Disclaimer: I originally wrote this year-in-review prior to the news of the PS4 selling 70.6 million units and announcements made at PSX last night, specifically the MediEvil remake announcement. The MediEvil remake does further my point of Sony capitalizing on nostalgia.
As a longtime fan of PlayStation, it makes sense that I feel warm and fuzzy about the state of the platform this year. Old icons returned from the dead, more might be on the way. New ideas flourish into massive franchises with plenty of potential, with more on the way. I would be remiss without mentioning the sheer quality content coming out. It seems I have very little to complain, but believe it or not, I’m more cautious than ever about how Sony copes with this success. Will they butcher it once more with the PS5? Or will they stick to their guns and continue to deliver excellent games and support fresh platforms for years to come?
Now, I know what some of you might say. “Oi! This journalist said he was a PlayStation fan! This review is BIASED!” Well, to that I say, calm thou weary reader. Being a fan is helpful to provide highly informed and uneducated views, as you can be as critical of a brand as you laud it. With that elephantine disclaimer out of the room, let’s get an idea of how I will approach the review! This review will be segmented into four categories: Games, Strength, Relations, and Future.
Games will be judged by, obviously, the games! This will include exclusive titles (Including PC cross-platform releases like NieR: Automata, as they are exclusively handed out to one additional platform.) It will also include exclusive content. Sony likes to do marketing deals, so it’s good to see how well those deals are executed. Strength is both the sales and how well Sony supports and markets their platforms (PS4, Vita, VR, Pro) and services (Now and Plus). Relations is how well the company communicates with their base. This will include social media usage by prominent members of the company and overall advertises of the platform. Future is self-explanatory. This covers how their new games look, how well the sales forecast looks for the platform, how the future in general looks for the brand, and of course what predictions I have. This should be fun and I hope you enjoy this as much as I do! Enough talk, let’s dig in.
Games: Exclusive-wise, DAMN! Sony’s coming at it hard! Horizon: Zero Dawn, Persona 5, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, Nioh, NieR: Automata, and Gravity Rush 2 offer hundreds upon hundreds of hours of quality content that deserve to be played. On the first-party front, there has been quite a bit of activity. Sony Japan Studio, Guerilla Games, Naughty Dog, Polyphony Digital, and Sony San Diego (that’s a given due to the annual releases of the MLB games) all released titles this year. It helps to have a dozen studios working on games, of course, but it’s great to see some of them deliver. I have little to complain here in terms of exclusives. Gravity Rush 2 was forgotten in a day and GT Sport had an underwhelming launch, but GR2 is still a great game and GTS is getting big updates to improve the game. Oh yeah, and Lord Knack returned. Hallelujah.
Another pleasant surprise is the refreshing breeze of nostalgia. Crash Bandicoot came back from the dead with an excellent remake collection, Wipeout had a great compilation that might fire up a sequel, and Hot Shots Golf had a sweet reboot that nobody seemed to play, unfortunately. With these beloved franchises getting revived, it’s hard to tell if Sony’s catering to the ‘90’s kids or legitimately interested in giving these franchises another chance at success. I feel like it’s mostly capitalizing on nostalgia. They also revived the Jak & Daxter saga on the PS Store but European players are experiencing framerate issues. That’s where I would say it’s weak nostalgia-pandering. Sony clearly didn’t put much effort into it when a big portion of their base can’t play it sans problems. Wipeout and Crash did meet a lot of success and praise though, critics and fans alike. So, it’s hit or miss.
Now, the exclusive-content, ooh boy. Nothing too noteworthy here since the developers really didn’t invest too much time in delivering incentivizing content for non-PS owners. Destiny 2 has a Strike and some weapons. Whoopee. Battlefront II added…nothing to PS4! Call of Duty on PS4 gets map packs slightly earlier than other platforms. Take that, Xbox! Did I want to see incentivizing exclusive content on PS4? Not really. They move consoles with just the bundles and marketing (we’ll get to that later), so I can’t see room for improvement without screwing over consumers. Overall, it’s unnecessary to add some goodies since gamers aren’t going to clamor for an exclusive skin on another platform. However, you can argue that giving PS owners some goodies is more of a thank you to PlayStation owners rather than a tease for non-PS owners, and I’d agree with you.
All in all, Sony did excellently this year on the games front, with minimal issues. Amazing exclusives that compete with the big N and awesome comebacks to beloved franchises give the Games section a 9/10.
Strength: Another strong suit (pun intended, please laugh) for Sony as the PS4 is selling as great as it did before. Drawing in 67.5 million units to stores in Q3 of this year, PS4 could easily break 70 million before years end. I can predict Shawn Layden saying it broke the 70 million milestone. They’ve also reported the strongest Black Friday yet. Yes, bigger than the historic launch year of the PS4. Why does this matter? Well, you have to have people buy your platform if you want to do well and Sony’s sitting quite comfortably in that position. Nothing is particularly weak except for one teeny tiny thing. The Pro.
