The Future of The Games Industry Hinges On Sony

Let me first say that all the complaints on the Xbox One are overblown. Yes, the name itself is kind of silly and there are very shady areas to where Microsoft is going with control over content, but with E3 in a couple of weeks, all eyes should be on Sony. The Playstation 4 was revealed first and there was a specific focus: games. Even though Microsoft got ahead of the curve by saying that the system reveal would primarily be about the functionality of the box and E3 would be about the games, what they talked about post-conference discouraged a lot of people. Microsoft either seems confused about what they want to do, or don’t have it all neatly tied up just yet, which is incredibly worrisome.

Now that everyone is so frustrated with Microsoft’s decisions around their focus and DRM policies towards Xbox One, it becomes even more concerning if Sony is unable to deliver next month. Certainly, if Microsoft can’t prove their devotion to core gamers at E3, then there is little hope for them in the marketplace, but the same can be said about Sony as there are still many unanswered questions they need to address with their system. We all expect them not to be anything like Microsoft, but there is always the off chance that their infrastructure is centered on similar aspects. With less than two weeks away from knowing more, we can only hope they focus their attention on the freedom of gamers instead of the constraints.

Playstation4FeatureImage1

Sony’s press conference back in February was all about its games, but that makes me wonder what their system will be. Not the design, but whether they will also incorporate similar online-centric policies as Microsoft. Everything is speculation until they’re finally revealed, but if they were to match or even have similar issues that Microsoft is getting a lot of flak for, then it’s a serious concern for the video game business as a whole. I want to believe that Sony will be all about their core gamers with other forms of entertainment being secondary, but there’s no denying that there’s a larger audience out there that is prime for the taking.

Microsoft’s marketing team was quite smart as they set up a campaign that is playing it safe. Their press conference aired on Spike TV, the perfect channel to appeal to sports fans, fathers and many who will primarily play competitive titles. Where the backlash is coming from is people who go online and follow games almost religiously. While this certainly will help Microsoft attract more buyers at a steady pace, it damages the industry when there’s a lack of creativity going into their box. I’m not talking about the social aspects, but the number of deals they struck up during the conference.

Having Activision and EA Games appear at the Xbox One’s reveal showed off an incredibly worrisome trend: more of the same. The next generation of consoles is supposed to be about innovation and what’s to come. While EA Sports MMA was lightly touched upon, you saw familiar products from everyone: Madden, FIFA, Forza and of course the worst perpetrator of them all, Cal of Duty. That said, I will give credit to Remedy for not announcing Alan Wake 2, though. As much as everyone, including myself, is eagerly awaiting a sequel to the atmospheric thriller, creating a new IP in a new generation is the right thing to do.

Playstation4FeatureImage2

Sony by no means is that far from the issue as they showed off another Killzone and inFAMOUS game back in February. This is where they have to come out strong. While it’s important to tout big titles such Call of Duty, what they need now more than anything are good new IPs that are exclusive to the system, whether first, second or third party developed. Knack is a strong start as it looks like the Kameo of the PS4’s launch, but we need more new games from SCE’s studios. As much as many gamers would love another LittleBigPlanet, Uncharted and Gran Turismo, they will end up damaging the future outlook of games as that would be what everyone expects from here on out. If The Last Guardian makes its transition to the next generation, then that will be a huge deal. Heck, even revive some of the older franchises such as Syphon Filter or MediEvil, but they shouldn’t have to rely too heavily on games that defined Sony during this generation to help with their next console.

At this point, it’s all about money now and, while I understand companies can’t operate without a steady income, many publishers are looking for a quick paycheck rather than thinking of new and creative experiences. Look at the most recent Star Trek game from Digital Extremes and Namco Bandai. While you don’t expect too much from movie licensed properties, we never expected it to be such a deliberate cash grab. Same can be said about many Activision games such as the more recent Fast & Furious: Showdown. When you look at Kabam’s Fast & Furious 6 mobile game and see it’s significantly better than what Activision has to offer on consoles and PC, it shows how much the current industry has degraded. When companies are basically shoveling out garbage just to make a quick buck, it’s hard to deny that major publishers don’t really care about innovation anymore. I’m sure there are good men and women who work their hardest with what they got, but they are essentially a cog in a giant machine that builds its empire on benefiting off of incremental changes or cheap development studios.

