A year in review: PlayStation had a slow but successful 2021
2021 was a weird year for PlayStation, not to mention the games industry as a whole. It was the first full year the PS5 was on sale, but it also happened to be a year fraught with supply shortages amid a deadly pandemic. It's been near-impossible to buy a PS5, and as Niko Partners senior analyst Daniel Ahmed noted on Twitter, it's taken quite a toll on potential sales.
Not all's bad for PlayStation, though. It managed to unlock expanded SSD storage on the PS5, drop some stellar exclusives throughout the year, and reveal a slate of impressive upcoming games.
While I don't think it managed to have quite a great year as Xbox has had, especially with Microsoft's acquisition of ZeniMax Media, PlayStation proved it wouldn't rest on its laurels and be complacent. It made some notable studio purchases and delivered easily the most impressive showcase of the year in September. PlayStation fans have a lot to look forward to, but let's first take a look back at what 2021 had in store.
Games, games, games
Diving into its game releases, none stand out quite like Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart, which was up for numerous game awards this year. In our own review, we called it a new flagship franchise for PlayStation, and said, "longtime series fans and newcomers alike owe it to themselves to play Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart. It's an excellent addition to the beloved franchise that proves you can teach an old dog new tricks."
Needless to say, it was a success story for Insomniac and PlayStation. And not to be slowed down by a major release, Insomniac is already hard at work on the Spider-Man 2 and a new Wolverine game. We have every reason to believe those games will be just as excellent given Insomniac's track record.
PlayStation also saw the releases of Deathloop and Kena: Bridge of Spirits, both receiving high praise here at Android Central and across the industry. While delays have no doubt taken a toll on Sony's roadmap, it was a relief to see that the company could still snag a few big hits over the year.
That said, some notable exclusives like Horizon Forbidden West, Gran Turismo 7, and God of War Ragnarok were all pushed to 2022 after initially, if naively, expecting to launch in 2021. Those were major delays over a holiday period that saw Xbox's Halo Infinite release. PlayStation needed a big holiday hit, and it just didn't have one.
Stock isn't keeping up with demand
Despite selling over 13.4 million units as of October 2021, PS5 production just can't keep up with demand. The pandemic decimated supply chains and caused chip shortages throughout the world; chips that are integral in making gaming consoles. Sony had originally wanted to manufacture 16 million consoles by the end of March 2022, but that number was cut to 15 million due to production difficulties.
There's no arguing that the PS5 has been successful even with unprecedented demand, but PlayStation isn't able to fully capitalize on that popularity. As a result of low stock, scalpers have taken to selling consoles for upwards of $1,000, and it's more common than not to find outright scams on social media.
PlayStation is far from the only console manufacturer affected by this, with Microsoft and Nintendo both suffering from production shortages as well, but just because it isn't alone in this scenario doesn't mean it's any better. Sony is losing out on millions of dollars in potential sales. The silver lining to all of this is that as of August 2021, Sony is no longer selling the PS5 at a loss.
Studio acquisitions galore
Not to let Xbox have all of the fun with its ZeniMax acquisition, PlayStation was on quite a spending spree over the course of the year. Sony acquired five studios in 2021, adding to its first-party portfolio with Housemarque, Firesprite, Nixxes Software, Valkyrie, and Bluepoint. While Valkyrie and Nixxes are being described as support studios at the moment, that doesn't change the fact that Sony's been beefing up its workforce.
All of this should mean that PlayStation's first-party offerings will be more diverse and polished. But Housemarque and Bluepoint recently released two major games with Returnal and the Demon's Souls Remake, respectively, so any new projects from either may be years away.
PlayStation's move onto PC
For the longest time, first-party games would only release on PlayStation platforms, completely skipping a PC release. That changed in 2020, and the company's PC efforts continued to expand in 2021. After seeing Horizon Zero Dawn hit PCs, Days Gone followed suit. Upcoming PC releases include God of War and Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection. It may be a small list for now, but it's sure to grow as time goes on, and it shows that PlayStation is becoming more aware of its growing market.