Already, it looks like Sony’s not paying attention to the Pro anymore. Obviously, it’s selling moderately well, but nowhere near the numbers as the baseline. They say whether or not a game is running on a Pro, but that’s pretty much all screen time the Pro gets. As for Xbox, it looks like the opposite. Microsoft marketing the Xbox One X perfectly. They promised a super powerful and 4K capable console, might not be uncompromised 4K, and they brought it. The X will kill the Pro in my eyes, but that’s not Sony’s top priority. The baseline PS4 will still remain victor. The gap and demand are far too big to surmount in two or three years when the next consoles hit store shelves. The Pro isn’t dead, but it is definitely the third wheel. At least it isn’t stranded on the desert like the Vita.
So, what’s the second wheel? What else could it be? A toaster? No, it’s PSVR and Sony’s pretty excited about it and reasonably so. Thus far, it sits at the top of the VR race with a substantial lead. Sales figures are unknown, however, we can guesstimate it’s PSVR, Rift, and Vive from top to bottom. In the past couple of conferences, Sony is certainly not letting go of VR as the platform takes at least 20 or 30 minutes of stage time. They even hyped up a VR title by “two legends” at PSX this year. Slashing the price left and right, giving consumers a rental service, and providing lots of games shows that Sony really wants you to buy the VR. Now, is this desperation or good marketing? Knowing PSVR’s gaining a more vocal community than Vita owners in a matter of months and the platform’s lofty status as top dog in the VR market, I can safely assume it’s good marketing. They’re not shoving it down your throat, but they are keeping it visible for the remaining skeptics and undecideds out there.
Oh yeah, how’s PS Plus? Very good, actually! We saw plenty of neat deals and free (if you pay) games. I spent quite a bit of money from Plus sales alone and I don’t regret it! Okay, maybe a little. Infamous: Second Son, MGS V: TPP, Life is Strange, Until Dawn, and (my personal surprise) Tales from the Borderlands were all free games this year. They’ve been incentivizing members pretty well this year and I hope they keep it up! How’s PS Now? That’s…that’s a different story. Is it a bad service? Not really. I’ve tried a month of it and I played some neat games I never tried before. They’re adding PS4 games now, but they’re playing it safe. PS Now makes me wish they just invested in a PS3 emulator since they’re totally okay with buying a freaking company for hundreds of millions of dollars. The service works fine and the library is quite sizable and worth the price if you don’t mind occasional latency issues. It just shouldn’t exist.
Let’s talk about marketing. A boring topic, so I’ll be quick with it. They’re sticking to their guns with “Greatness Awaits” in the US and the catchphrase keeps its punch. In the UK and Europe, the marketing remains the same with some differences. In Japan, PS4’s not dead but it’s not kicking either. It just exists. The Japanese are losing interest in home consoles and prefer something more Switch-like, so it’s not problematic to see them lose some of their footing in their homeland, but it is noticeable. You see lots of exposure of the brand online, on billboards, on TV, in magazines, on the train, in the toilet (don’t be surprised when it’s there, they’ve been doing it forever), etc. Marketing is fine. Nothing revolutionary, nothing absent.
PS4’s not slowing down and 2018 looks to be another stellar year for the platform and its buddies. The Pro could’ve had a much better launch looking back on it, but it isn’t a failure. VR seems to have a similar fate, but unrelated to launch problems; it’s just due to the infancy of the concept. The Vita’s on death’s doorstep though due to the monstrous success of the Switch. I’m giving the Strength section a 9/10.
Relations: Sony is a pretty silent company to its fanbase and that extends to their talking heads as well. Unlike Phil Spencer, Shawn Layden seems to stay off of Twitter. Even the community managers (Sid Shuman and Ryan Clements) are fairly quiet, and when they talk it’s mostly to do with personal or political stuff. In front of a camera, the talking heads are fine. I actually like Shawn Layden’s slightly awkward delivery. Sid Shuman can be funny, too. For instance, on the PlayStation Blog podcast, which is also a fun listen, when a social media specialist was talking about her gaming history and she mentions “Xbox” and Shuman responds, “What’s that?”. It’s small moments like those that make me admire these people, but that’s where the main problem lies. They’re small moments.
On occasion you see Layden like a fan’s tweet, the PlayStation account responds to a fan, or you see a giveaway on live.playstation.com. By the way, live.playstation.com is a great idea. I got some codes to games, theme, avatars, and even entries on a cool giveaway. I highly recommend you go there during PlayStation streams as they might do something special. Even Microsoft caught on by releasing Mixer which does the same thing. One time when Crash Bandicoot: The N-Sane Trilogy was coming out, PlayStation held a poll of what level from Warped gamers wanted to see. That’s a cool idea, and it worked out well! They also have a podcast series that I really enjoy that covers the making and the mythology of the upcoming God of War game which you can find on their official website. It is so cool. The stories are interesting and when each episode is released, they also show some new concept art. That’s how you hype up a game.
