2022 has been a disruptive year for all players in the games industry. As Microsoft continues to fight to complete the largest acquisition the industry has ever seen, Sony appears to find itself in a precarious situation. Despite being the market leader in current-gen hardware sales and revenue, the current shifts in the industry — not just in acquisitions — seem to be stirring some change within the company.
All through 2022 Sony has been planting seeds for what it hopes to be major new growth opportunities outside of its console and first-party studio output. From mobile and VR to live service, subscriptions, and even multimedia pushes, all signs point to 2023 being a redefining year for the PlayStation brand.
The moves PlayStation has made this year alone indicate that 2023 will be a far cry from the PlayStation of years past.
We began to see the beginning of a strategic PlayStation shift in 2022, which made it clear that Sony was paying attention to the landscape around it. Seemingly looking to create its own Xbox Game Pass, the company dove into the subscription service model with a revamped PS Plus this year. The service gives players the option to access a large library of downloadable PS4 and PS5 titles at the Extra tier, plus PS2, PSP, PS1, and PS3 streaming titles at the most expensive Premium tier.
In order to make a service like that appealing, Sony would need to put an emphasis on software that goes beyond the handful of major exclusives it launches in any given year. We saw some signs that Sony was upping its commitment to games early in 2022 when it announced its intention to acquire Destiny developer Bungie. That was just a small part of a larger shift though, as the company also announced it would launch 12 live-service games by 2025. Adding to the pile of changes, that news came not long before PlayStation announced the creation of an entire mobile division after acquiring Savage Game Studios.
Those moves signal some big changes coming to PlayStation’s core software business, but there are some shifts in hardware coming too. In February, the company will launch PlayStation VR2, reaffirming Sony’s commitment to the tech by making it the only major console manufacturer chasing VR.
Each of those shifts set the stage for 2023, a year where all those disparate moves will come to a head. We’ll likely see Sony break into mobile gaming, start its push into live service, double down on VR, and put more emphasis on PS Plus. It’s unlikely that we’ll see a year where players are sitting on their hands between tentpole action-adventure games.
There’s currently a sense that PlayStation is in overhaul mode as it tries to adapt to a rapidly changing industry. When you look at all these moves point by point, it paints a picture of a company that sees a serious need to change course. Though it may find success in its new model, there are challenges it’ll need to address.
We can already see that in its PS Plus rollout, which has drawn a tepid reaction due to key shortcomings. Though it had the potential to be a response to Xbox Game Pass, it struggled to generate buzz due to its complicated tier system and an inconsistent rollout of retro titles — one of the service’s unique selling points. Sony will need to strengthen that offering for PS Plus to remain a viable pillar of its ecosystem.
One area that could make or break Sony is its pivot to live service, which remains an industry-leading model for long-term revenue. Sony has benefited from third-party games like Fortnite, Warzone, and Genshin Impact, but it has long left money on the table by not owning a long-tailed hit of its own. From a business perspective, it’s a no-brainer — but one that’s more difficult than it sounds. Flooding a market with games that are all intended to capture and retain players risks becoming a self-defeating strategy. Does it make sense to release such a massive number of titles rather than focusing on one or two good ones that can hook a wide player base? It’ll be a tough juggling act to execute over the next three years.
Sony is in a similar situation with mobile gaming. It’s another area where the company is following the money, which isn’t bad in itself, though it raises questions about how thin Sony will be spread in 2023 and beyond. We don’t know much about the scope of Sony’s plans. Head of PlayStation Hermen Hulst did state that this wouldn’t impact its commitment to console experiences, which likely means it’ll be supplemental to its core console offerings.
The PS VR2 is the most natural “side-project” PlayStation is embarking on, but Sony will need to work hard if it doesn’t want to repeat history. Sony has a history of underdelivering with its non-console hardware efforts like the original PS VR and PlayStation Vita, struggling to consistently support its less popular hardware. That, naturally, spiraled into fewer consumers willing to invest, creating less incentive for PlayStation and third parties to invest either. While I’m hopeful this time could be different, a juggling act as complex as Sony’s always runs the risk of a few dropped balls.
Since the end of the PlayStation 3 era, Sony’s business model has been dependent on premium single-player games. Heading into 2023, it feels like the company is reaching the end of a ticking clock as it moves to pivot. High-budget, high-quality single-player games are incredibly expensive to make — both in terms of financial and time cost. If one doesn’t manage to become a smash hit, that’s potentially years of time and hundreds of millions of dollars lost that just can’t be recouped overnight. Lower-scope mobile titles, live-service games full of microtransactions, and annual subscription fees could give Sony a certain flexibility it hasn’t had in over a decade.
The main difference may be one to Sony’s overall philosophy. Though it has always been focused on maximizing financial gain, there was always a sense that PlayStation was committed to the artistic craft of games. Its premiere single-player games were exceptional works of storytelling set in richly detailed worlds. Will that hold true as it chases big financial wins in spaces that are uncharted for Sony?
In 2023, there’s a possibility that we’ll see a PlayStation that’s all business.