Negative Buzz Surrounds PlayStation, But It’s Far From Dire

Over recent months, dissenting opinions surrounding the PlayStation brand have become gradually more common.

These have stemmed from a variety of sources, such as threats of the PlayStation 3, Vita, and PSP digital storefronts being taken down, reminding everyone of the inadequacies of the backwards compatibility in place on modern PlayStation systems, to the ever-growing value of Microsoft’s Game Pass further highlighting the weaknesses in Sony’s own subscription service, PlayStation Now. All in all, it’s fair to say that Sony’s been taking a bit of a verbal beating recently, and in some ways, deservedly so. But the truth that’s being lost in the scuffle is that the PlayStation brand has been (mostly) crushing it recently, and the near-future is looking brighter still.

The most obvious example of PlayStation’s victories lay with its exclusive line-up. Even as someone who wasn’t head-over-heels for many of the big PlayStation 4 exclusives, it’s clearly been a better offering than what was available on its main competitor’s devices, with plenty receiving universal acclaim. This trend has already proven to be continuing with the free Astro’s Playroom pack-in game, Bluepoint Games’ Demon’s Souls remake, Housemarque’s latest effort Returnal (which received a staggering 10/10 score from GameSpew), and there’s very little doubt that the upcoming Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart will be another must-buy for PS5 owners.

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According to a recent Nikkei Business Daily interview with Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO, Jim Ryan, this trend of back-to-back exclusives doesn’t seem like it’ll be stopping anytime soon. Jim Ryan stated that SIE has been “steadily investing in high-quality games for PlayStation 5”, and “will make sure that the PS5 generation will have more dedicated software than ever before.” While the verdict is still out on the latter statement, we’ve already begun to see hints of these investments. Veteran producer Jade Raymond’s studio, Haven, will be partnering with SIE for its debut title, and new AAA developer Firewalk Studios’ unannounced multiplayer title is being published by SIE as a console exclusive.

These announcements run in tandem to another comment from Sony CFO Hiroki Totoki, with him claiming in a recent conference call: “To enhance our software offering, we intend to continue investing in partnering with external studios, in addition to aggressively investing in our in-house studios.” As someone who was previously concerned about PlayStation exclusives becoming more homogenous and stagnant (especially following the recent closure of Japan Studio, and reports from Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier regarding a bigger focus on blockbuster releases), these recent comments and partnerships have been hugely reassuring to see.

Detractors may be quick to point to the price of PlayStation 5 exclusives, or the value proposition of Game Pass in comparison. Most of the AAA exclusives retail for £69.99, which is a tough pill to swallow, given the £49.99 retail price we’ve been used to throughout the eighth-console generation. But Sony has taken steps to ensure that PlayStation owners are still getting plenty of bang for their buck.

In recent months, PlayStation Plus subscribers have been able to redeem three monthly games as opposed to the previous two, with the third being a PlayStation 5 title. Generally speaking, they’ve been respectable picks. Last month, subscribers got access to Oddworld Soulstorm on launch day, and this month they can play the PS5 version of Wreckfest a month before its general release.

What’s more is that subscribing to PlayStation Plus nets PlayStation 5 owners access to the PlayStation Plus Collection, a library of 20 noteworthy PlayStation 4 hits that are accessible for as long as the PS Plus subscription is active. It includes the likes of Bloodborne, God of War, The Last Guardian, Monster Hunter: World, Persona 5, and more.

Even if you’re not someone who gets much use out of ongoing subscription services (like myself), the recent Play at Home initiative has been a fantastic service, giving all PS4 and PS5 owners access to eleven free games since 1st March, featuring standouts such as 2016’s Ratchet & Clank, Rez Infinite, Astro Bot Rescue Mission, and Horizon Zero Dawn: Complete Edition. Despite only being available to redeem for a limited time, it’s a warming gesture that’s completely commendable, seldom seen on other platforms.

What has clearly been perceived as SIE’s biggest failing in recent years is its approach to backwards compatibility and game preservation. While it backtracked its decision to close the PlayStation 3 and Vita storefronts, the library of older games on Sony formats has been frustratingly meagre. With the majority of PS4 games now playable on PS5 this is something that’s thankfully improving, but going back to seventh-gen games or earlier is mostly impossible outside of select ports and remasters. Game preservation has proven to be PlayStation’s biggest hurdle, though it’s an issue that’s also pervasive through Nintendo and Microsoft’s platforms, albeit to a lesser extent.

Nintendo has taken the most egregious approach to allowing fans to access its older games, through overpriced Wii U ports, an arbitrary six-month timed release on last year’s Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection, and NES and SNES being tied to its inadequate online service, with plenty of other classics being completely absent on Switch despite previously being available on other formats. Microsoft has made the biggest effort in allowing Xbox fans to access older games, but even then, there are a large number of omissions. Out of the 997 games released on the original Xbox, a paltry 38 can be played on modern Xbox systems. Xbox 360 backwards compatibility is a far more comprehensive offering by comparison, but that still only offers 477 games out of the system’s total library of 2,154 games. While we should expect and demand more from SIE when it comes to backwards compatibility on modern PlayStation systems, Microsoft and Nintendo need to be similarly held accountable for how they go about preserving their history.

Consumer criticism and customer feedback is vital for any industry, and I don’t think it’s wrong to highlight any of the PlayStation 5’s early missteps, or recent poor decisions surrounding the broader PlayStation brand. But recently, it feels like what would normally be deserving of high praise has been overshadowed by various outrages. The truth is that the PlayStation 5’s launch window has been far more impressive than most consoles, both in its quality of early titles and overall value. Time will ultimately tell, but for now, maybe ease those pitchforks slightly.