Yesterday, PlayStation boss Jim Ryan said he wants his company’s games to one day be as prolific as music or movies. He would love to see a world where potentially “hundreds of millions of people” could enjoy them. It’s the type of future a lot of gaming executives talk about, but one that Sony seems to have no interest in actually achieving.
Ryan’s comments came during a 20-minute interview with GamesIndustry.biz at GI Live: London, where, despite being advertised as a keynote fireside talk, he didn’t offer much of note. What, in his opinion, defines PlayStation? Games, communities, and “branding.” What is it about the PS5 that makes it so “cool?” Of course, there are the games. Which one is his personal favorite? Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart from the PS5 tech showpiece, which you can have for $70 this Christmas season.
Instead of commenting on or being questioned about industry issues such as crunch, accessibility, or game preservation, the most intriguing thing to come out of the Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO’s mouth was his desire to “see a world where the games that we make at PlayStation can be enjoyed by many tens of millions, perhaps hundreds of millions of people.”
Right now success with the current console model, a really great PlayStation hit you’re talking ten or 20 million people being able to play that game. We’re talking about games stacking up against music, we’re talking about games stacking up against movies. Music and movies, they can be enjoyed by almost limitless audiences.
And I think some of the art that our studios are making is some of the finest entertainment that has been made anywhere in the world. And to kind-of gate the audience for the wonderful art, wonderful entertainment that our studios are making…to gate the audience for that at 20 or 30 million, frustrates me. I would love to see a world where hundreds of millions of people can enjoy those games.
It’s an admirable sentiment, especially, as Ryan points out, because of the implications it would have for developers and players, their hobby opening up to a much wider audience. “That’s potentially really amazing and really powerful,” Ryan said. But it also seems bizarrely at odds with Sony’s current strategy around the PS5.
The firm hasn’t made video game streaming a focal point, nor has it placed a large stake on PS Now in the same way that Microsoft has with Game Pass. It doesn’t make a lot of little games or mobile games. And the studio has only recently begun bringing some of its biggest blockbusters on PC—years after they were first released. It’s not Sony’s fault that a pandemic has caused manufacturing shortages and disrupted global supply lines, but even if you could find a PS5, it marks the pinnacle of console gaming when compared to the Xbox Series S, Nintendo Switch, and Switch Lite.
Sony appears to be doubling down on the prestige blockbuster strategy, investing extensively in a narrow slate of high-profile films. The PS4 ended the previous generation with Marvel’s Spider-Man, Ghost of Tsushima, and The Last of Us Part II, all of which received excellent sales and critical praise. At the 2018 Game Awards, God of War was named Game of the Year. Herman Hulst, previously the CEO of Guerilla Games, the creators of Horizon Zero Dawn, has been named CEO of Sony Worldwide Studios. And now, in 2022, many of these games will receive sequels, with others following not long after. It may keep the PS5 as the ‘coolest’ system on the market, but it doesn’t appear to be a prescription for success.