Sony showed off an impressive lineup of games with immersive worlds at the PlayStation Showcase, but it also used familiar sleight of hand that console makers use to puff themselves up. Many are a long way off, and some werenâ€™t even exclusives.
The showcase served its purpose of hyping the games coming for the PlayStation 5 and PlayStation 4 consoles. But, as always, the best things that Sony announced either donâ€™t have launch dates or are coming a long time from now. And two of the games that it touted, Rockstar Gamesâ€™ Grand Theft Auto V and Grand Theft Auto Online, actually arrived with some bad news. Those games wonâ€™t come out on the PS5 and the Xbox Series X/S until March, about four months behind schedule.
Of course, brilliant games take longer to make and more games are getting pushed back in the pandemic for all game companies. And we should not forget Sony had a wonderful exclusive in June with Ratchet & Clank. Perhaps Sonyâ€™s most painful delay, which it announced August 25, was pushing Horizon: Forbidden Wes to February 2022. That means its major 2021 exclusive will miss the holiday window.
And that hurts, since Sony faces some tough competition during this holiday season. The biggest troublemaker in that pack of games is Halo: Infinite, the next big Master Chief title from Microsoft and 343 Industries coming December 8. Microsoft also has Age of Empires 4 coming on October 28 and Forza Horizon 5 on November 9. These will help Microsoft capture its core fan base in the holidays and cement its lead in subscriptions with Xbox Game Pass, which is a real threat to Sony.
Against those, Sony is launching Deathloop (PC and PS5 on September 14). Itâ€™s one of the last Sony exclusives from Bethesda, as Microsoft now owns that studio. Also coming are Kena: Bridge of Spirits on September 21 (PC and PlayStation consoles) and Death Stranding: Directorâ€™s Cut on September 24.
A holding action
Image Credit: Sony
I guess you can think of the showcase itself as a kind of holding action. While weâ€™re in the middle of a delicious fall season of games, not many of them are Sony exclusives.
In some ways, PlayStation chief Jim Ryan played a familiar hand. Without many exclusives to show off for this season, he showed off games that are bound to get fans excited, even if they are coming years from now. Those teaser trailers may be enough to keep Sony fans from defecting to other platforms.
Ryan also did something smart in buying a different kind of exclusive. At the start of the show, Sony announced that Aspyr is doing a remake of a fan favorite, Knights of the Old Republic, as a timed exclusive for Sony. Thatâ€™s good marketing at a time when the biggest exclusives arenâ€™t ready yet.
The point of first-party exclusives
Image Credit: Sony
Still, I canâ€™t complain about this PlayStation show too much. Sonyâ€™s game studios are still the best at creating games with immersive worlds â€” the kind with single-player campaigns that you can get lost in for dozens of hours. It is holding the line in favor of these expensive games, even though itâ€™s hard to monetize them with microtransactions or live operations. Many game companies are giving up on these titles as too expensive, as Iâ€™ve learned in interviews with former Sony Interactive Entertainment chairman Shawn Layden and many others.
â€œThatâ€™s the dirty little secret of the video game business is that it is a business, after all, and we need to create an audience,â€ Layden said at our GamesBeat Summit event in April. â€œWe need to create a revenue stream and cash flow in order to continue to create new and exciting games for people to play. From a first-party perspective, when youâ€™re winning the console business, and you have a vertically integrated hardware layer and an OS and then the game to go on top of that, itâ€™s super-important to continue to stress the importance of original IP.â€
Itâ€™s good to remember Sonyâ€™s role as a first-party creator of games for its own platform. It has to come up with original games that expand the game market beyond the few hundred million people who buy consoles. Itâ€™s very hard to come up with those games, as they can cost $250 million and take as long as seven years to make. And so sequels are often what companies fall back upon.
