PlayStation's recent studio acquisitions show it has a plan for success
In light of how Microsoft vastly expanded the Xbox first-party portfolio through buying ZeniMax Media, I previously argued that Sony didn't need to acquire a publisher and based on the company's current trajectory, it seems we're in agreement. While nowhere near as splashy or headline-grabbing as Microsoft's purchase of ZeniMax Media, Sony is expanding the PlayStation first-party family with smaller but strategic acquisitions. Recent announcements indicate that Sony is interested in acquiring companies to grow Sony Worldwide Studios where appropriate, with the company buying Finnish developer Housemarque and PC porting team Nixxes Software within the same week.
In fact, when you look at what Sony has chosen to purchase, both are fairly obvious decisions, which is a good thing! Housemarque is a longtime partner, having worked on PS3 titles like Dead Nation, as well as Resogun, Alienation, and Nex Machina for the PS4. Even before the critical success of Returnal on the PS5, there was an established relationship, so bringing Housemarque into PlayStation proper elevates both sides.
Nixxes Software is a little less obvious but Sony is interested in bringing its games to PC. Death Stranding, Horizon Zero Dawn, and Days Gone are just the start, with Uncharted 4: A Thief's End seemingly next up. It's a big change for a lot of Sony's teams that haven't worked on PC ports before, meaning the talents of Nixxes are a welcome boon. Combined with how there's an increased demand for support work as the lingering effects of the pandemic mean work-from-home is here to stay, it's clear just why this addition fits.
In addition, PlayStation Japan accidentally uploaded an image welcoming Bluepoint Games to the PlayStation family. Bluepoint Games has been responsible for one of the best PS5 games available so far, the Demon's Souls remake, so the potential news was welcome. While it was quickly deleted, if this does go through, it's another smart acquisition that makes sense for expanding Worldwide Studios without having to massively disrupt the market.
While expanding its first-party slate, Sony has also shown a willingness to go out on a limb and sign early publishing deals with new studios like Haven, Firewalk, and Deviation. While revealed at an unusually early, rapid rate, these publishing deals with new unproven teams provide creative injection into the upcoming PlayStation pipeline.
None of this means Sony shouldn't continue to grow. It just doesn't need to make a massive splash and undertake the complicated nature of absorbing a publisher.
Comparing the angles PlayStation and Xbox are on and declaring one a failure seems like the wrong approach. Microsoft was in a position where it needed to grow its first-party capabilities by a large factor and rapidly, meaning that the Zenimax / Bethesda acquisition provided a great number of iconic IP and franchises such as DOOM, Fallout, and The Elder Scrolls. Sony already has strong IP, with the clear ability to elevate new ideas into mainstream blockbusters, like with the success of multi-million sellers Horizon Zero Dawn and Ghost of Tsushima, the latter of which will see a Director's Cut later this year.
My coworker Jennifer Locke still believes Sony should buy a publisher in order to expand by a significant amount, but I don't see it, at least not unless things are shaken up even more drastically with the removal of several key third-party publishers by other players. If that does come to pass, things will change for Sony's output and it'll need to be aggressive to stay competitive but I don't see this happening.
There's no doubt the video game industry is in the middle of a consolidation phase, with experienced teams being acquired and veteran developers striking out on their own, but Sony hasn't been left behind. The moves it makes may not generate as many ripples as the competition, but there weren't as many needed in the first place.
PlayStation didn't need to acquire a publisher to have a solid PS5 lineup, with Returnal and Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart delivering solid experiences in the first half of 2021. Looking ahead, Guerrilla Games and Sony Santa Monica are chugging away at the gorgeous Horizon Forbidden West and the next God of War game, respectively.
Further out than that, Naughty Dog's upcoming yet unrevealed Factions game should grant a new look at multiplayer in the world of The Last of Us. Bend Studio is eschewing a sequel to Days Gone for a new open-world IP, Sony Santa Monica is widely believed to have a second game in development, and that's without getting into the potential of new projects from London Studio, Team Asobi, Pixelopus and others.
Quality, quantity, and the balance between are always somewhat subjective but right now, the promise is that PS5 owners will get a stacked slate of great games over the next several years. Losing out on games from Bethesda will no doubt be disappointing but it doesn't take away from the lineup PlayStation Studios has cultivated. Sony proved all through the PS4's lifecycle that it can deliver high-quality games and there's no reason to believe that's stopped or that it will stop some years down the line.
Of course, growth and games are backed up by services and there's where I think Sony does have room to grow. PlayStation Plus delivers solid games on a monthly basis but PlayStation Now, with its large library and options for downloading or streaming games, feels woefully underutilized, especially with PlayStation moving into the mobile market. The infrastructure is there and leveraging PlayStation Now to stream games to mobile devices instead of just consoles and PC would be an easy way for Sony to grow itself in the gaming market, keeping pace with Xbox Cloud Gaming.
That's not to say just directly copying Microsoft's cloud gaming approach will work but rather that the potential there to reach players who might never be inclined to purchase a console shouldn't be neglected. Sony has its games and studios figured out. Now it just needs to grow elsewhere.
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Samuel Tolbert is a freelance writer covering gaming news, previews, reviews, interviews and different aspects of the gaming industry, specifically focusing on PlayStation on Android Central. You can find him on Twitter @SamuelTolbert