You'll see some online decry this as a win for Microsoft, but it's really not. Sony releasing these games on PC only gets them into the hands of more players and makes it more money. It's a win/win scenario. It doesn't devalue the console exclusivity of certain games. It's expanding an ecosystem, and that's something that PlayStation desperately needs.
Both Days Gone and Horizon Zero Dawn found tremendous success on PC, topping Steam sales charts, and we have every reason to believe that that trend will continue as more PlayStation exclusives are released.
What is going on with PlayStation Now
PlayStation Now had a very average, unnoteworthy year, but there's reason to believe that may change soon. Bloomberg reported that PlayStation is set to create its own service to compete with Xbox Game Pass, effectively merging PS Plus and PS Now into one subscription. The company will apparently keep the PlayStation Plus branding but "phase out PlayStation Now," according to documents.
Spartacus, as the service is reportedly code-named, may have three tiers at varying price points, offering different services. The first would essentially be PS Plus as it stands, the second would offer a library of free PS4 and PS5 games, and the third would add extended demos, game streaming, and a library of classic PS1, PS2, PS3, and PSP games.
Considering that PlayStation Now launched a whole three years before Xbox Game Pass and somehow fumbled the ball badly, this report is only good news. PS Now never struck a cord like Game Pass did, even though it had every opportunity in the world to be better. It wasn't even until 2019 that its price dropped from $20 per month (!!!) to $10 per month. Even thinking about paying $240 a year for what PS Now has to offer is absurd.
The best PS5 firmware update yet
It was already ridiculous when the PS5 was announced with an 825GB internal SSD, oddly foregoing the 1TB option, and it was made worse when only 667GB was usable. The icing on top was that the console didn't support expanded storage at launch, meaning you had to use the PS5's internal SSD to play PS5 games. There was no other option. That is until Sony unlocked expanded SSD storage in a firmware update.
There may be some strict specification requirements, but some of the best SSDs for PS5 work wonders for increasing players' storage.
Looking back at 2021
Taking a step back, 2021 was a solid year for PlayStation as a whole. Despite game delays and stock shortages, it managed to break sales records and deliver excellent products. That said, when you look at what Microsoft has achieved with Xbox, it's hard to ignore PlayStation's shortcomings. Xbox Game Pass doesn't have a real competitor (yet) and even with Sony's recent studio acquisitions, it doesn't match what Xbox has cultivated in its first-party family.
Considering that 2021 was by no means a normal year, with the pandemic and everything going on, PlayStation faced an uphill battle admirably. Trouble may be stirring behind the scenes according to Bloomberg, which reports high turnover due to Sony's fixation on blockbuster titles, but the company's roadmap gives reason for hope.
What 2022 and beyond holds for PlayStation
As I mentioned earlier, PlayStation has an impressive lineup of exclusives on the way stacked with Marvel titles and franchise entries from its most popular series. But that's not all. A Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic Remake is in the works, bringing back the acclaimed classic to PS5. Final Fantasy 16, at least at launch, will be PS5 exclusive as well, showing that PlayStation isn't afraid to spend money on deals that benefit it (regardless of what your opinion on timed third-party exclusivity deals may be).
I'm not concerned about the state of PlayStation Studios since it has plenty of IP to draw from. What's going to set PlayStation apart next year is what it can potentially offer with its Xbox Game Pass competitor. We've seen more and more third-party games launch into Microsoft's service, while PlayStation users are stuck spending $60 to $70 a pop each time a new game releases. That adds up. Game Pass Ultimate is $180 per year, the equivalent of just three new games. For a company that prides itself in being "for the players," PlayStation decidedly hasn't always been consumer-friendly.
Not to be content with just releasing its catalog on PC, PlayStation has also committed to mobile gaming. CEO Jim Ryan believes that PlayStation's portfolio would translate well to Android and iOS devices.
Judging by earnings calls throughout the year, PlayStation will certainly be diversifying its portfolio even more in the coming years. We've already seen the beginnings of it happening in 2021. The games industry is a constantly changing and evolving space, so it only makes sense for PlayStation to evolve with it.
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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.