbauer’s team. In addition:

“The game was moved under Naughty Dog’s budget, which Sony gave more leeway than the Visual Arts Service Group. Soon it was apparent that Naughty Dog was in charge, and the dynamics returned to what they had been for the last decade and a half: The Visual Arts Support Group aiding another team of developers rather than leading.”

Jason goes on to mention how the group previously in charge of The Last of Us Remake is now ‘jokingly’ referred to as “Naughty Dog South”; a further insult to the hopeful nature of the group’s original goal of creative autonomy. Following the needless reshuffles and shifts to Naughty Dog’s control, the top staff at T1X reportedly left and the situation now remains as it always did; Sony’s Visual Arts Group is now supporting. 

Naughty Dog has, over the last decade, cemented itself as PlayStation’s premier first party studio. While Insomniac, Guerrilla, and Suckerpunch were focusing on original IPs with Spider-Man, Horizon, and Ghost of Tsushima respectively, Naughty Dog were busy furthering their portfolio with new additions to the Uncharted franchise, with Uncharted 4 and Lost Legacy; both tremendous games in their own right. Not only that, but they went to work on The Last of Us Part 2 which, any grievances with the story or writing aside, is at the forefront of technical achievements within video games.  

But the increasing focus on these blockbuster studios is coming at the detriment of the smaller, more niche content. Japan Studio has been all but deleted, leaving only Asobi Team standing; presumably to work on more Astro Bot games. Sony Bend has undergone a tumultuous time at Sony following the rejected Days Gone 2 pitch, as described by Jason:

“One team at the studio was assigned to help Naughty Dog with a multiplayer game while a second group was assigned to work on a new Uncharted game with supervision from Naughty Dog. Some staff, including top leads, were unhappy with this arrangement and left. Bend’s developers feared they might be absorbed into Naughty Dog, and the studio’s leadership asked to be taken off the Uncharted project. They got their wish last month and are now working on a new game of their own that will be part of a brand new franchise.”

To further clarify the overall theme of today, most of the games on the horizon for PlayStation are sequels or entries into already established and successful IPs. God of War has a sequel still slated for 2021, although that’s looking like a prime candidate for a delay. Insomniac has a new Ratchet & Clank game on the way, and are working on Spider-Man 2. Guerilla are working on Horizon: Forbidden West. Naughty Dog are currently confirmed to be working on a Last of Us Part 2 multiplayer game/ mode, presumably Factions, and also The Last of Us Remake. 

It’s worth mentioning that Bend are currently working on a new IP as mentioned, and Naughty Dog have been advertising for a  single player game, but the latter could be in regards to the remake. While I’m 100% sure that the next slate of AAA blockbusters from PlayStation’s camp will be excellent, I’m also extremely concerned that the increasing focus on these experiences, and guaranteed winners, is hampering the variety that PlayStation were once famous for. 

I’d like to pretend that a standard PlayStation fan hasn’t got anything to worry about right now. Third party partnerships are still going strong for instance. Deathloop and Ghostwire Tokyo, both Bethesda games, are still coming down the line. Returnal is of course a third party exclusive by Housemarque, and both Bugsnax and The Pathless were cool new indie IPs that found themselves as PlayStation console launch exclusives. Along with this, the PS5 is reportedly the fastest selling console of all time, and I still think the DuelSense is the best stock controller ever made.

But it seems PlayStation has a growing disregard for anything other than the ‘sure thing AAA’, and isn’t willing to put any faith into something like Days Gone as a franchise. Their focus on Japan focused games has all but disappeared with the shuttering of Japan Studio. They’ve yet to come up with a viable answer to Game Pass, which has resulted in a dangerous comparison in MLB The Show 21 and growing discontent in regard to their game prices. 

It’s obviously not having an effect on their bottom line, with the PS5 selling out as fast as it arrives, but their reputation? Almost certainly. While PlayStation aren’t steering away from indies and original IPs in general, their first party output certainly seems that way. So do fans need to be worried? Well, I suppose that depends on where your priorities lie.

This was a mighty long read, so kudos to anyone who made it to the end! Do you have any opinions? Let us know in the comments below! Feel free to give us a shout on our Twitter or Facebook, and until next time, have a fantastic week!

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