Playstation4FeatureImage3

Sony is off to a good start by, not necessarily avoiding these types of games, but having another division handle independent development. Over the past four or so years, independent games have skyrocketed into success, with some even breaching mainstream popularity, and arguably have the most creative and influential material. Unfortunately, while Microsoft embraced this form of development early on, it seems like they’re now throwing the little guys under the bus with the Xbox One. Granted, it’s still speculation at this point, but if you look at Sony’s leniency on how they’re already handling self-publishing policies, and generally just treating indie developers with the respect they deserve, there’s no denying that more will try and flock to the PS4. Overall, Sony seems to have the right mind set going into the games marketplace where they will focus on AAA titles and striking up deals with larger publishers, but will still take care of the independent scene.

This leads me to my next point in, not only must Sony talk more about their software capabilities, but their hardware limitations, as well. Everything I just praised about Sony can change on a whim depending on what they announce at E3. We’ve already heard that the Playstation 4 will be able to play used games, but so will the Xbox One, except it will have limiting factors and loops to go through to do so. Sony has yet to announce anything like that, or any online specific functionality that might be centric to the overall architecture for how games are played. If Sony tries to copy or already had similar aspirations as the Xbox One, then even if they have a more profound focus and dedication to their core demographic, their longtime goals will be damaging. They don’t need to compete with Microsoft on the same level; they need to compete with themselves to create the most enjoyable and defining gaming experiences. Otherwise, we might be looking at a more serious issue in the structure of gaming going forward.

Over the past couple of years, I, and I’m sure many others, have been increasingly worried about the status of the games industry. With the introduction of tablets and smartphones, many developers are shifting their focus to games that don’t cost fifty million dollars to make. Similar on PC and even consoles, these smaller studios have created some of the simpler and more creative games to be found. When we covered GDC two months ago, we attended EA’s Mobile Suite and found that games such as Icycle: On Thin Ice offered a visually appealing and entertaining experience that was easy to understand. When you see consoles try and limit the player to what they should rightfully own, it makes you wonder where the fun has gone. This is why I think that, because the Wii U isn’t making as big of a splash as Nintendo expected, if Sony and Microsoft’s next consoles fail to understand what gamers want, there’s likely will be another video game crash.

Playstation4FeatureImage4

When I say a crash, I don’t mean to the degree we had in the early 80s, but the focus will shift more towards smaller games on phones, tablets and PC devices. Microsoft is a prime contributor in this as of late with the Xbox One and Kinect hardware. I still believe that the controller does have too many buttons, not for core gamers and myself, but for the casual market. I know you’re saying we don’t want casual gamers on our consoles, but the fact remains that it’s a huge demographic that many want to capitalize on. The Kinect attempted this a few years ago, but it feels like Microsoft is trying to quicken their own demise in the games business by shoving that and limitations down every customer’s throat. Kinect itself isn’t bad, but their broad outlook of trying to take on everything will leave them spread out too thin.  Microsoft isn’t the only example, either. As I mentioned before, companies such as Activision are constantly pumping out quick cash grab products that are almost insults for games, and because of this, it reflects poorly on what games are supposed to be all about. Even annualization of franchises such as Call of Duty, Madden, Assassin’s Creed and so many more, no matter how well they do, are a negative indication to the overall longer term expectations of gaming.

Where exactly are video games going? Will there no longer be a dedicated console anymore without throwing in a ton of unnecessary features that will only appeal to a foreign crowd? The point I’m trying to make is that Sony has made a strong case for their platform, but if they’re unable to deliver at E3 this year, the industry will never be the same and there’s an increasing chance that we’re headed for another video game crash. It wouldn’t be on the same level as what we had in the early 80s, but it’s not something anyone would want to consider. While a PC and independent focus does sound enticing to some, it will stifle any advancement in interactive mainstream entertainment. Even with sketchy and confusing online DRM, by no means is Microsoft a lost cause just yet, but it’s up to Sony to differentiate themselves at E3 by being pro-consumer and true to their loyal customers.