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How Sony is Adapting to Change with the PlayStation 4
I was tremendously impressed with Sony’s Gamescom 2014 conference. The almost ironic thing about that is, if you were to ask which games blew me away, my response would be, “None.” While I always prepare myself for that one game that sends my jaw to the floor, Sony instead delivered something I wasn’t expecting in the least: a diverse showcase of upcoming releases for the PlayStation 4.
I’ve heard people express disappointment in Sony’s Gamescom conference, probably for the precise reason that there was nothing that sent their nerdy sensations through the roof. What I saw was an arsenal of games that communicates Sony is fully prepared for this generation, not just to coast along, but to embrace all aspects of gaming. Ultimately, this will put them in a position to continue thriving for years to come, perhaps even more so than their competitors.
Let’s rewind the clock a couple of years. The industry was plagued with disaster (read: change), resulting in massive layoffs, downsizing, and, for the most ill-fated studios, complete shutdowns. Between the advancement of smartphone technology providing a terrific medium for indie developers to create low-cost mobile games, the high cost of developing AAA games for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, and the near-crippling recession that hit midway through the last gaming generation, there were naysayers and countless publications across the Internet declaring that console gaming was dying and wouldn’t last beyond the next (now current) generation.
I’m not here to say those predictions were baseless, but the future of console gaming has always been dependent on whether companies can adapt to change and maintain salience as trends gravitate away from AAA gaming. This problem, in case you fell out of the loop last generation, stemmed from many AAA games being unable to turn a profit due to high development costs. The result was an industry where the only games making a sustainable profit were the ridiculously huge blockbusters like Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty and the extremely low-cost indie games like Angry Birds.
The problem was never that mobile gaming was going to supplant console gaming as many suggested. Mobile gaming can be great, but from my point-of-view it’s an entirely different experience playing a game on a 5-inch screen with minimal controls (which are touch-based) and sitting in front of a 50-inch TV with a controller in your hand. The true question was how console manufacturers could adapt to those changes. Sony demonstrated at Gamescom that they are aware of new trends in the industry and are prepared to incorporate them into their strategy.
Of course, Sony’s conference wasn’t comprised only of small indie titles, though they were certainly present. Alongside the announcement of PlayStation 4 ports of Journey and The Unfinished Swan, Sony also showcased Michel Ancel’s newest project, Wild, as well as Rime, the second project by Tequila Works that hearkens back to Ico. Bigger titles, such as Destiny, Far Cry 4, and Bloodborne also made an appearance. There were a few surprises in the horror department, including Until Dawn and, in what was undoubtedly the biggest surprise of the conference, Silent Hills, a new Silent Hill game from Hideo Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro starring Norman Reedus (The Boondock Saints, The Walking Dead).
Why is this eclecticism so important? Quite simply, it demonstrates that Sony is looking to new avenues instead of relying on AAA blockbusters that helped plunge the industry in such turmoil. The PlayStation 4 has plenty to offer in terms of big budget games, but Sony has now shown consumers they’re not afraid to support all manner of games and developers.
If you look back to even a few years ago, it’s unlikely we would have seen much of this during a major conference. These showcases were reserved for big budget titles with gunfighting through war-ravaged streets and high-end graphics displaying all manner of gore and violence. It’s a true testament to where Sony is moving in the industry that they offered such a range of games. That many of the titles most talked about over the Internet are smaller titles like Wild is proof that Sony is taking the right steps.
Of course, at this early stage it is impossible to tell whether Microsoft and Nintendo will take a similar approach down the road, but if they wish to achieve the level of success Sony is already experiencing with the PlayStation 4 (it has already sold over ten million units) and maintain salience, they would do well to take notes. Again, there may have been nothing that floored me (though many are still hyped over the Silent Hills announcement and playable teaser), but Gamescom only further solidified my decision to purchase a PlayStation 4. And I’m betting many of the games that showed up at Gamescom will be part of my library.