The Civil Wars of PlayStation

VOICE OVER: Ty Richardson WRITTEN BY: Ty Richardson
A recent Bloomberg article has detailed all kinds of drama unfolding within the Sony family - including an obsession with blockbuster games, a canned sequel, unhappy developers, and frustration with PlayStation boss Jim Ryan. But what does it all mean? Welcome to MojoPlays, and today, we're taking a deep dive into The Civil Wars of PlayStation.
Script written by Ty Richardson

The Civil Wars of PlayStation

Well, well, well… It seems that things at Sony might be messier than we thought. A recent Bloomberg article has detailed all kinds of drama unfolding within the Sony family - including an obsession with blockbuster games, a canned sequel, unhappy developers, and frustration with PlayStation boss Jim Ryan. But what does it all mean?

Welcome to MojoPlays, and today, we’re taking a deep dive into The Civil Wars of PlayStation.

Yes, it seems as though feuds and grudges are occurring within the Sony umbrella, particularly in the PlayStation sector. Published on April 9th, a Bloomberg article, titled “Sony’s Obsession With Blockbusters Is Stirring Unrest Within PlayStation Empire”, delved into what’s going on behind the scenes – and it’s far from pretty.

In December 2020, John Garvin and Jeff Ross, directors of the 2019 PlayStation exclusive “Days Gone”, announced that they had departed Bend Studio. While neither of them provided a reason as to why they left, the Bloomberg article might have revealed the cause. Turns out a sequel to “Days Gone” was pitched to Sony, but rejected, although Ross can’t confirm the game’s cancellation due to an NDA. What’s more, teams at Bend Studio were assigned to assist Naughty Dog on their projects insead. This move has outraged some fans, who perceive it as Sony’s response to “Days Gone’s” lukewarm reception. It doesn’t really seem fair when you consider the fact that it was Bend Studio’s first new game since 2012’s “Uncharted: Fight for Fortune”, a card game spin-off of Naughty Dog’s acclaimed action-adventure series.

Sony’s disregard for “Days Gone” is puzzling. While its development was fraught with delays, and critics gave it mixed reviews, it was still one of the best-selling Playstation games of the year, reportedly selling more than all of the studio’s previous games combined. It’s even being ported to Windows. Why not make a sequel that could potentially improve the formula and invigorate public interest?

In an interview conducted by “Twisted Metal” and “God of War” creator David Jaffe, Garvin stated that “Metacritic score is everything” to Sony. It’s easy to understand why Sony would want to focus on Metacritic, given its own exemplary record in recent years. Looking at the Metacritic scores for Sony’s big-budget first-party titles, the average Sony first-party game clocks in a score of 80. Sitting at a 71 Metascore, “Days Gone” is the fourth lowest-rated of the bunch, only beating “The Order 1886”, “Knack”, and “Knack II”. Sony has shown a desire to be known for the best exclusives – to demonstrate that if you want exceptional quality, their platform is the place to be.

However, this is yet another example of a publisher relying overly on Metacritic to judge a game’s performance. The problem with Metacritic (and reviews in general) is that most outlets don’t update their reviews after patches are made. “Days Gone” was not exactly stable at launch, but for the most part bugs have since been ironed out. This is a problem we even tried combatting through our series Review Recap. We didn’t feel it was fair to put out a review and not acknowledge whatever fixes might have been made sometime after launch. So, like the games we cover, we wanted to adjust our criticisms accordingly.

The other problem with how Sony is using Metacritic, if what Gavin says is true, is that you’re letting numbers from reviewers determine if you reached your demographic. Sometimes, one of those numbers is given by someone who doesn’t care for that type of game. Why does that outlet let that person review the game in the first place? You got me, but it happens. This is why when I’m doing reviews here on MojoPlays, I start every review by informing you of my background with an established IP. As an audience member, you should know where I, as a critic, am coming from, what potential biases I may have, and why I have or haven’t played the series in question. Publishers like Sony ought to be approaching review scores in a similar manner; be familiar with the outlet’s history with your products, know what kinds of games the reviewer typically plays, and ask yourself if they share a voice in the demographic you’re trying to cater to. There’s more to Metascores than just numbers and blurbs, and when you’re only viewing them as such, you’re missing a ton of information.

