Sammy just isn’t seeing it

Image: Returnal; PS5 Exclusive; Credit: Sony

by Sammy Barker, Push Square

The next three PlayStation 5 exclusives on Sony’s first-party docket are MLB The Show 21Returnal, and Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart – a baseball simulation, a bullet hell roguelike, and the long-awaited successor to Insomniac Games’ mascot platformer property. The previous three, in case you’re curious, were Destruction AllStarsSackboy: A Big Adventure, and Demon’s Souls – the latter two were launch titles alongside Astro’s Playroom and, yes, Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales. Before that? Ghost of Tsushima.

I’m sorry, but this emerging narrative that Sony is obsessed with only the biggest of its brands does not align with reality – at least not right now, anyway.

I’ve read Jason Schreier’s excellent Bloomberg report on the current status of PlayStation’s first-party, and I think it’s important I stress from the outset that I respect his work enormously. He’s an honest and excellent journalist, and I’m not for one second disclaiming a sentence of his report – I believe implicitly that there are employees at Sony, both past and present, who are disgruntled with occurrences unfolding internally.

Image: Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart; PS5 Exclusive; Credit: Sony

But while it’d be easy for me to jump aboard the outrage wagon and launch loaded expletives in the direction of Geordie gaffer Jim Ryan, I think it’s important we take a more measured look at what’s actually going on. Personally, I’m not sure how you could accuse a company that spent almost an entire generation developing Dreams as being risk-averse and focused entirely on blockbusters – and Schreier’s article even references it, alleging that the firm failed to put any marketing muscle behind it.

Be that as it may, the game still exists, has won countless awards, and, according to developer Media Molecule, will continue to be expanded on. Meanwhile, the article also reveals that Sony Bend – after some turbulence, clearly – has now been given the go ahead to make something original; London Studio is staffing up for a “brand new, next-gen IP”; Santa Monica hasn’t been shy about recruitment for its next project, outside of God of War Ragnarok.

Now it may well be that all of these franchises are juggernaut titles, thus perhaps confirming the idea that Sony is “obsessed with blockbusters”. But from what we know so far it sounds like many of them are new IP – would anyone describe, say, Ghost of Tsushima as risk-averse? Because obviously this was a blockbuster in the richest sense of the word, but I personally wouldn’t describe it as safe.

Image: Demon’s Souls; PS5 Exclusive; Credit: Sony

Ever since the Bloomberg article was published, I’ve noticed there’s a narrative online that Sony is abandoning the diversity of its portfolio, but that’s just not what I’m seeing in reality. I understand that cinematic sandboxes may not be to your personal tastes, but to suggest that every game PlayStation publishes fits that blueprint is a gross misrepresentation of the types of titles the company’s releasing.

The announcement of a next-gen PSVR headset also feels at odds with the picture being painted. Virtual reality is an exciting technology, but it’s still a fledgling industry, and it demands original software support in order to succeed. You could describe a title like, say, Blood & Truth as a “traditional” blockbuster, I suppose – but again, this would be reductive, as it ignores all of the innovations that the Lockstock-style shooter had to invent in order to work.

I understand that the Bloomberg article is focused on the people rather than the projects: it’s arguing that PlayStation is bleeding talent as a result of its focus on juggernaut software. And there’s no question we’ve seen evidence of that, most recently at Japan Studio. But while, as I’ve written previously, the studio’s output did diversify PlayStation’s portfolio – be honest with yourself and tell me how many copies of the No Heroes Allowed franchise you purchased.

Image: Destruction Allstars; PS5 Exclusive; Credit: Sony

The thing is, even if it’s true that franchises like Gravity Rush have been canned, that doesn’t make a title like Returnal any less of a bold bet – it may not be to your tastes, but it just doesn’t. I understand that PlayStation’s ethos is built on the likes of Vib-Ribbon and PaRappa the Rapper, but the dynamics of the industry have changed, and I feel like the existence of Stray and Bugsnax have supplanted the need for first-party productions of this nature.

Is it a shame? It is – but I’m still not seeing this emphasis on risk-averse first-party productions that are being touted. Perhaps a future awaits for PS5 where it’s all Uncharted and God of War and The Last of Us for the next five years. But do you honestly believe that’s what the platform holder’s portfolio is truly going to look like? I don’t – perhaps my faith is unwarranted, but looking at the next-gen console’s current slate of software, I’m seeing what I’ve always seen: a compelling mix of original and old IP spanning a range of different budgets and genres.

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