Quarter one of 2017 has been pretty good for first party exclusive console games, particularly from Sony but also for Nintendo if you count one incredible game. In the midst of this I’ve also heard a lot of talk that one reason Microsoft is behind Sony in console sales is because its lineup of exclusives is weaker. What’s interesting is if you look at the first party lineups of each console manufacturer you see different strategies or a preference for games with different kinds of business models.
Horizon: Zero Dawn is just the latest in an impressive line of PS4-only games coming out this quarter, both from Sony and third party developers: Gravity Rush 2, Yakuza 0, Ni-Oh, and in April Persona 5. Look back or look at the tent poles of the PS4’s release lineup and you see Uncharted, The Last of Us, Days Gone, Detroid: Become Human, God of War, and a lot more. The common thread I see in almost all the games Sony publishes is that they are primarily centered around singleplayer stories. The same is true for many of the Japanese third party games only coming to PS4 like Persona and Yakuza.
It’s as if Sony is selling the PS4 on story-driven games which goes directly against the current wave of “games as a service”or “live games.” Basically all of Ubisoft’s main games now like Rainbow Six: Siege, Ghost Recon: Wildlands, The Division, and For Honor are being billed as persistent online services that people keep playing and buying content in for years. Destiny, Grand Theft Auto Online, Call of Duty, Overwatch, Final Fantasy XIV, etc., all the biggest third party franchises are doing this, but Sony itself isn’t pushing very hard in that direction. The biggest publishers want you to experience a video game as a place you visit whereas Sony is focusing on games you would enjoy the same way you’d enjoy a book.
Microsoft basically has just three main first party franchises right now: Halo, Gears of War, and Forza. Microsoft has centered all three around multiplayer and online services. Gears of War 4‘s initial release has been followed up by nothing but multiplayer and horde updates, whereas Sony is following up Uncharted 4, despite it having multiplayer, with a story expansion. I think Microsoft is focusing on online and multiplayer with Halo 5’s updates, and Froza goes without saying being a racing game. On the side is also Killer Instinct which Microsoft has pushed as an eSports game with continuous content updates. I think you can put Valve in the same camp if you think of it as the first party manager of Steam: DOTA 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Left 4 Dead, and Team Fortress 2. Whenever Microsoft does go for more story-driven games, it’s through third parties like Crytek (Ryse: Son of Rome), Platinum Games (the cancelled Scalebound), or Keiji Inafune (ReCore).
I think this plays into Microsoft’s strategy of trying to push Xbox as the better overall platform and the better service for all games, as opposed to Sony pushing PlayStation as the only place to find a good selection of exclusive games. This strategy is what has worked for Microsoft in the past when it brought out Xbox Live itself, when it introduced the Xbox 360’s deep operating system functionality, and now as it’s pushing things like Xbox Game Pass and backwards compatibility.
Maybe Microsoft is pushing multiplayer more because the first game that really put it on the map on consoles — Halo: Combat Evolved was big largely due to its multiplayer. Conversely, maybe Sony is pushing games-as-art so much because one of the first games that really put PlayStation on the map was Final Fantasy VII — a game that introduced many PlayStation fans to the idea that video games could tell big stories.
I’ve noticed some degree of disappointment coming from gamers towards Microsoft and Valve for the same reason: neither is focusing very much on singleplayer games. Microsoft will at least put a campaign in Gears and Halo, but after that it’s all about multiplayer expansions and microtransactions. Valve isn’t even bothering with story modes anymore. People may not like it, but I imagine it probably makes more business sense. There has to be a reason the biggest third party publishers are all embracing “live games” or “service games.” I don’t have sales numbers right next to me to back this up but I have a feeling a huge chunk of the mainstream console user base just buys a GTA game, a sports game, or a shooter every year and just keeps playing that for a very long time. The people who care so much about games as stories are outspoken, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were in the minority money-wise.
To be honest I find myself wondering why Sony doesn’t push more “service games.” Sony bankrolled Street Fighter V but hasn’t done much else in this regard. It’s not like it has to give up its Uncharteds or Horizons to do so. It can just diversify. Sony even has first party sports games in its stable. Why doesn’t it try to get more long-term player retention or monetization out of MLB: The Show and Hot Shots Golf? Maybe Sony is content to let Desitny, Overwatch, or GTA Online do their thing while selling the most copies on PS4.
The one massive exception in Sony’s first party strategy is of course its largest franchise sales-wise: Gran Turismo. I haven’t kept up much on the news surrounding the upcoming Gran Turismo Sport but it seems to me that instead of a full-blown entry in the franchise it’s going to be more of an online community for racers. It’s easy to imagine GT Sport turning into some kind of persistent online racing game that continues accruing players and adding updates for years, maybe even continuing into the PlayStation 5.
Oddly, Sony doesn’t even have a “main” online shooter. KillZone has faded off and I don’t think people hold Uncharted multiplayer in the same regard as Overwatch, Call of Duty, Halo, and Gears. For a while now I’ve been thinking the perfect franchise for this which Sony already has is SOCOM. Looking back Sony actually had a lot of online shooters on the PS3: Warhawk, SOCOM Confrontation, MAG, and others, but it isn’t focusing as much on them now, or at least not pushing them the way Ubisoft or Microsoft have been. I think it might be a good idea if Sony made another SOCOM and applied to it the business model of Siege or Global Offensive. Those two games have proven that tactical shooters can be very healthy persistent multiplayer games.
And then you have Nintendo which, oddly enough, has a pretty balanced mix of both aforementioned types of games in its firs party stable. It’s got the main Mario games, main Zelda games, and the side scrolling platformers like Donkey Kong or Yoshi on one end covering singleplayer games. On the other end Nintendo has also really pushed the service approach and even eSports with Splatoon, Super Smash Bros., Mario Kart, and Super Mario Maker. Everybody already knows Nintendo’s first party lineup has always been the strongest and most prolific, but how many ever point out that it also might be the most diverse?
- We still don’t know where that “S” symbol came from. You know the one… https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/the-internet-tried-hard-to-solve-the-mystery-of-the-s
- A slight warning when reading articles about those seven planets we found: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/lovely-well-meant-fiction-of-seven-new-planets-illustrated/2017/03/05/0b4d7f84-ffd9-11e6-99b4-9e613afeb09f_story.html?utm_term=.d73f395c1785