OPINION: Sony’s first act as custodian of Bungie was to promise Destiny 2 and all future games will be open for all gamers. It’s the perfect strategy to counter Microsoft’s hoarding approach
In every good sports movie, there’s a good guy and a bad guy. A plucky underdog to root for against a dominant and often malevolent force. There was Rocky and Apollo, Rocky and Clubber, Rocky and Drago, Rocky and, well, you get the idea. Following this week’s events, it’s becoming clear Sony wants to cast the PS5 in that Balboa role.
By purchasing Bungie and immediately declaring the studio will retain its creative freedom and independence to publish games on any platform it wishes, Sony made a statement. It won’t be the one to take away the third-party games both formats have enjoyed. After all, it’s the good guy, here.
Sony is saying consolidation of third-party studio ownership does not have to mean hoarding franchises as exclusive properties to marginalise half of console gamers. It can say to gamers “we bought this studio, but we’re keeping it open to everyone.”
It’s a smart move. Historically, Microsoft has been an easy enemy to rally people against. Apple did it masterfully for years in the PC vs Mac era, albeit without coming close to overthrowing the Windows empire.
The strategy is simple: You present yourself as the purists’ alternative and a more wholesome choice than the great monopoliser, despite being an immense power in your own right. Sony’s “for the players” motto is a marketing term it can really bring to life, when comparing it to an empire taking games away from fans, as Microsoft seems certain to do following the acquisitions of Bethesda and Activision Blizzard.
Until the acquisition of Bungie, Sony had taken an organic approach to bringing external studios in-house, rather than buying the finished article. If you do a great job for it on an exclusive game, it’ll often bring your studio into the fold to protect that IP, and invest heavily in its success moving forward. It is a strategy that has worked spectacularly well.
It happened in 2001 when Sony snapped-up Naughty Dog after Crash Bandicoot was a revelation for the PS1. Look where that studio is now, 20 years on! Look what Uncharted and The Last of Us have done for the PlayStation brand!
Sony did the same with Guerrilla Games, which has gone from Killzone to the forthcoming PS5 exclusive, Horizon Forbidden West. More recently, the same tactic has been deployed when acquiring Insomniac Games (Marvel’s Spider-Man, Ratchet & Clank, Spyro) and Housemarque (Returnal).
Microsoft’s is doing the exact opposite. It is going after the previously neutral giants for big, big money to control the playing field and overturn its crushing defeat in an PS4 vs Xbox One battle largely decided by Sony’s superior exclusives.
Microsoft’s take-overs have changed the rules of engagement, and it’s completely different to the way Sony has internalised third-party studios and talent.
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Hand of friendship
Sony, by buying Bungie, is offering a hand of friendship to gamers on both sides of the divide. Love Destiny? You’ll always be able to play it. Elsewhere, Sony is offering a first-party game (the PlayStation logo is on the box!), MLB: The Show 22 to Xbox and Nintendo Switch. If you want it on PS5, you’ll pay up to $70. On Xbox, it’ll be free on day one with Game Pass.
Meanwhile, Call of Duty is only guaranteed on PlayStation for the length of the existing agreement. Starfield, Bethesda’s next AAA release, is highly likely to stay Microsoft-exclusive. Microsoft is becoming a puppet master that can decide who can play what, leaving gamers in limbo.
No-one is naïve enough to think Sony has bought Bungie as a direct response to the Activision Blizzard deal. These multi-billion dollar deals take months to come together. However, Sony can frame the acquisition within the recent context.
Sony giveth to help Bungie games get bigger and better for all. Microsoft taketh away, like the richest poker player at the table greedily betting beyond everyone else’s limit and scooping mounds of chips into his lap.
With Game Pass, Microsoft can built a shield against the hoarding allegations that threatens PlayStation gamers’ access to franchises they’ve taken for granted; like Call of Duty, DOOM, Diablo and Fallout.
It could pledge to launch Game Pass on PlayStation, thus allowing PS5 owners to retain access to everything they expected and gain Forza, Flight Simulator, Halo, and the rest. Sony, of course, won’t do it. Microsoft can and probably will pin the blame on Sony’s stubbornness as the reason PlayStation owners can’t play Call of Duty anymore.
This is shaping-up as a PR battle as much as a content war. But by styling itself as the good guys looking after the interests of all gamers, Sony may have a strategy that makes it more Rocky than Drago.