Jim Ryan, during an interview at GI Live, hinted towards wanting a world where hundreds of millions of players were accessing PlayStation games, rather than the 10-20 million that currently do. How he plans to do this is a little vague, but looking at Sony and PlayStation’s current moves in the business, you can absolutely see the writing on the wall.
The console wars might not be exactly the same as they once were, as Microsoft’s Bethesda’s Arkane currently has a PlayStation exclusive in Deathloop and Sony has had their hand forced to make the baseball game MLB The Show for both consoles or lose the license. Meanwhile, it doesn’t even seem to matter on hardware numbers, as Microsoft press forward with their Game Pass and streaming initiatives, with Sony, slowly coming around to the idea that an integrated spread across multiple platforms is the way forward.
Microsoft committed to releasing games day-and-date with PC and console, with all their first-party games now pretty much cross-play between the two platforms and available on Game Pass from day one too. While the numbers aren’t available, it’s been reported that the numbers are now nearing 30 million on the Netflix-like service for Xbox.
Sony has its own too, PlayStation Now, but it doesn’t draw as many headlines due to its older backlog of games, instead of the new Halo being available for the measly price of £1 a month to start and £10 a month thereafter. In 2012, Sony did purchase Gaikai to build their Remote Play and Share Play, systems to allow players to either play on their phones or Vita and to play local games across the internet with friends. Since then, the subsidiary has gone on to provide the tech behind Now, which never seems to get the same push as Microsoft’s own.
However, Microsoft has gained considerably more favour and a healthy amount of cash as they not only stopped limiting their releases on their own platforms but began expanding out to Steam and even Nintendo’s Switch, with games like Ori and the Blind Forest and Cuphead making their way to the handheld hybrid. Even Banjo Kazooie, owned by Rare, who famously has been underutilized by Microsoft since their purchase of the company, allowed the duo to appear in Super Smash Bros. as DLC.
Sony meanwhile is not only continuously irritating players with their business decisions (no longer supporting next-gen upgrade paths) and was the main hold out on crossplay back in 2019 and then continues to charge studios for the ability to have their game have an expanded pool of players.
Jim Ryan has also done the opposite of Phil Spencer, Xbox’s lead, as he poo-pooed retro games and backwards compatibility, while Spencer has the patter down to a literal tee. A T-shirt that is. The man must have a guy dedicated to carrying gaming merch with him for him to change into.
How Sony could begin to combat this is by following suit, which they’re doing, albeit, slowly. Their first launches, Horizon: Zero Dawn and Days Gone were met with various issues upon release, but appear to be smoothed out, selling plenty of units to stay in the top-selling lists on Steam for a few weeks each.
Sony also recently purchased Nixxes Software, a Netherlands studio that is known for PC ports of console titles, clearly showing their rushed need to get into the platform.
Uncharted 4 and The Lost Legacy make their debut on PC in the coming months, with a few Sony backed titles, like Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding, making their way to PC under various other deals.
However, as of right now, Microsoft has the upper hand in this equation, as their Xbox Streaming service has effectively launched across the board for Game Pass Ultimate members and for the most part, works pretty well! Even on the iPad, it handily recognises my PlayStation controllers and playing in the browser is incredibly easy – if a little janky.
PlayStation’s Now service however just doesn’t seem to be hitting the same way. The service just doesn’t seem to have the same forethought as Microsoft’s, with first-party titles like The Last of Us 2 expiring in 2022? It’s also just a matter of fact that the streaming just isn’t as good.
It’s nothing to even worry about, as Sony are continuously selling out of PlayStation 5s, giving us good evidence that the console is doing just fine, even under the circumstances.
But to reach hundreds of millions? Gaming might be massive and the ever-growing complexity of both kid-focused games (Fortnite, Roblox), as well as the continuing expansion of the indie development scene might help this, but even with the two major publishers putting a focus on accessibility, gaming has hit a point of complexity that it might never hit “hundreds of millions” due to the barrier to entry rising higher than ever before.
Pricing, access and even simple things like broadband internet to stream these games into the home just aren’t there yet on a wide scale. Jim Ryan’s dream is possible, but it might not be something Sony can do with the current powers that be not providing the infrastructure to do so.
If Microsoft’s rumoured Xbox Stick and push to place the Game Pass app on smart TVs comes to fruition, Ryan and Sony might need to reevaluate. But even then, Microsoft will eventually hit that barrier wall.
Also, let’s remember, this is the same company that only just allowed you to change usernames on the platform because of how they originally coded the PlayStation Network.