Jun 11, 2021 - Technology

Exclusive: Sony’s PlayStation boss moves past console wars

Photo illustration of Jim Ryan and a PlayStation controller.

Photo illustration: Axios Visuals. Photo: Courtesy of Sony Interactive Entertainment.

PlayStation’s competition goes far beyond its gaming rivals, Sony’s head of PlayStation Jim Ryan told Axios.

Why it matters: With entertainment converging on every screen imaginable, old distinctions between the business of games, movies, streaming and even social media are becoming less relevant.

  • “We are an entertainment company with a community of more than 100 million gamers with really extraordinary levels of commitment and engagement,“ Ryan told Axios when asked how he defines PlayStation and its competition.
  • “I would say unequivocally that we are competing for leisure hours, and that any definition of competition has to extend way beyond the boundaries of what has traditionally been defined as gaming,” he said.

The big picture: Sony supplemented its splashy and largely successful November launch of the PS5 with news this spring that it plans to expand its key franchises into at least 10 new movies and shows.

Sony’s PS5 console is off to a hot start in its first seven months, but market leaders in previous video game console generations have struggled or outright failed in subsequent ones, something Sony is doing its best to avoid.

  • Sony is learning from one one of the PS4’s few shortcomings, a lack of hot games early.
  • “Yes, the output during the PS4 cycle was excellent,” Ryan said, referring to a slew of critically acclaimed blockbuster games that were exclusive to Sony’s previous console, “but the great majority of those games came in the second half of the cycle.” 
  • Sony ramped up game production early for PS5, with multiple exclusive games at launch followed by April’s “Returnal” and June’s “Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart.”

Sony’s biggest PlayStation challenge doesn’t seem to be making games for the PS5, but getting consoles to customers.

  • The company says it shipped a record 7.8 million PS5s by the end of March, but demand is high, production is squeezed by chip shortages and consoles are tough to find.
  • “This really frustrates me and upsets me, especially when resellers and bots manage to get their hands on stock,” Ryan said.
  • Sony is “working incredibly hard” with retail partners to get PS5s into “the right hands,” he said, and pointed to Sony’s own distribution service, “PlayStation Direct” as a way to help that along. That U.S. program will expand to Europe before the end of March 2022.

Sony is also targeting an expansion to mobile, as it joins other console gaming powerhouses in craving the bigger mobile market. It will have something to show there soon, Ryan teased.

  • “The thinking here is that our IP portfolio is in such a strong state right now, it seems perverse to restrict enjoyment of it to our existing PlayStation community,” Ryan said.
  • Sony listed an opening for a head of PlayStation Mobile earlier this year. Asked about the state of that role and whether Sony would focus on studio acquisition or developing expertise in-house to make mobile games, Ryan said: “We are working on a number of models to open up mobile. You’ll see the first fruits of this sooner than you might think.”

PlayStation made news last December for a game it decided to not sell. In December, it delisted the highly anticipated but surprisingly buggy third-party game “Cyberpunk 2077.”

  • “This was a tough decision for us to make, but ultimately, we had to act in the interests of the PlayStation Community, and not knowingly sell a game that might result in a bad experience for them," Ryan said.
  • Sales of the game have suffered, its studio, CD Projekt, has said. The studio is in ongoing discussion with Sony to bring it back.
  • Ryan offered no details about what it’ll take for the game to return.

What’s next: After “Ratchet & Clank,” the PS5’s future is a little less clear, but PlayStation overall is set to greatly expand.

  • Sony’s next, big promoted game, “Horizon Forbidden West” is officially a maybe for a 2021 release.
  • Of those multiple TV and video projects the first big one is likely to be an “Uncharted” movie, slated for release next February.

Go deeper: "Why would anybody play this?": PlayStation boss' most notorious quote

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