Third-party publishers are bullish: service games are the future.
All of the big games makers are at it: Activision’s got Destiny, Call of Duty, and – via its subsidiary Blizzard – Overwatch; EA’s got FIFA Ultimate Team among others; Ubisoft’s been kept busy with The Division, The Crew, Rainbow Six: Siege, and countless others. As opposed to the old days, where games were almost considered disposable, now companies want to keep you playing the same title for longer. Frequent updates help to maintain engagement, while microtransactions and DLC packs fund the elongated development cycles.
But there’s one major publisher that’s bucking the trend: Sony. Don’t get us wrong, it has its fair share of service-based games: the upcoming Gran Turismo Sport seems tailor-made around the burgeoning business model, and the multiplayer portion of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End employs a similar tactic. But beyond one-and-done experiments like Drawn to Death, the platform holder appears to be zagging while the rest of the industry zigs. So why is it doing things so differently from the competition if service-based games are seemingly the future?
Well, look at some of its upcoming games: God of War, The Last of Us: Part II, Spider-Man, Detroit: Become Human, and Days Gone. They are – to the best of our knowledge right now – traditional single player campaigns. And they stick out like a sore thumb in an industry dominated by constantly connected, online-only, multiplayer-heavy, service-driven blockbusters, don’t they? Who else is making games like these? Bethesda, maybe? CD Projekt RED every five years? There aren’t many publishers betting big on single player anymore.
But that’s exactly why the strategy works: Sony is leveraging the strengths of its Worldwide Studios to fill a portion of the PlayStation 4’s portfolio that is underserved right now. Service games like Destiny, Overwatch, and The Division are juggernauts – it’s hard to steal players away. And they all just so happen to be games that can already be played on the PS4, so why go up against them? By creating something like Horizon: Zero Dawn or The Last Guardian or any number of other first-party games, the Japanese giant is adding something different to its library.
And that, at the end of the day, is the purpose of first-party: to plug the gaps that third-parties leave behind. Whether it’d be more financially rewarding for Sony to chase the games as service dream is a question we can’t answer, and it’s clearly embracing the model where it makes sense.
But as players, we can only appreciate the assortment of experiences that the platform holder’s unique approach enables – after all, variety is very much the spice of life.