Sony recently chaired a strategy meeting, during which they outlined their future marketing preferences. Unsurprisingly, this focussed heavily upon the PlayStation 5, and addressed a number of factors detrimental to the company’s financial prospects – such as outlining their preferred target audience for day one purchasing or on what key feature they’ll be focussing the majority of their attention. But they also outlined their plans for the next generation’s lineup. And it could have worrying consequences for our beloved PSVR.
That’s because the company placed a heavy emphasis on Triple A games by big development studios – aka, the cream of the crop. And, consequently, decided to turn their backs on smaller, more independent studios in the process. The ones they deemed to lack the necessary resources required to meet their targets. But who will still be offered the opportunity to retail their product on their console – so long as they can get there without any of their support.
This has left a lot of studios feeling under appreciated. After all, some of the best games in recent years have come from these more “compact” operations; in some cases, “one man bands”. And they have collectively helped to promote the PlayStation 4 to a wider audience than it may have otherwise struggled to attract. But instead of a thank you, or better yet, a much-needed cash injection, Sony are choosing to ignore their potential. And this is made more evident when you take note of which studios the company is currently scouting for acquisition.
Now, I’m well aware of how polished these AAA games are. For they mostly always deliver an immersive narrative, strong characterisation and impeccable graphics. Not to mention, effortless mechanics. But there are a number of gems from outside this clique who manage to achieve the same. And do it on a minor percentage of the budget. Surely they’re worth investing in, too?
However, there is another consequence of this hierarchical approach that is more telling of the PlayStation’s future. And it threatens the PSVR’s survival past this generation of support.
God of War, Marvel’s Spider-Man, Days Gone; what do they all have in common, except for being exceptional games? They lack PSVR support. Why? Possibly due to the time and financial restraints that developers face when delivering a product to Sony. Or, after closer inspection, due to a lack of support in the figures of virtual reality adopters. Either way, it was deemed an unnecessary inclusion, becoming a glaring absence for what is meant to be the future of gaming. Especially as the device nears its third birthday. On the other hand, the PSVR-only market is booming with titles, more often than not crafted by independent studios.
Now, you could argue that they are doing the opposite – ignoring the majority market share of standard players. But given the size of their operations and purse strings, it is an admirable approach to take. One that must offer enough of a return to make the investment in the first place. And that must harbour great potential for those with both larger teams and greater budgets. Yet it is one they choose to ignore.
Sony are, however, placing themselves in an awkward position when it comes to the future of PSVR by taking this ‘only the best will do’ attitude – which, by the way, doesn’t necessarily guarantee you a flawless end product (Fallout 76 / Mass Effect Andromeda / Anthem anyone?). They’re basically saying that the peripheral is not in the company’s future vision, or that it is and they expect those AAA studios to take the reins. Even though they’ve shown little enthusiasm to do just that in the last few years (remember – they would have been privy to news of the PSVR’s arrival long before the world was brought up to speed). And despite there being little / no inclusion of the device in the upcoming first-party games we know about.
Or are they really expecting those smaller studios to continue their commitment without anything in return? If they’re not careful, Microsoft or Google will swoop in with an exclusivity-led deal that they won’t be able to refuse. And who could blame them for taking it?
The other issue lies in the fact that, if Sony are not anticipating any AAA VR games and are instead expecting the independent teams to maintain compatible output, the virtual reality offering on their consoles are going to struggle to get beyond the short stories or ‘separate standalone features in a greater package’ that we’ve become accustomed to. We’re not going to get that 30+ hour campaign that is so common in standard games. And we are never going to break the mould in how immersive technology can actually be used to enhance the entertainment sector.