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Daily Mirror
Daily Mirror
Aaron Potter

PlayStation's live-service game focus leaves me worried about the future of PS5 exclusives

After a less-than-stellar showing at its recent PlayStation Showcase, it’s clear that the platform’s focus isn’t solely on narrative-driven single-player titles anymore.

While I’ve previously been pretty vocal about my alarm about Microsoft’s lack of AAA exclusives this year on Xbox, despite Starfield still to come in September, last week’s PlayStation Showcase event gave me equal concern. Not because there weren’t fantastic games on show. Metal Gear Sold 3: Snake Eater remake, hello? But in amongst these brief high points there was one running theme throughout the entire livestream: PlayStation is betting big on live-service games; live-service shooters, to be more exact.

It was instantly made clear that these types of games would be a point of priority when the awkwardly named Fairgame$ kicked off the show. Not with in-engine gameplay or a deep-dive on how different it would look and feel to play compared to current rivals like Fortnite, Apex Legends and Overwatch, but with the shortest of CGI trailers that failed to really communicate what earns it a place at the first-party PlayStation Studios title table.

The trailer for Fairgame$ was full of bright colours, characters with ‘tude and an appropriately thumping hip hop soundtrack. Aka, everything we’ve come to expect from online FPS games of this ilk. It’s the first game set to be released by Haven Studios since PlayStation acquired them last year. And for me at least, the wait to see what Jade Raymond – most famous for the Far Cry and Assassin’s Creed franchises at Ubisoft – and her team had been working on was disappointing.

It was disappointing because I could name you countless games cut from the same cloth that have enjoyed an immense amount of hype pre-release, only to slowly die off as it fails to find an audience mere months later. This is what happened to Ubisoft’s Hyper Scape, Gearbox’s Battleborn, and Boss Key Productions’ Lawbreakers. You likely would have forgotten about all those online hero shooters until right this second, because they failed to gain the audience required to sustain them.

Previous prestige

PlayStation has been my preferred console platform of choice since the PlayStation 2 days, because of the amazing single-player centric AAA games that simply aren’t available anywhere else. That’s why, when picking up my PS5, I was stoked to be able to jump into the likes of Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, Returnal, the Demon’s Souls remake and others right from the off. My cravings for such experiences have been safely satiated in the years since, too, as the likes of Horizon: Forbidden West and God of War: Raganarok released in their best possible incarnations.

That’s why heading into last week’s PlayStation Showcase I was excited to learn what other, unannounced PS5 first-party exclusives will be coming over the next year or so. Sadly, with the exception of Marvel’s Spider-Man 2’s gameplay first look, I’m still left wondering what the likes of Naughty Dog, Sucker Punch Productions and Bend Studio are working on next. Of course, it’s perfectly fine to not know until the games are ready, but it’s sad that in 2023, it looks like PS5 owners will receive just one open-world first-party exclusive – and it doesn’t even have a hard date yet.

This is a marked difference compared to last year, where PS5 players at least had the latest stories of Kratos and Aloy to dive into. But it’s been three years since, say, Ghost of Tsushima released, which is usually enough of a time gap for us to start hearing about what Sucker Punch Productions is working on next – especially if it’s just a direct sequel. As it stands, once Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 releases, the only real single-player AAA from PlayStation Studios we know of is Marvel’s Wolverine, and that’s yet another Insomniac title, so it doesn’t seem fair to expect that game soon.

In the days since the PlayStation Showcase occurred, Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier published a report documenting the apparent struggles Naughty Dog is having cracking The Last of Us Part 2’s multiplayer component, which is said to be transforming into its own live-service title. It’s yet another example of a primarily single-player focussed studio, like Arkane Austin before it with Redfall and Crystal Dynamics with Marvel’s Avengers, changing tact to multiplayer and coming up against issues.

Naughty not nice

I actually really liked the first The Last of Us game’s multiplayer component, Factions, for its emphasis on survival and how differently it played compared to contemporaries like Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and even PlayStation’s own MAG. The difference with the original Factions, however, was that it was that it wasn’t live-service, and therefore not expected to absorb players’ time for years – potentially decades – to come. Every major publisher under the sun is seemingly looking for their own Fortnite or Destiny 2, and to see PlayStation try and do the same is saddening.

The PlayStation Showcase not only showcased Fairgame$, but other live-service shooters too such as Concord, Helldivers 2 (which gets a pass because the original was awesome) and Marathon. The last of which is an interesting beast because it’s a spiritual successor to Bungie’s original Marathon. Unlike the original, though, it sports yet another zany, offbeat art style and is strictly planned as a multiplayer title. Couple this with Bungie’s existing Destiny and Naughty Dog’s struggling The Last of Us multiplayer spin-off, and PlayStation is absolutely committed to live-service – that much is clear.

I wouldn’t mind this emphasis so much were this new direction complimented by the type of games that has served PlayStation so well, and is largely the reason for its current prestigious reputation. In the end, I’m of the belief that while most competitive multiplayer titles will come and go, a great single-player game with a good story has the potential to stand the test of time. PlayStation has certainly proved as such by investing heavily in them in the past, but the same remains to be seen if it can pull the same off with live-service multiplayer games.

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