God of War: Ragnarok
Image Credit: Sony
Perhaps the most anticipated and impressive game that Sony showed is God of War: Ragnarok, the sequel to 2019â€™s God of War, which won many Game of the Year awards. God of War: Ragnarok got a long trailer reveal for its story and gameplay. But, you guessed it, it had no launch date.
Interestingly, Cory Barlog, the game director for God of War, said he isnâ€™t working on Ragnarok. Instead, Eric Williams is the game director, and Barlog is working on something else. Thatâ€™s tantalizing, and it may mean that Sony may be investing in more than one God of War at the same time. And Ragnarokâ€™s storytelling, acting, and action-adventure gameplay looks impressive. If itâ€™s as good as God of War, this is one of those games that could swing the balance of power in this generation back in Sonyâ€™s direction.
Pluses and minuses
Each game Sony showed had its strengths and weaknesses when it comes to flexing Sonyâ€™s power. It mentioned that Alan Wake Remastered is coming from Remedy Entertainment for the PS5 and PS4, but it had a vague release window (sometime this fall), and itâ€™s going to be on Microsoftâ€™s platforms as well.
Ubisoft showed off Rainbow Six: Extraction, where operators square off against aliens. But it was padding in the event, as itâ€™s not exclusive for Sonyâ€™s platforms. While you can consider the Remedy and Ubisoft games as disappointments for those who want Sony to only have exclusives, some surprises were good.
Image Credit: Sony
Forspoken impressed me. It features a female lead character engaging in magical combat in a fantasy world. The Square Enix and Luminous Productions game features writing from Gary Whitta (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story), Amy Hennig (Uncharted), Allison Rymer, and Todd Stashwick. Thatâ€™s an all-star writing team. Itâ€™s coming on the PS5 and PC in the spring 2022.
One of the surprises is Project Eve, a Bayonetta-style action game that takes place on a ruined Earth. Coming from Shift Up, Project Eve takes place on a ruined Earth and debuts on the PlayStation, Xbox, and PC. It doesnâ€™t have a launch date.
And we saw some tidbits for Naughty Dog fans who are waiting for the next big game from one of Sonyâ€™s most precious studios. Sony unveiled Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection (which combines Uncharted 4: A Thiefâ€™s End and Uncharted: The Lost Legacy), a remaster for the PlayStation 5 and PC.
Image Credit: Sony
Sony also showed a teaser of Marvelâ€™s Wolverine and a new trailer for Eidos Montrealâ€™s Guardians of the Galaxy, but itâ€™s good to remember that Marvel games arenâ€™t always exclusives. Since Insomniac, a Sony studio, is working on Wolverine, we can expect that it will be a PlayStation exclusive with perhaps a PC version. More exciting, at least to me, is Marvelâ€™s Spider-Man 2 from Insomniac. But that game isnâ€™t coming until 2023, which might as well be in the next century.
Bethesda showed off Tango Gameworksâ€™ Ghostwire Tokyo, which looks pretty creepy. But that game slipped, too, itâ€™s coming on the PS5 and PC in the spring 2022. And that will be the very last exclusive for Sony from Bethesda, in my estimation.
Sledgehammer Gamesâ€™ Call of Duty: Vanguard debuts November 5 on PC, PlayStation, and Xbox. But Sony gets a small victory with the first public multiplayer beta on the PlayStation starting today. Next weekend, Xbox and PC players will get to play. Thatâ€™s a very small advantage. But since Call of Duty is consistently the most popular game of the year, Iâ€™m sure Sony will be happy to remind us all of that very small advantage.
And I supposed I have to remember that the console war doesnâ€™t end at the end of this year, just as it didnâ€™t last year. Microsoft may score a lot of holiday purchases, but Sony will have good stuff early next year, including Gran Turismo 7 on March 4. And if I look back exactly one year ago, the shoe was on the other foot. Microsoft had a weak holiday, and Sony was king with the likes of Spider-Man: Miles Morales.
But Iâ€™ll ask Sony a relevant and snooty question. What have you done for me lately?