Do I want the heads of PlayStation to constantly talk to their base on Twitter on a daily basis? Of course not. Besides, this is mainly a U.S. issue as the official UK PlayStation YouTube channel (PlayStation Access) is far better at communication and acts like a gaming YouTube channel. The personalities are friendly and frequent on social media and they even do individual streams. Why don’t the US people do this? It seems like a huge missed opportunity. Now, I know there’s the PSX events which is an annual event that caters solely to the fans and that’s a very smart move on Sony’s part. The events are highly successful by the community. Additionally, they promote this traveling PSX-esque event called Road to Greatness, where they drive this huge-ass truck around the country throwing these giant PlayStation-themed parties in select fans’ hometowns if those fans have good enough videos. These festivities include musical performances, game booths, and a multitude of giveaways. Talking about it alone makes me want to submit a video entry next year. That’s how you hype up your brand.
In terms of a relationship with the community, Sony’s in a very good spot. Sure, they could be more communicative with the fanbase on Twitter or Facebook in some territories rather than post advertisements for new games. However, they already pull highly fan-friendly stunts with PSX, Road to Greatness, live.playStation giveaways, and the podcasts. I feel like they know what they’re doing when it comes to PR. With that in mind, the Relations section is getting an 8/10.
Future: This is gonna be fun! 2018 is shining for PlayStation. In the first half alone, we could see God of War, Ni no Kuni II, Shadow of the Colossus remake, and Detroit: Become Human. In the second half, Spider-Man is in the realm of possibility as well as Days Gone. I can’t believe there’s a Spider-Man game coming exclusively to PS4. That is going to be their system-seller this year because it’s goddamn Spider-Man being made by competent developers that brought us the excellent Sunset Overdrive. You can argue that Ghost of Tsushima will see a late 2018 release as Sony did say they showed it off at a later part in development rather than have the idea conceptualized and nothing else. Man, their future exclusives look damn exciting. Sucker Punch, Insomniac, and Santa Monica are very talented studios and I can’t wait to play their games.
How about the financial future of PlayStation? Well, 2018 might actually be bigger. With over 70 million units sold, the PS4 will already surpass the PS3 numbers. My forecast for the PS4 would be that it sells 90 or 95 million units by years end. We’ll see a permanent price cut to $199 since Black Friday did historically well for them with that price. As for PSVR, units will still move at a modest pace, but Sony will remain surprised by the consistent success in such a new medium. Software sales at the end of this year could hit around 900 million. More people are playing games rather than using game consoles as Netflix hubs these days, so any number won’t surprise me.
Could we see more franchises come back? I sure as hell hope so. I would love to see a particular purple dragon to make a rambunctious return in HD. A new Twisted Metal game or remake produced by Santa Monica would be delightful. Sony’s capitalizing on their legacy icons, even if they don’t sell. They do listen to their loyal fanbase and they absolutely don’t have to as some games are commercial flops like The Last Guardian. Speaking of legacy, the Vita might die in 2018. The Switch is going to kill both the 3DS (if the new Pokemon game releases in 2018) and the Vita. It had a great run, but we’re going to have to say our goodbyes to the abandoned console at some point and the Secret of Mana remake might be its last hurrah.
How does the brand itself look in the future? Looks perfectly healthy, of course. The public image is already high for the brand. In fact, 2018 could improve PlayStation’s image as more attractive games will release on the platform and that means more profits for them. Sony could double down even more on PlayStation and slash funding for their abysmal movie pictures studios. Why not plunge deep into the most successful branch? Sony isn’t stupid. With the PS4 on a popularity wave, it makes sense for Sony to try to gain even more customers. All of this is common sense. I can only see 2018 as an even better year for the platform. Will we see cross-play for PS4 multiplats? Not sure about that since Sony doesn’t gain anything from it. Without cross-play, they can only promote their platform even more. It’s better for them than it is for us and that stinks. However, it really isn’t that big of a loss for both parties. It’s like backwards compatibility. Sony doesn’t need to invest money into it. It kinda sucks, but we can live without it.
Should they invest into BC and cross-play? I think so. If they can buy a goddamn company for a BC replacement (still a dumbass move), I don’t see why they can’t create a substantial PS3 emulator. They don’t lose anything for cross-play either since that’s all on the developers. Besides, allowing cross-play won’t deter consumers from buying a PS4, but this is a rant for another time. Yeah, yeah, the PS3’s a weird console, but come on. A multi-billion dollar corporation with hundreds if not thousands of programmers could make all the emulators they want. If they’re worried about a loss of profits, just do what Microsoft is doing and resell them digitally. Problem solved. PS Now will remain attractive to consumers as you don’t have to individually purchase each game. Just pay a monthly or yearly fee and play as much as you want.
With all of that out the way, the future looks awesome. The games are most important at this point of the generation and Sony delivers it tenfold. Their consoles won’t cease flying off store shelves and the profits will only go up. All they need to do is prevent any 2011-esque cyber attacks and they’re fine. Sure, cross-play and BC would be nice to have, but those aren’t requirements for them to succeed. Just look at how they’ve been doing without it. With that in mind, future’s getting a 10/10.
Final Grade: A- (90)
Wow, that took a while. Next up is Nintendo and I do have plenty of glowing things to say about that. Come on down in the comments or follow me and Sick Critic on Twitter and tell me what you think will happen to PlayStation next year. I want to hear your thoughts!