Is Sony treading water?

The comeback story for Sony in the video game space has been nothing short of extraordinary. Thanks largely in part to misstep after misstep by Microsoft in the early days of the Xbox One, and a refocus on the pure gaming experience, the PS4 has been a success from the very beginning. 2017 has also proved to be a standout year, with the release of several critically acclaimed and financially successful exclusives such as Persona 5 and Horizon Zero Dawn. And looking ahead, PlayStation’s slate of exclusive games is even stronger. God of War, Detroit: Become Human, Spider-Man and Days Gone will all make their debut on the system in 2018. Beyond that, we have titles such as Death Stranding and The Last of Us Part II to pine for.

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At this year’s Paris Games week, Sony held a press conference they deemed to be the second part of E3. These are words that a company shouldn’t use lightly, with them conjuring visions of jaw dropping announcements and reveals. But what we got was less like E3 part 2 and more like E3 just happening again.

Whilst we got several smaller game announcements, there were no noticeable standouts. And the games that we know about releasing next year? No dates attached other than vague “Spring 2018” or “Early 2018” title cards at the end of the respective trailers. I understand the fear to put a date on a game lest that title be delayed, but putting a release window of a handful of months is just as damning. Whilst it’s a cautious approach, it’s certainly not a confident one.

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The conference closed out with a divisive second trailer for The Last of Us Part II, a game we most likely won’t get to play for another 2 years at the very least. Teasing games like The Last of Us Part II at this past December’s PSX and Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding at E3 2016 seemed like good ideas at the time, and they certainly created a large buzz for Sony in the press. But it seems Sony has very little left up its sleeve to display. It’s possible we might see a sequel to Horizon Zero Dawn toward the tail end of this console generation (whether console generations are a thing any more is another conversation entirely), but in terms of new IP it’s hard to imagine Sony having any more room. This also isn’t to knock Ghost of Tsushima, Sucker Punch’s newest title. But again, this is a (probably) 2019 game we will now see endless demos for at every PlayStation conference. In short, showing off new trailers and gameplay for the same games year after year is starting to wear a little thin, and could take the wind out of Sony’s sails as we enter the twilight years of the PlayStation 4.

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The wild card in all of this is PSVR. As someone that owns a headset, and is very impressed with what Sony has done at such a small price point, it saddens me to hear that PSVR has only sold around 1,000,000 units in its first year. Compared to “competition” such as HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, PSVR makes up for a much larger portion of the virtual reality market as a whole. Still, despite how impressive the technology is, it clearly has a long way to go before it is widely adopted. What’s very unfortunate is that Sony in the past has been quick to drop any innovative ideas that haven’t been a hit out of the gate. The PS Vita and Move Controllers come to mind. Granted, virtual reality offers more promise than either of these products, but it’d be hard to fault Sony for focusing on other technologies and a potential PS5.

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What their Paris Games Week press conference indicated though is that Sony is doubling down on VR, which is exciting news. It seems they understand that low adoption rates have nothing to do with their tech and everything to do with consumer trepidation in regards to virtual reality in general. Surprisingly, there were more VR titles announced than VR-less ones, led by Blood and Truth, which is essentially the spiritual successor to The London Heist; a game that was a part of PSVR Worlds at launch. This is seemingly a full gaming experience built exclusively for virtual reality. However, it doesn’t necessarily seem like a unit seller, which is what Sony desperately needs in order for it to make any sense to pour more money into VR.

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Say what you will about Microsoft, their conferences have been solid over the last couple of years, spearheaded by Project Scorpio AKA Xbox One X. With the release of “the most powerful console ever” this past Tuesday, time will tell if Xbox One X lives up to Microsoft’s expectations. It’s also true that their first party offerings have been bleak, with numerous cancelations and former gaming heavy hitters such as Halo punching below their weight. However, this leaves plenty of room for the Xbox One to have a comeback of its own, something Phil Spencer and co. have been sowing the seeds for above the grave of the original visions for the console. The generation belongs to the PS4, but Microsoft has nowhere to go but up.

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Since Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo have planted their flags as the big three in gaming at the turn of the century, each company has seemingly gone in a cycle of peaks and valleys. Nintendo has done a complete 180 from the dismal Wii U with Switch; an immensely popular console that took everyone by surprise. And Microsoft went from king of the hill with 360 to second place with Xbox One. It’s seemingly only a matter of time before Sony’s fortunes change. The PlayStation 4 will regardless be one of the most successful consoles of all time, and will ultimately have a great line up of games and experiences exclusive to the system. It’s unclear to me, however, if Sony has peaked or will continue to heighten excitement for its console. And heaven forbid Death Stranding releases any later than 2020.

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