Cast your minds back to 2013. Sony and Microsoft revealed their new consoles to the world and the games industry was buzzing with anticipation. Sony’s new console – the PlayStation 4 – was universally well received by critics and fans whilst Microsoft’s Xbox One was left by the wayside with anti-consumer policies.
Come E3 of the same year Sony was fully on the offensive taking constant pot-shots at Microsoft and making it known that they had the more powerful console at a cheaper price. Over the next few months and years Sony were consistently ahead in terms of sales and critical acclaim when it comes to exclusive games and were using every opportunity they got to throw shade at the Xbox platform and twist the knife when they could. During this time Microsoft were completely restructuring their Xbox division in order to bring them up to speed with what consumers want and expect.
Sony have been releasing titles such as Bloodborne, inFamous: Second Son, Until Dawn, Ratchet & Clank, Uncharted 4 – and more recently The Last Guardian, Nioh, Nier: Automata and Horizon Zero Dawn. All of these have been received well by critics and fans alike and put most of their competitors offerings to shame.
Even as an early Xbox One adopter I had to go out and pick up a PlayStation 4 a short time later purely for the amount of exclusive games that I couldn’t play and it’s a decision that I don’t regret.
However, as of late – and more specifically this last week at E3 – it’s evident that Sony are rapidly losing ground to Microsoft. Microsoft have been strengthening their portfolio and have become more consumer friendly than they’ve ever been. Not only that, they’re releasing an updated console that outshines the PlayStation 4 Pro in leaps and bounds.
Sony on the other hand have been consistently letting their guard down lately, making poor decisions and generally letting their hubris get the better of them. What are they doing wrong, and how can Sony make amends before things get even worse?
PlayStation Now is tantamount to daylight robbery. The basic idea behind the service is that you pay a subscription fee every month to play older PlayStation titles. This sounds okay on paper until you peer over the fence and see what the Xbox platform is doing.
The PlayStation Now library isn’t that impressive to begin with, but you’re not even able to download the games to play them either. You’ll need to stream the games to your PlayStation 4 and if you’ve got a sub-par internet connection – which a lot of people in rural parts of the UK still have – then you’re completely out of luck. The pricing is extortionate as well coming in at £12.99 per month (that’s nearly £160 for 1 year of PS Now subscription). It’s not consumer friendly in the slightest.
The Xbox One on the other hand has fully integrated backwards compatibility where you can insert a disc into your console to download the full game to your system (or download it from the store if you already own it digitally) with the ability to bring old saves with you if you uploaded them on the Xbox 360. You simply buy the game physically/digitally, play it as much as you want and pay nothing extra.
Not only this but there’s also the Xbox Game Pass service which allows you to pay a fee to download a large library of current generation games for less than PS Now costs per month. Not only that, you’ll get a discount on the games in the current library if you’d like to keep one forever.
What Sony need to do is either scrap PlayStation Now and start again from the ground up or make the service affordable and let us download the games.
If Sony made an identical backwards compatibility service similar to that on the Xbox One then they’d be onto a winner. I only owned a PlayStation 3 for a short amount of time and never got to play most of the exclusive games I wanted to. If I could walk into a store and buy masses of PlayStation 3 discs that I could play on my PlayStation 4 then I’d be a happy bunny. I’m not the most technically minded but the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One are very similar in their architecture, so it must be possible. This would be the perfect scenario.
The more likely thing that Sony would do is reduce the price of the subscription to PlayStation Now and allow people to download games from the service. This would be a step in the right direction but I ultimately don’t think it would be enough unless they brought a wider selection of games to the service.
In the months after the announcement of the PlayStation 4 it was clear that Sony were very open to the idea of cross-play with PC. Titles such as Rocket League, Final Fantasy XIV Online and Street Fighter V capitalised on the ability to bring together the PlayStation 4 and PC platforms.
Microsoft were – as was almost a given at the start of the generation – lagging behind Sony in this department, refusing to get on board with the idea of cross-play.
Recently however, Sony have slipped in this department whilst Microsoft have – yet again – made gains.
When Rocket League finally came to the Xbox One it also featured cross-play with PC, but not with the PlayStation 4. Developer Psyonix has repeatedly claimed that it’s absolutely possible to enable cross-play between PC and consoles, but Sony was currently blocking it from happening. Whilst this was happening Microsoft was busy enabling cross-play between the majority of its first party titles that it was also releasing on PC such as Forza Horizon 3, Halo Wars 2 and Gears of War 4. Not only this but they were also capitalising on the cross-buy feature that Sony had been pushing so much in 2013/14, where if you buy a game digitally on one platform you’ll get it on another.
E3 2017 however has showcased Sony’s arrogance to enable cross-play between other consoles. At the Xbox Media Briefing it was announced that Minecraft would be unifying its experience across consoles, Windows 10 PC and tablet/mobile. In the trailer that was shown there was one notable omission – the PlayStation 4. Nintendo were now on board with cross-play with the Xbox, PC and mobile and all of these platforms would share servers and purchases.
