#60: Never too much

Jim Ryan gave a decent interview to GI.biz last week, reflecting on the challenges of launching a console in a pandemic and PS5’s strong start, and telling a few excellent stories from earlier in his career (it is worth a read if only for the Ken Kutaragi bit). What most jumped out at me, however, was his plans for down the road.

“Right now, success with the current console model, a really great PlayStation hit, you’re talking ten or 20 million people being able to play that game,” he said. “I think some of the art that our studios are making is some of the finest entertainment that has been made anywhere in the world… To gate the audience for that at 20 or 30 million frustrates me. I would love to see a world where hundreds of millions of people can enjoy those games.”

This is, on the face of it, a noble aim — and obviously a thoroughly sensible one for the head of a business division. I think most people in that sort of position would say, yes, I would indeed like to sell our products to ten times as many people as we do at the moment, cheers. But here’s the thing: is this something Ryan is really building Sony towards, or merely something he hopes to see? I see very little in Sony’s current business strategy that suggests Ryan’s ambition is actually PlayStation’s plan.

If any of the major players looks likely to reach that goal, I’d argue Microsoft is better set up for it, what with the value proposition of Xbox Game Pass, its greater openness towards PC, the affordable Series S console (and even more affordable Xbox All Access programme), and the device-agnostic future promised by xCloud. Sony makes the most expensive console on the market, on which it sells the most expensive games. It has a cloud-gaming service, but seems thoroughly disinterested in it. And as I wrote after the Bluepoint buyout, Sony’s approach to acquisitions is more about protecting its current business than building out a new one, like Microsoft.

This is the PlayStation brand in 2021: a relatively small number of extremely high-quality, predominantly singleplayer console blockbusters, developed at enormous expense and priced to match, released for a comparatively closed platform. That is what Sony is best at. It is a strategy that has brought it enormous success, but there is a natural limit on how far it can scale. Is there really an appetite within Sony to change all that? The Jim Ryan era of PlayStation has not, so far, been one of dramatic transformation — rather one of doubling down on what has already been proven to work. If Ryan really is frustrated by the limits of PlayStation’s reach, he’s certainly got a funny way of showing it.


  • One possible way of bolstering PlayStation’s audience reach is actually, you know, making enough consoles to satisfy demand. And lo, Sony is reportedly planning to open a chip manufacturing plant in Japan, which Reuters reckons could be up and running by 2024. This isn’t just about the global semiconductor shortage, but also ongoing concern at how dependent tech manufacturing is on Taiwan.
  • Reluctant as I am to wade into The Discourse, we can’t ignore the weekend fuss over this Kotaku piece about Metroid Dread being emulated on PC. While it doesn’t outwardly endorse piracy, it skirts sufficiently close to doing so — while it’s been edited since publication, the original version opened with a jokey request for Nintendo lawyers and employees to avert their eyes — that I can see where the invective is coming from. I also appreciate that, when everyone seems to be screaming at you all the time, even the good-faith criticism ends up getting filed away with the death threats. Stuff like this makes me so glad I worked in print for so long, and now have a nice cosy newsletter read exclusively by angels.
  • Still, look, everyone loves emulation, don’t they? ScummVM is 20 years old and has been blessed with a big update to celebrate.
  • The Nintendo 64 games coming to Switch Online will be playable in Europe at 60Hz after all, contrary to previous reports. They’ll only be in English, however. Some games will have an optional PAL 50Hz mode with additional language support.
  • With revenue hit by Fortnite’s removal from mobile app stores, Epic Games is pivoting to video. A Fortnite movie has, inevitably, already been discussed.
  • You can’t buy the Intellivision Amico — and at this point, thrice delayed and currently with no release window, you may never be able to. But you can now buy games for it! And even better, they’re somehow NFTs. I see absolutely nothing of concern in any of this.

Forgive the brevity today — the pup is hobbling, so we’re off to the vet to spend another £100 or so. Honestly, the running costs on these things. I’ve had cheaper cars. Kindly do the thing with the buttons below, and I’ll see you on Wednesday.