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Sony keeps screwing up its PlayStation cross-gen strategy

A screenshot of the upcoming PS4 and PS5 exclusive Horizon Forbidden West.

This week in Protocol Gaming, your weekly guide to the business of video games: Sony still can't figure out its cross-gen strategy, a game industry CEO accidentally instigates a high-profile exit, and the Epic v. Apple trial comes to a close.


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The Big Story

Sony's sloppy cross-gen strategy is overshadowing the PS5's success

Sony's cross-generation strategy is looking more haphazard with each passing month. The company last week held a wildly successful PlayStation showcase, giving fans the first glimpse at major sequels like Marvel's Spider-Man 2 and God of War: Ragnarok.

But the showcase's success didn't fully make up for yet another self-inflicted wound regarding the company's sloppy, poorly executed cross-generation strategy. Next to Microsoft's more consumer-friendly initiatives, Sony's approach to pricing games across the PS4 and PS5 is looking dated and greedy, and it threatens to mar the company's otherwise sterling reputation for delivering high-quality first-party titles.

Sony can't seem to get cross-gen right. Contradicting a previous announcement, Sony earlier this month revealed preorder details for upcoming exclusive Horizon Forbidden West that did not include a free upgrade from the PS4 to PS5 version. Instead, you had to shell out for one of the costly special editions. Within hours, the company admitted its mistake.

  • "It's abundantly clear that the offerings we confirmed in our pre-order kickoff missed the mark," wrote Hermen Hulst in an update to the initial blog post.
  • The company acknowledged that it previously promised a free upgrade for customers who purchased the game on PS4 and said moving forward that all first-party PlayStation games released on both PS4 and PS5 would offer an upgrade for $10.
  • The issue stings for PlayStation fans, many of whom have tried and failed for months to purchase the new console and may ultimately resort to playing Horizon Forbidden West and other titles on older hardware.

The PlayStation platform has a poor track record here. Sony promoted its new console back in 2020 with the marketing mantra "we believe in generations," emphasizing exclusive games you couldn't play anywhere else.

  • But the company ultimately reversed course, announcing that some titles, like Horizon Forbidden West and God of War: Ragnarok, would come to both the existing PS4 platform and the PS5.
  • Fans are torn on the strategy. On one hand, it makes sense Sony wouldn't want to leave behind the nearly 120 million PS4 owners, especially amid a console shortage. But it also raises performance questions, like whether developers are hamstrung by making supposedly next-gen games run on hardware from 2013.
  • It feels like a bait and switch with an added cost. Sony promoted the PS5 as the only place for its exclusive lineup. Now we know that's not true, in addition to having to pay to upgrade products you might already own when (and if) you can get your hands on a next-gen device.

Microsoft is blazing the trail here, and Sony can't keep up. The Xbox platform has long had a clear, concise cross-gen initiative called Smart Delivery. Any first-party game released on Xbox One can also be played, for free, on the Xbox Series S/X and Windows, too.

  • Microsoft doesn't appear to care about milking consumers for an extra $10 or $20 for a performance upgrade, mainly because it's not focused on unit sales and instead is prioritizing Xbox Game Pass subscriptions.
  • Game costs are rising; many publishers have set the new standard price tag at $70, making even more added costs like upgrade fees feel more egregious.
  • Microsoft recognizes this better than the competition, and the company has made enjoying the first year of new Xbox games feel affordable and accessible thanks to Game Pass, Smart Delivery and backwards compatibility.

Sony may be hoping many of these launch year woes disappear once it starts pumping out new exclusives you can only play on the PS5. But that won't realistically begin happening until 2023 at least, which is about how long we're now expecting the console shortage to last.

So if Sony insists on supporting its existing PS4 owners, it'd be smart to take a page out of Microsoft's playbook for once and stop nickel-and-diming its most dedicated fans because they either can't afford or can't find a PS5.