Then, a couple of days later at the Nintendo Spotlight livestream it was announced that Rocket League would be coming to the Nintendo Switch and would also feature cross-play with PC and Xbox One. The PlayStation 4 version of the game was – yet again – missing.
Yet again, Psyonix stated that Sony were still blocking cross-play from their console to others and hadn’t granted Psyonix their “permission”.
Jim Ryan from Sony, in response to the lack of cross-play, quoted to Eurogamer:
Minecraft, the demographic playing that, you know as well as I do, it’s all ages but it’s also very young. We have a contract with the people who go online with us, that we look after them and they are within the PlayStation-curated universe. Exposing what in many cases are children to external influences we have no ability to manage or look after, it’s something we have to think about very carefully.
This statement, for lack of a better word, is bollocks considering that Nintendo is on board with the idea. Nintendo is notorious for being overprotective of its user base, and yet, here we stand. Sony have repeatedly stated that they’re open to having discussion with developers over cross-play. Which is hilarious when developers are all in agreement that Sony are the only barrier preventing cross-play with other consoles.
In terms of cross-buy, Microsoft have again been strengthening their hand by offering non-exclusive third party titles such as ARK: Survival Evolved and Resident Evil 7 as part of their Play Anywhere program. If you buy one of these games on Xbox you’ll get a Windows 10 copy too and vice versa. Sony pushed this constantly with PS4/Vita games but hasn’t been seen anywhere as of late.
Honestly, there’s a very simple solution to this problem and it involves Sony not being so arrogant when it comes to cross-play. Yes, they’re the market leader in the console market and yes, they want to keep players on their platform. But what Sony ultimately need to do right now is get with the times.
Cross platform play means more players on any given game, more players means the game in question is less likely to prematurely die and a game that is supported well into the future doesn’t just benefit gamers, but also the developers too.
It’s dead. Sony doesn’t want you to know that it’s dead, but it’s absolutely dead. Almost no mention of it at Sony events in the last three years and very few games actually being released on it – with the exception of Undertale which was sneakily announced at E3 2017 in the PlayStation pre-show.
You get the impression that Sony are trying to forget that the handheld ever existed, unable to compete with the dominance of Nintendo and their 3DS family of systems.
Yes, the Vita was a more powerful handheld than the 3DS, but that doesn’t count for anything when developers don’t want to support it. The 3DS has sold close to 70 million units since its launch whilst the Vita has sold a fraction of that.
Players want quick and easy to consume experiences when they’re on the go (such as on a commute to work or whilst on a lunch break), not massive AAA productions that would be better played across long periods. This mentality definitely contributed to the rise of mobile games and their easily consumable nature.
Yes, you can play massive games on the go – Breath of the Wild on the Nintendo Switch is a fine example. But the difference between the Switch and the Vita is that you can play Switch games on the big screen when you get home.
Games like Pokémon, Animal Crossing and Fire Emblem are perfect on the go too because you can play them in small increments. Games like Borderlands 2 and Uncharted on the Vita don’t make a whole lot of sense because one is a time sink and one is heavily story based, neither of which you can do/focus on when on the go.
It’s sad to say, but the PlayStation Vita has essentially been relegated to the remote play feature. This allows you to play PlayStation 4 games away from your TV and is a genuinely great feature. The only downside is that you need to be connected to the internet in order to play – and if that internet connection isn’t stable then you’re out of luck.
All of this aside, it doesn’t really matter. The PlayStation Vita is still dead and it’s not coming back any time soon.
PlayStation 4 Pro
You might remember the reveal of the PlayStation 4 Pro last year and how cryptic Sony were surrounding their super charged console. The PlayStation 4 Pro is a rushed project, plain and simple. It can’t play 4K Blu-ray, it doesn’t do native 4K in most places and it is woefully under powered when compared with the Xbox One X. It was released without much fanfare nearly a year before the Xbox One X would be on shelves and is ultimately the inferior choice between the two consoles.
The reveal itself didn’t make a lot of sense as they tried to show off what games would look like on the new platform but didn’t showcase any of it in 4K. There was an element of confusion throughout. It didn’t seem like Sony even knew why they had made this console but I get the feeling they may have become victims of their own hubris again.
Microsoft had only just announced their Project Scorpio – now Xbox One X – project a couple of months before PlayStation revealed PlayStation 4 Pro and were sticking to the Holiday 2017 release date. Sony on the other hand were intent on revealing a competitor to Scorpio and trying to beat Microsoft to market by a full year. That plan seems to have backfired as they’ll now not be able to flaunt their “most powerful console” claim anymore.
Sony are by no means doing badly. They still have an impressive line-up of games on the horizon and are still the market leaders by a long mile. But they’re letting their guard down, they’re getting to cocky and their competitors are taking advantage of the gaps in their defences. In my E3 speculation article I said all Sony needed to do this year was to buckle down and come out swinging with a massive arsenal of new games announcements. They didn’t, and I now fear that they’re going down a path that they’ll struggle to come back from.