Bend Studio isn’t the only one raising alarms, though. Naughty Dog appears to be in its own stew of monotony, with their current projects reportedly including a remake of “The Last of Us” and a sequel for “Uncharted”. A couple of things about this has fans riled up. First off, “Uncharted” has already ended Nathan Drake’s story in a nice bow. While there are characters like Chloe that could take the lead with their own narrative, why not leave well enough alone? As for “The Last of Us”, we just got a sequel in 2020, and the 2014 remaster, while released on PS4, can be played on PS5 too. So, does it really need a remake?

Speaking with Insomniac’s Ted Price on the podcast Game Maker’s Notebook, co-President of Naughty Dog Evan Wells said that their choice of projects is team-driven. Yet, he also acknowledged the desire for a new “Jak & Daxter” game, both from fans and from Naughty Dog staff. Expressing admiration for Insomniac’s efforts in revitalizing “Ratchet & Clank”, Wells admitted that he wishes they were doing the same for their IP, “because there’s still a lot of love for Jak & Daxter in the studio.”

The question is, then, why aren’t Naughty Dog revisiting “Jak & Daxter”? After all, before “The Last of Us”, the studio was seriously considering it. The answer may relate back to what the Bloomberg article reveals and also what we said in our video “How Xbox Could Dethrone the PS5” - Sony doesn’t seem to have much interest in reviving older IPs, which would include “Jak & Daxter”. The franchise hasn’t had a new entry since 2009’s “The Lost Frontier” on PS2 and PSP, which was not as well-received as previous installments. As for the PS4 re-releases, there’s a chance they may not have sold enough to impress Sony. Of course, this in turn could be tied back to Sony focusing all their marketing push on big-budget, cinematic, open-world games.

With all this going on behind the scenes, one can’t help but ask: what exactly is going on over at Sony? Where’s the company that excelled in not just quality, but variety? Where’s the passion to deliver unique experiences, not just “cinematic” ones? What happened to the company that wanted to bring us fun events like PSX? Well, some fans have pointed fingers at PlayStation’s latest boss, Jim Ryan.

Ryan took over as head of PlayStation in April 2019 in place of John Kodera. However, his leadership has caused quite a stir in the PlayStation community, as well as within the company. On March 1, 2018, Sony Interactive Entertainment announced a corporate restructure that saw Ryan gain a lot of control over SIE’s sales and marketing departments. And what of Shawn Layden, then-head of Sony Worldwide Studios? While he was to continue managing games and platform quality, there were rumors of clashing philosophies.

In the time after Ryan took over sales and marketing, and before Layden’s departure in October 2019, PlayStation would heavily promote “God of War”, “Marvel’s Spider-Man”, “MLB The Show”, and “Death Stranding”. And what of “Concrete Genie” and “MediEvil”? Layden would speak passionately about these games, especially the latter as he served as Supervisor on the original back in 1998. Well, both games were buried as Sony’s marketing department spent “Concrete Genie’s” launch day talking about PlayStation 5 with WIRED and promoting the next “Call of Duty” on PSN, taking away attention from the game. “MediEvil”, on the other hand, was immediately forgotten due to enough “Death Stranding” trailers coming out to fill out a feature-length movie. Neither “Concrete Genie” or “MediEvil” had their sales numbers disclosed to the public, meaning Sony probably wasn’t too thrilled by their performance.

However, that wasn’t the only clash that occurred since the 2018 restructure. For the past few years, Sony’s Japan and America branches had been wrestling for control over the PlayStation brand – at least, according to a former Sony employee (verified by Reddit) who revealed this culture war through a Reddit AMA. The individual stated, “There’s been a lot of internal competition for the ‘control’ of the PlayStation brand and over the past several years you can clearly see where America has been winning. Relocation of HQ, shutdown of most of Japan Studios, and the DualSense’s X default confirm (as a final ‘f*** you’) are some of the notable examples off the top of my head.” If what this individual says is true, this would explain why so many key developers have left Sony to form their own studios or join other companies.

Sony was once a thriving community that brought devs, fans, and executives together, all driven by the same passion. These rumors however warn of a growing preoccupation with reviews and a narrow focus on blockbuster hits – leading to discontent within Sony’s own ranks. Sony is currently raking it in through PS5 sales, and its upcoming titles are on everyone’s radars. But the company has a lot of bridges to repair with its fans and partners, and while continuing support for the PS3 and Vita stores would be a start, only time will tell if this will all come back to haunt them.