Contributor: Karl Guyton II
In February of this year, head of Sony Interactive Entertainment (SIE) Shawn Layden gave an interview with CNET discussing the future of PlayStation (https://www.cnet.com/news/sonys-shawn-layden-wants-fewer-bigger-playstation-games/) Layden discussed the next generation console (likely to be called PlayStation 5), game streaming, E3, as well other topics. One such topic that was particularly interesting was that he wants Playstation studios to focus on fewer, more significant games. Layden stated that “As the exclusive developer for PlayStation, we always have to set the high-water mark, to push the technology further than anyone else.” This is a statement that is overwhelmingly supported by the software sales of Playstation’s first-party exclusives this generation. Horizon: Zero Dawn, God of War, Spider-Man, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, and Days Gone were all commercial blockbusters, and were except for Days Gone all critically acclaimed as well. PlayStation also has a few games that are upcoming that are more than likely going to join those aforementioned games as critical and commercial successes as Death Stranding is set to debut this fall, while Ghost of Tsushima and The Last of Us: Part II are widely expected to be released in 2020. In addition to their big hitting AAA titles, PlayStation has some highly anticipated AA first games set to release this Fall in Dreams and Concrete Genie. Recently, PlayStation CEO Jim Ryan doubled down on Layden’s comments, saying that story driven titles are not a genre that Sony will ever step away from and that the company has “never had greater success” than it currently has with story-driven experiences. It is this attention to detail and focus on quality that has to lead to PS4 running away with this generation’s “console war.”
On the flip side, Microsoft started off this generation with the Xbox One on the wrong foot. The initial marketing strategy was disastrous, as they touted the new console as the perfect media hub, while oddly ignoring games. This poor start set Xbox back so far that they couldn’t catch up. For the last 2 years specifically, Microsoft has been acquiring new game studios, in anticipation of the upcoming 9th generation. The next generation allows Microsoft and Xbox to start over fresh, and with the current game studio acquisitions, Microsoft now has 14 in house studios to Sony’s 13. One of the critical weaknesses of Xbox’s this generation was the overall lack of quality of first-party exclusives. Xbox die-hards had Halo, Gears, and Forza but that was pretty much it. This is why Microsoft spent so much time and energy acquiring new studios. But now the question is, can Microsoft’s newly acquired studios match the quality output of Sony’s first party studios? At E3, Microsoft unveiled the new game studios that they had acquired and showed off a few of the games currently in development.
Admittedly, what we did see wasn’t much, but I imagine that many of the games are being developed for the next Xbox and it would be wiser for Xbox to reveal those games next year at E3 alongside the actual console. That much doesn’t trouble me at all. What does bother me, however, was Matt Booty’s interview with IGN. https://www.ign.com/articles/2019/06/11/microsoft-aiming-for-a-first-party-xbox-game-about-every-three-months-e3-2019 Booty claimed that they want to pump out a quality game approximately every 3 months. Booty said, “I think about like how long you spend with a game and just sort of the cadence of discovery there,” Booty explained. “So if you can do a game every three months, and if a game takes somewhere between two years and four years, I mean, just think about things that have come out recently, you know, things like Red Dead and God of War need to be getting into five, six years. Right? But let’s just say for the sorts of studios, like a Ninja theory or a double fine that two, three years start to be the cadence, right?
“So, then if you’ve got a game a quarter and you’re taking two to three years.” Booty continued. “You can kind of back into the math and say, well wow, you probably need somewhere between 10 and 12 studios. But… making games is not yet a perfect science, right? There’s no creative endeavor that is. So there’s going to be things that take longer. There’s going to be some things that we start and say, hey, great idea, but it just isn’t, you know, the Jello doesn’t want to set. Right. Um, and so I think we need some, some buffer in there, right? So the first, that’s kind of my basic answers. We’d love to be feeding a high-quality game into game pass about every three months.” The issue here is and quality. Quality games take time to make, and 3 months is like the blink of an eye considering that average game development cycles are closer to 3 years. Granted, Phil Spencer said at E3 that Xbox currently has over 1000 games in development, we can still readily assume that the vast majority of these are not AAA exclusives. Booty noted that the driving mechanism for this timeline was Xbox Game Pass, Xbox’s subscription gaming service. As of now, this is simply speculation and my own opinion, but it seems that Xbox is valuing quantity over quality, while PlayStation is focused on delivering quality games while cutting back to the amount. PlayStation and Xbox are seemingly taking two polarizing directions going into the next generation, and it will be interesting to see which strategy pays off.