At Gamescom 2019, PlayStation studio head Shawn Layden opened the door to publishing games on other platforms. Future games from Sony Interactive Entertainment, he said, wouldn’t necessarily be restricted to Sony hardware, and could show up on PC or elsewhere. And then players’ imaginations started to run wild. Uncharted on my Switch! Bloodborne on my PC! Twisted Metal on my Tesla! What we should really be expecting, though, is something much more ambitious: a console-transcending juggernaut at the level of Minecraft.
After all, Minecraft is a Microsoft property. It may have started out as an independent project, but even after the acquisition, it’s sought out new platforms beyond Xbox and Windows. It’s on PlayStation! It’s on Switch! You can be Mario in it! That’s because it’s such a large property that it is, by itself, a business to rival the console itself. We also see this with Epic and Fortnite. While the company’s smaller projects will probably be exclusive to the Epic Games Store, Fortnite won’t ever go exclusive like that. It’ll be on every device Epic can manage.
Sony wants one of those, with the game development prestige of its core studios but the wide reach that those don’t hit. If it simply wanted to make some PC games, it long had a division to do just that: Sony Online Entertainment. (It was sold in 2015 and is now Daybreak.) If it wanted to put out a few mobile apps on the side, it could do that too. (And it has!) Layden specifically talked about games that need a wider install base, so these sorts of risks aren’t going to be taken with campaign-driven experiences like The Last of Us that don’t really benefit from them. It’s much more of the mobile business model: make new IP, hope it sticks, throw it away and move on if it doesn’t. There’s a lot less long-term risk that way.
That’s all reinforced by Sony’s first release under this initiative: ReadySet Heroes, releasing on the Epic Games Store as well as PS4 later this year. Combining elements of hack-and-slash games, minigame collections and… maybe a little bit of Kirby Air Ride, it’s a game about scrounging for loot and then putting it to use in challenges. It’s multiplayer-focused, developed by a team at Robot Entertainment that knows its way around other platforms and not connected to anything in a way that lets Sony totally drop it if it fails with little consequence.
Is ReadySet Heroes the next Minecraft or Fortnite? Probably not, and Sony likely doesn’t expect it to be. It’s a first step for PlayStation games outside its ecosystem, and seems like more of a safe base hit than a risky home-run swing. It’s easy to see how this could be laying the groundwork for that bigger play, though. It builds relationships with external stores that could host the next big thing. It gets the PlayStation division used to multiplatform publishing. It signals to external developers that Sony should be on the list of potential partners for their ambitious ideas.
Of course, it’s still Sony we’re talking about. Expect this new initiative to be very slow and cautious, just like its forays into third-party cross-play.