After acquiring Bungie in early 2022, Sony announced that the business move was a larger part of their current plan for the future: a future that revolves around live service games. With their newfound ownership of Destiny and the developer that created one of the few games that has managed to make the model work, Sony seems to be primed for their upcoming ten live service games due out by the end of 2026. But with interest in live service games waning and service for several of the games in the segment being discontinued, the question that looms over the market leader is whether or not the tree actually has any more fruit to bear.
At the genesis of the eighth generation, the prospect of recurring revenue from games that are built from the ground up to retain their audiences indefinitely was still a novel one. Over the course of the generation, smash hits like Destiny, Fortnite, and Apex Legends left every publisher in the industry with the impression that the live service model was a proverbial gold mine just waiting to be ravaged. Naturally, copycats began to spring up left and right. Games like Ghost Recon Breakpoint, Crossfire X, and The Culling 2 all stand as evidence that the initial dreams of infinite wealth many publishers sought were anything but easy to realize.
Over the years the live service games that have come and gone outnumber those that have managed to gain even the slightest foothold in the space by orders of magnitude. 2023 has been particularly brutal on the less popular live service games. Just recently games like Apex Legends Mobile, Battlefield Mobile, Crossfire X, Knockout City, and more have been officially discontinued. In addition to those titles facing complete deletion, games like Marvel’s Avengers are being converted to entirely single-player offline experiences. Despite the remainder of the most successful live service games ever, it’s now fairly safe to say that the bubble has burst.
So where does that leave Sony? After spending an astonishing $3.6 billion on Bungie (undoubtedly done in an attempt to gain some of the company’s expertise) live service is Sony’s next big play. Shortly after the acquisition, Sony announced that there were plans for ten live service games from first-party studios to be released in the next six years. But if the graveyard of live service games that accrued over the last generation has taught us anything it’s that live service games demand huge risk with very little chance for success.
Based on Sony’s pattern of successes and failures over the last twenty years, the odds of the company’s live service venture yielding positive results appear to be low. Sony is at their best when they refuse to chase trends but instead simply focus on doing what they do best: high-quality single-player narrative-focused games. Sony’s first-party studios clearly have their fingers on the pulse of the gaming audience and every time they stray from the core audience to chase trends they struggle to realize success.
Projects like PlayStation Vue, PlayStation Now, and PlayStation Move and series like Killzone were all chasing trends and forced Sony out of their wheelhouse, resulting in lackluster sales figures, discontinuation of services, or, in the best case, complete and total rebranding while also being bundled into the only trend chasing service that has ever worked for the PlayStation brand. Despite some of their anti-consumer practices over the first few years of the PlayStation 5 generation, Sony has historically found massive success by zigging when everyone else zagged. The publisher’s and developer’s combined respect for the games and the audience is what has resulted in countless wildly popular and entertaining first-party PlayStation games.
A shift in focus from refined single-player experiences to never-ending live service games will undoubtedly kill Sony’s well-earned momentum as the generation progresses. Moving resources from projects that have proven to be their bread and butter like God of War Ragnarok, Insomniac’s Spider-Man, and Ghost of Tsushima to instead focus on trying to replicate the success of a game like Fortnite while dozens of others have failed to do the exact same thing seems to be in direct opposition to what has gotten the PlayStation brand to where it is now.