PlayStation Games and the Maturation of the Medium
Script: Video games! We love them, we play them, and some of us grew up with them. And if you did, by paying attention over the last couple of decades, you might’ve noticed that video games have also grown up with us… As corny as it sounds
In the era of Games As A Service, Twitch streaming, Battle Royale, Loot Boxes, and video games as a means for continual monetary gain, there’s a lingering fear that we’re seeing the death of single player games before our eyes. This fear is understandable. Particularly when we see examples like EA Visceral’s Star Wars game being shut down. The fact of the matter is that single player games, especially linear, narrative driven games are making less money than their multiplayer counterparts. Especially today with the advent of Twitch streaming and content creation. One of the easiest and biggest forms of marketing video games currently is by catching the attention of content creators. That’s why we see games like Fortnite, PUBG, GTA Online, Minecraft, and the like take off into such high player numbers. And that’s also why we’re seeing games like Wolfenstein, Tomb Raider, Dishonored, and other single player games sell less. Content creators tend to only play games like these one time through, or not at all. This is of course just one factor, but there are many factors like this one contributing to the idea that single player games are dying.
Now, I don’t think single player games are dying. I think other types of games are growing and becoming more prevalent but I don’t think this is coming at the expense of single player games. Between indie creators, publishers like Bethesda who are committed to this artform, and hungry audiences still wanting single player experiences, there are plenty of reasons for these types of games to continue to exist. I want to talk about one of the biggest proponents of single player games and their progression and maturation. This takes the form of Sony Interactive Entertainment’s Worldwide Studios.
The PlayStation 4 is currently the home to quite possibly one of the greatest first party exclusive game libraries of all time. Yes, it’s a bold claim seeing as how the NES, Super Nintendo, and every other Nintendo console exists but I stand by it. The transition from the PlayStation 3 to the PlayStation 4 cannot be understated in terms of Sony’s quality of games. It would take a while to really sit down and list every Sony exclusive since the PS1, but as far as notable titles, the original PlayStation had games such as Crash Bandicoot, Final Fantasy VII, Spyro The Dragon, Parappa The Rapper, and Ape Escape along with non-first party exclusive games such as Metal Gear Solid. On the first party side specifically, the PlayStation 2 had some hard hitters like Shadow of The Colossus, Ratchet & Clank, Sly Cooper, and God of War. PlayStation 3 had Resistance, Heavy Rain, Killzone 2 and 3, Infamous, Uncharted, and The Last of Us. Now, of course, this doesn’t even begin to cover the breadth of first party games on these systems. There’s a lot more I could name. That’s just a very comprehensive, all-encompassing list.
Now, once brought forward to the PlayStation 4, there’s a notable pattern to pinpoint as far as Sony’s direction with their first party games. We just got the the juggernaut that was the new God of War. There’s Detroit: Become Human, the Shadow of The Colossus remake which we got earlier this year. Last year the big PlayStation game was Horizon Zero Dawn. The PS4 has your Bloodbornes and Until Dawns of the world. Ratchet and Clank and others. Upcoming games like Spider-Man, Days Gone, The Last of Us Part II, Death Stranding, Ghost of Tsushima and more are proving the PlayStation 4 to be ground zero for an insane lineup of first party exclusive games. These are coming from Worldwide Studios, a group of video game developers owned by Sony Interactive Entertainment themselves. And the thing that the majority of these games have in common, I’ll let you guess… is their qualitative approach to big single player experiences.
I mentioned before that multiplayer, stream-ability, and longevity are the key to selling games. This is why Activision hits gold with Call of Duty every year. This is why EA doesn’t make single player games anymore. This is why the biggest games on Twitch and YouTube are all multiplayer. So what is the point of Sony’s focus on single player? Well, simply put, great games sell consoles. Great SINGLE PLAYER games sell consoles, especially now that your Activisions, EAs, Ubisofts, and Epics of the world have multiplayer pretty much covered, shout out to Fortnite. Sony’s fulfilling the need that third party studios are leaving behind thus allowing them to become the leaders of this facet of the market. And leading, they are.
God of War is a game that feels like the natural evolution of where games are supposed to go. I touched on this in my review of the game. Its cinematic approach to cutscenes coupled with its brilliantly written and performed dialogue compliments an impactful and personal narrative. It feels like a mixture of Uncharted’s cinematics, Last of Us’s in game dialogue, Dark Souls’ more methodical, slow combat, and The Witcher’s world building and lore. Elements that make these different games great were put into God of War and truly evolved action-adventure without necessarily bringing something completely brand new to the genre. Sony Santa Monica studios is refining what it means to be a narrative driven action game with God of War and they’re not Sony’s only studio to do so.
Horizon Zero Dawn was a new IP last year from a different Sony studio, Guerrilla games that furthered the medium in some similar ways to God of War. It’s an open world game akin to Far Cry with narrative elements once again akin to an Uncharted. The details and beauty of the world, the direction of its lore and the sci-fi post apocalypse made the game feel like a new idea while being a refinement of its own genre. There are similar things I can say about other PlayStation games such as Uncharted 4, Bloodborne, and The Last Guardian. These games are at the height of quality within their respective genres (Yeah, I stick by The Last Guardian being a masterpiece) and these games are similarly representative of the growth that those genres have seen. They take ideas and evolve them. And because of this, they’re widely regarded as masterclass works.
I think the shift for Sony happened with The Last of Us in 2013. A game that represented a lot in terms of the ability for the medium to not only tell fantastic stories, but to push boundaries. The Last of Us was a watershed moment with its critical reception, and its impact on the medium. And it did this by having a mature and refined take on a genre that was already becoming tired. Naughty Dog had creative liberty and used it to create something that felt like the next step of video games. And the influence of that game rippled out into what we are seeing now with God of War, Horizon Zero Dawn, and upcoming games as well. It’s even more apparent when we look at the beginnings of the PS4 generation and observe games like Infamous Second Son, and KillZone ShadowFall. Both, fine games, but are representative of games that were in development by the time of Last of Us’ release. There’s a clear before and after effect that takes place with The Last of Us and Sony’s direction following.
Sony understands their place in terms of what their games mean to the medium. They’re responsible for pushing the boundaries in many ways with their software. They’ve taken on almost a similar role as Nintendo when comparing the impact and quality of their games and they’re showing commitment in delivering in both quality and quantity of diverse, trailblazing experiences. Video games have grown. And with the role that first party development has, expect them to keep growing.