OPINION: PlayStation has been the undisputed king of games console in recent years, as long as we’re counting success solely by hardware sales.
The same website claims the PS5 has the edge over the Xbox Series X / Series S consoles in terms of sales too, with the former shipping 15,276,712 worldwide so far, and the latter reaching 9,838,177. Of course, the ongoing GPU shortage will no doubt murky the water for these figures, but it’s still clear to see that the PlayStation brand is as strong as ever.
Success has been largely credited to PlayStation’s popularity in Japan, as well as the strong line-up of exclusives in the last decade or so, with the likes of The Last of Us, God of War and Marvel’s Spider-Man seeing universal praise.
But questions are starting to emerge whether PlayStation can keep this successful record going, especially with Microsoft starting to flex its financial muscle. By acquiring both ZeniMax Media and Activision Blizzard (reportedly costing $7.5 billion and $70 billion respectively) Microsoft has immediately addressed the Xbox brand’s most glaring flaw: the lack of exclusives.
Just a couple of years ago, the only major Xbox IPs included Halo, Gears, Forza, Minecraft and Fable. Now, depending on whether the Activision Blizzard acquisition is completed, Xbox Game Studios will be able to add the likes of Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Crash Bandicoot, Diablo, Overwatch and plenty more to its roster – it’s been able to turn its greatest flaw into its biggest strength in just a couple of years.
That’s not to say PlayStation’s own portfolio isn’t strong. The likes of Naughty Dog and Insomniac boast an astonishingly good record in recent years, while Santa Monica Studio and Guerrilla Games have also seen major success stories. But as impressive as these studios have been in recent years, it would be unfair to expect them to compete with the wealth of franchises that Microsoft could soon own.
The Call of Duty series alone is an absolute juggernaut. According to VentureBeat, Call of Duty: Vanguard was the highest selling game of 2021 on PlayStation consoles in the United States. Even more surprisingly, Call of Duty: Black Ops: Cold War took up the third spot despite launching the year before. It’s also worth pointing out that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019) managed to squeeze into the rankings with a modest 16th place in the sales.
How did Sony’s exclusives fare in comparison? Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales impressed by securing the 4th spot, but the likes of Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart and Ghost of Tsushima were only able to secure the 11th and 8th positions respectively. PlayStation’s first-party games are certainly popular, but nowhere to the same extent as Call of Duty.
There’s no question about it, Call of Duty would be a massive loss for PlayStation if Microsoft did decide to make the franchise an Xbox exclusive. Bloomberg has even suggested that PlayStation took a $20 billion hit to its value following the news of Microsoft’s Activision Blizzard acquisition.
PlayStation’s console sales may still be very healthy right now, but I’m sure there will be a big swing in Microsoft’s favour once the likes of The Elder Scrolls, Call of Duty, Doom, Overwatch and more start turning up on Xbox consoles as exclusives. PlayStation’s time at the top could well be coming to an end.
The next move for PlayStation?
So what can PlayStation do in response? I’ve seen many people suggest that Sony should hit back with its own acquisitions, but it simply doesn’t have the same financial strength as Microsoft to make an acquisition on the same scale as Activision Blizzard.
I could personally see Sony acquiring a studio such as FromSoftware, especially given they’ve previously worked together for games such as Demon’s Souls and Bloodborne, but the Souls series is still relatively niche when compared to the likes of Call of Duty.
There’s also talk that Sony could soon improve PS Now in order for it to compete with Xbox Game Pass, but I reckon it’s too little, too late. Sony invests so much money into its first-party games that I really doubt it will make the likes of Horizon Forbidden West and God of War Ragnarok available through the service on the first day of launch, sacrificing all of those sales in favour of more subscribers.
Plus, I don’t see why many people would ever subscribe to PS Now over Game Pass when the latter now boasts so many high-profile franchises. Sony can no longer rely on having a greater output of first-party games than Microsoft, so it needs to look for a new strength.
Rather ironically, Sony is probably best looking at Nintendo for inspiration – the same company that had to deal with similar circumstances when PlayStation muscled its way onto the games console industry back in 1994.
Nintendo hasn’t been able to compete financially with PlayStation and Xbox in the last two decades, which has meant its hardware has often lagged behind in terms of specs. And yet, Nintendo has still been able to remain competitive by building upon their most popular game franchises (such as Mario, Zelda and Pokémon), while also thinking outside the box by launching innovative hardware such as the Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii and Nintendo Switch.
For all of the financial might of Microsoft, the Xbox 360 is its only gaming console that has been able to crack the top ten list of the all-time best selling consoles (according to IGN). In comparison, Nintendo has four video game consoles that make the top ten, which is an incredible achievement. More money doesn’t necessarily make you a stronger brand.
So right now, yes, PlayStation’s future looks pretty bleak if it continues with the same strategy to take on Xbox. But it’s far from over for Sony, as it can still use innovation to make up for Microsoft’s financial advantage. The DualSense controller is a great example of innovative design, while the upcoming PSVR 2 headset also looks to have a lot of promise. Sony needs to continue in this vein if it hopes to stay relevant in the gaming sphere for the long-term future, otherwise it could end up following the same path as Sega instead of Nintendo.