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Overheard

  • "While your politics are your own, the moment you make them a matter of public discourse you entangle all of those working for and with you … We started Shipwright with the idea that it was finally time to put our money where our mouth is. We cannot in good conscience continue to work with Tripwire under the current leadership structure." ―Shipwright Studios, a partner of Killing Floor creator Tripwire, released a statement condemning Tripwire CEO John Gibson's support for the new Texas abortion ban. Gibson left the company last week following widespread criticism of his comments.
  • "I don't think we're scaling for the sake of becoming big. I want to be very selective. Our growth is measured in that sense. It is very quality-led and based on shared values and good relationships." ―PlayStation Studios chief Hermen Hulst discusses Sony's acquisition spree this summer with Gamesindustry.biz, following news of the company's purchase of U.K.-based developer Firesprite last week.

Lootbox

  • On Protocol: The Epic v. Apple verdict arrived Friday, dealing a blow to Apple's anti-steering provisions but largely denying Epic a vast majority of its claims. Epic has already appealed the ruling, and the Fortnite maker is still in an ongoing legal battle with Google.
  • A gaming unicorn is born. 1047 Games, the developer behind the explosively popular first-person shooter Splitgate, announced on Tuesday it has raised another $100 million, its third round of funding this summer. 1047 Games is now valued at $1.5 billion, making it arguably the fastest-growing gaming unicorn in recent memory.
  • GameStop says it's "evolving" away from video games. In a somewhat perplexing move, GameStop said in an earnings release last week it was evolving from a video game seller into a technology company "that connects customers with games, entertainment and a wide assortment of products," GameSpot reported. GME shares are still soaring well beyond their pre-2021 level thanks to last year's Reddit-led retail investor rally.
  • Twitch files lawsuits against infamous hate raiders. The live-streaming service has taken aim at two individuals believed to be responsible for organizing so-called hate raids "targeting black and LGBTQIA+ streamers with racist, homophobic, sexist and other harassing content," according to a report from Wired. The lawsuit, filed in California last week, alleges the Europe-based trolls rely on vast bot armies to harass streamers.
  • Amazon quietly expands Luna cloud gaming service. Amazon will let Prime members use its Luna cloud gaming platform for free up until Sept. 15. Luna is also expanding its partnership with Ubisoft to include more brand-new releases on launch day and adding a new $2.99 Family tier, Ars Technica reported.
  • The Switch gets a rare price drop. Nintendo is lowering the price on its base model Switch console in parts of Europe ahead of the release of the OLED version next month. In the U.K., the Switch now costs £20 less, while in some European markets the device is now discounted by €30, The Verge reported.
  • Epic brings an end to Houseparty. The video chat app, which Epic acquired for $35 million in 2019, is being shut down for good in October, TechCrunch reported. Epic used the platform to integrate livestreaming into Fortnite, but now both the app and the Fortnite feature are no more. The team is staying at Epic to help build "metaverse scale" social products.
  • Cloud gaming could see a big boom in Asia. A new report from Niko Partners says the market for cloud gaming in Asia could grow significantly over the next few years, jumping from around 150 million prospective customers today to more than a half billion by 2025, VentureBeat reported. Much of that will depend, however, on attracting some of Asia's estimated 1.4 billion mobile players.
  • Jam City funnels new funding into an acquisition. Fresh off a $350 million round of financing, mobile developer Jam City last week acquired Montreal-based Ludia, a studio known best for making licensed Jurassic Park games for NBCUniversal, Forbes reported. The deal will add 400 or so employees to Jam City's existing 800-person workforce.

Look out for

Temple Run returns

One of the most iconic mobile hits, Temple Run, is returning this week, with a twist. Temple Run: Puzzle Adventure is a new match-three-style game arriving on iOS as an Apple Arcade exclusive. The game has been in development for over two years, developer Imangi told Protocol. The studio worked with established mobile firm Scopely to soft launch different versions of the title in various markets on Android starting in 2017. Now, the finalized game is ready for prime time, if you're a paying Arcade subscriber.

Temple Run became an early iPhone hit after its launch in 2011 and it has since amassed 2 billion downloads. There have been various spinoffs over the years, and Imangi is now interested in expanding the Temple Run property, first with its Apple Arcade release and then to TV thanks to a deal with the production company behind "American Ninja Warrior."

A MESSAGE FROM CONFLUENCE

Take meetings off your plate but keep the whole team in sync with project templates and collaboration tools. With Confluence you can cut meetings by 60%. Let Confluence be your alternative to endless meetings and enable real collaboration for your team. Try Confluence today. Start for free!

Learn more

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