PlayStation 4: Our Once and *Former* King?
I hold to the belief that the current ruler of the console space at any given time didn’t get there by being smart, visionary, or tactful. They got there largely for one reason: the hubris of the former ruler of the console space. Nintendo dominated with the SNES and Wii but fumbled with misjudged follow-ups. Sony dominated with PlayStation 1 and 2 but overpromised on PlayStation 3 and hobbled developers with exceedingly proprietary architecture. Microsoft took the lead for the fantastic Xbox 360 era but reneged on their promise of a digital-only future, giving disgruntled gamers only one recourse: PlayStation 4.
In all these cases, the current leader did more to set themselves back than the competition did to deftly outsmart them and Sony is just the latest example. They’ve been riding that good will gale of Xbox dejecters since 2013 but their blowhard ego is very nearly ready to shred through their own sails. The signs have been on display for years: After bolstering their meager lineups with streams of indie titles, they’ve cooled immensely on promoting smaller developers. They continue to dance around the inability to change your PlayStation Network ID name. But most visibly is their continued stance against online cross-play between rival platforms.
Microsoft’s Phil Spencer has been extending the olive branch of cross-play peace for years and Nintendo’s Reggie Fils-Aime has most recently remained open to the idea. Sony, in comparison, seems dead set against it and they are quickly alienating themselves from the rest of the industry. This has all come to a head after Fortnite debuted on the Nintendo Switch this week and left players who had previously played on PlayStation 4 with inaccessible accounts.
The situation is upsetting enough but Sony’s response (thus far, at least) is worrying. The official statement is a self-aggrandizing one that prides Sony on being open to the PlayStation community’s wishes while completely ignoring the complaint. The statement delivered to the BBC reads:
“We’re always open to hearing what the PlayStation community is interested in to enhance their gaming experience. With… more than 80 million monthly active users on PlayStation Network, we’ve built a huge community of gamers who can play together on Fortnite and all online titles.
We also offer Fortnite cross-play support with PC, Mac, iOS, and Android devices, expanding the opportunity for Fortnite fans on PS4 to play with even more gamers on other platforms. We have nothing further to add beyond this at this point.”
This, I feel, is one of those moments when you can see the tide turning, the overinflated ego unable to rebalance itself after a misstep that sends it full-tilt into oncoming traffic. PlayStation 4 is strong, but growth is slowing. If cross-platform play is where Sony digs in their heels — while more online-only games release every year that support it outside of PS4 — then by the time they reluctantly concede it could be too late.
Where would the crown go from there? Microsoft has an amazing platform but they’re still suffering from the “always-on” backlash and are missing the exciting exclusives to spark a major shift to their side. The Xbox One X hardware, the Play Anywhere and Game Pass features, and Mixer integration are a great groundwork for a fantastic leader but the games and support just aren’t there. Still, if you’re pissed at Sony and want to play The Division 2, Anthem, Fallout 76, or Rise of the Tomb Raider, Xbox is your only console recourse.
That said, I think Nintendo is poised to gain the biggest boost should Sony drive the divide between its players too wide. The Switch continues to sell well and Nintendo is still riding high on the wave of “It’s coming to the Switch” announcements. They’re also using indie Nindie releases to great effect in supporting their traditionally thin lineup.
Would enough PlayStation dissidents side with Nintendo? Would that be enough to push player and publisher support for the Switch over the already beleaguered Xbox? Look, I’m terrible at predicting this stuff but I do believe a changing of the guard is coming. I just wanted to put this out there because it’s a pattern I’ve been thinking about for a while now. What do you think? If Sony royally pissed you off, where would you go?