Opinion: The Future of Sony’s First Party Studios

Ever since the PlayStation 4 launched back in 2013, the system has been lacking in quality, first-party exclusives. For a console that’s otherwise pretty damned great, this has been one of its biggest issues. It’s pretty clear that Sony is now focusing more heavily on second-party exclusives, and third-party partnerships. Evolution Studios, the developer behind the Motorstorm series and DriveClub, is the latest victim of this. It has officially been shut down, and it joins the likes of Zipper Interactive (SOCOM) and Studio Liverpool (Wipeout) in the rubble. Will this new strategy pay off for Sony in the long run, or is the company making a mistake in slowly abandoning its impressive first-party heritage?

Opinion: The Future of Sony's First Party Studios

It’s a complicated question with some equally complicated answers. Activision’s Destiny has always been marketed for the PS4, and people often forget that the game is a multiplatform title. It’s the same case for other triple-A games like Star Wars: Battlefront. The marketing for both titles leans heavily towards Sony’s console. Meanwhile, the company did not release a single triple-A first-party exclusive in 2015. Instead, some of PS4’s major titles were Bloodborne, Until Dawn, and Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection—all second-party exclusives. This means the developers behind these titles aren’t actually owned by Sony.

Sony-owned studios like Santa Monica, Sony Bend, and Team Ico haven’t released a game for several years now. It’s been over decade since Team Ico’s last project, Shadow of the Colossus, came out for PlayStation 2. And for the studios that have recently released a PS4 game, they’ve largely failed to meet people’s expectations. Sucker Punch’s InFamous: Second Son pales in comparison to both InFamous 1 and 2; Killzone: Shadow Fall is a typical, boring, first-person shooter that’s easy on the eyes; and DriveClub was delayed a whole year only to have a truly awful launch.

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PS4’s most successful games haven’t been first-party. The aforementioned Destiny, Battlefront, and Bloodborne are just some examples. However, this method has been paying off commercially for nearly three years now. PS4 leads sales with nearly 40 million units sold, nearly double the amount of its major competitor, the Xbox One, which has a little over 20 million units out in the wild.

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Sony used to release an exclusive nearly every three months for PlayStation 3, but the payoff just wasn’t good enough. Remember games like Puppeteer and Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus? Puppeteer only sold over 250,000 units, while Into the Nexus barely hit 700,000 units sold. So, isn’t Sony’s new strategy to double-down on second and third-party partnerships a great thing? Isn’t it smart to continue doing what works and avoiding what doesn’t? Well, sure, but the company needs to be careful here. By slowly shutting down these studios, and letting all that talent dissipate into the ranks of the competition, Sony will be creating a worst-case scenario for itself. What happens when PlayStation 4 sales inevitably start to slow down? What will happen when these talented individuals start forming their own indie studios or joining Sony’s rivals to work on projects that could’ve been exclusive to their console?

PlayStation’s proud and cherished history in the game industry is only second to Nintendo. From Crash Bandicoot and Jak and Daxter to Nathan Drake and Kratos, it has a wealth of well-known mascots and award-winning franchises. It’ll be a shame to see this slowly crumbling.

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Plus, let’s not forget how and why Sony and its PS4 have enjoyed success up to this point. The system’s first press conference back in February 2013 was aimed directly at the hardcore gamer. This system has always been marketed as a gaming machine first and foremost, and an entertainment device second. The PlayStation faithful have helped make this console the commercial behemoth that it is today. These loyal consumers will be expecting to play high-quality first-party PlayStation titles more and more as time goes on. Moving away from what makes PlayStation so beloved in the first place will be a huge mistake for Sony. This can lead to a loss of identity for the company and its videogame brand, and cause feelings of betrayal in its most loyal fans.