Sony still needs to buy a publisher for PlayStation — but that's only part of the puzzle
In the months following Microsoft's acquisition of ZeniMax Media, and subsequently Bethesda, I argued that Sony should follow suit and purchase a publisher as well. Given recent announcements from the company — partnering with third-party studios like Haven and Firewalk and purchasing developers Housemarque and Nixxes — it's clear that PlayStation doesn't seem interested in a heavy-hitting publisher, instead cultivating a growing first-party portfolio through careful and deliberate acquisitions.
While in the short term I can see this benefiting Sony, I don't think it will work out in the long run as direct competitor Xbox beefs up its offerings. And even if Sony were to buy a publisher, it doesn't solve the entire problem.
Not only did Microsoft buy a goldmine of IP when it acquired ZeniMax, it also bought the perfect way to sell Xbox Game Pass subscriptions to those who hadn't already bought in. That's what PlayStation is missing, a competitive publisher that can go toe-to-toe with what ZeniMax offers and a way to deliver those games to consumers at a fraction of their retail price.
I've said it before, but PlayStation Now needs to be overhauled. It's not a serious Xbox Game Pass competitor as it stands, even with the recent addition of Red Dead Redemption 2. It's not that blockbusters don't come to PS Now, it's that they're always older games. You're not going to sell subscriptions like that, especially with Xbox Game Pass getting games on day one.
Sony can keep making strategic studio acquisitions all it wants, but the level of IP it has can't match ZeniMax, in my opinion. Microsoft bought Fallout, The Elder Scrolls, Wolfenstein, Doom, Dishonored, Prey, The Evil Within, and new IP like Starfield, not to mention any projects those companies have planned for the future. That list of legacy IP is one of the strongest in the business, and some consider them to be the best series ever made. Not only do they sell well — Skyrim is on almost every platform imaginable at this point — but they're beloved classics.
Companies like Capcom, Konami, and even Square Enix offer strong portfolios and already have ties to PlayStation because they're all based in Japan. If PlayStation could secure the rights to series like Resident Evil, Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts, Tomb Raider, or Silent Hill, that'd be a huge win. And that's not even a fraction of the IP that these publishers own. Then, imagine how successful it could be if new games in those series launch into PlayStation Now for subscribers.
My colleague Samuel Tolbert believes that Sony shouldn't buy a publisher to compete with Microsoft and that its recent acquisitions proves it has a plan for success. While I admit that PlayStation does have a strong portfolio of IP that's continuing to grow with smaller acquisitions, like I said earlier, I don't believe it's enough to keep up with Microsoft.
Sony's currently cooking up a sequel to God of War, Horizon Forbidden West, Gran Turismo 7, an unannounced Spider-Man sequel, and a number of secret projects. Even just a few of the names on this list could become some of the best PS5 games ever made, but I don't think that's enough compared to what we know is coming to Xbox, specifically through Xbox Game Pass.
Microsoft and Xbox have found the perfect combination to expand its ecosystem in a way that PlayStation hasn't. I know it doesn't always look good to "follow the pack," so to speak, because a company wants to forge its own path, but this is a situation where I think PlayStation does need to take note and emulate what Xbox is doing. It can't rest on its laurels.
A positive sign that Sony is paying attention in some way is how it's publicly revealing its intent to diversify its assets. PlayStation is making a big move into mobile gaming and its acquisition of Nixxes Software, which has made a name for itself in PC ports, shows that it's taking PC gaming more seriously. Sony realizes that the PS5 console itself is only a small fraction of the pie.
By not putting all of its eggs into one basket, PlayStation ensures that it has multiple avenues open to success. Days Gone topped sales charts when it released on Steam, and Horizon Zero Dawn sold nearly as well as The Witcher 3 when it came to PC. All this does is make PlayStation games more accessible and put money in Sony's pockets — money that can go towards new IP, services, and acquisitions.
If this sounds doom and gloom for Sony, it shouldn't. I don't think Sony is in any trouble right now, but I do think that if it wants to stay competitive in the coming years it needs to be aggressive and make big moves. Buying a publisher, overhauling PlayStation Now, and continuing to expand in mobile and PC should do the trick.
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Jennifer Locke has been playing video games nearly her entire life. You can find her posting pictures of her dog and obsessing over PlayStation and Xbox, Star Wars, and other geeky things.