The parallel trajectories of Disney and PlayStation

I was torn watching Sony’s recent PS5 showcase. It’s always exciting to see Sony’s first party content given their studios’ strong track record. However, almost every game was predictable and safe in a way I wouldn’t expect from Sony in an earlier era. Overall the event reminded me of Disney’s recent filmmaking output: lucrative, fun, but creatively a bit hollow.

Comparing Disney films to PlayStation games may sound like a stretch, but consider the parallels through the lens of PS5 first party games from the showcase. Disney loves remakes of beloved hits (The Lion King, Aladdin). Sony will release two remastered Uncharted games in a new collection. Disney leans on sequels of well tested hits like Toy Story and Cars. Sony showcased God of War Ragnarok and Gran Turismo 7. Also, Disney loves cranking out all things Marvel and Star Wars. Sony revealed teasers for Spider Man 2 and Wolverine. Stretching beyond first party content, Sony also gave prominent placement for a Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic remake and a new Guardians of the Galaxy game.

Drawing connections from PlayStation to the mouse house might sound great at a glance. Disney’s strategy has been a massive moneymaker across theaters and streaming, with Disney owned properties the only surefire hits in the industry. But Disney’s output tends to be predictable and safe. While the characters, settings, and creative talent reshuffle, Marvel movies have a house style that can make action sequences, plot, and humor feel interchangeable. Disney live action remakes slavishly follow the source material.

The profitability of large Disney properties also sidelines smaller, edgier work, even those that fall within Disney run studios. For instance, multiplex theaters push indie films into shorter runs so the latest Marvel movie can occupy as many theaters as possible. Web sites and YouTube channels blanket coverage of the latest Star Wars TV series over other premieres to ensure high traffic.

Drawing Disney’s trajectory back to PlayStation, will Sony be willing to invest more in original big budget PS5 titles? Push into genres beyond narrative third person action adventure games? Change up marketing spend to champion small budget games alongside blockbusters? There were few answers to any of these questions over their forty minute showcase.

Admittedly PlayStation shifted outside their genre comfort zone with Returnal and Destruction All Stars from earlier this year. They also have partnerships with many third party studios to release more exotic console exclusives like Kena: Bridge of Spirits. Countless acclaimed indies like Disco Elysium still come to PlayStation. Nor is Sony the only studio funding iterative, risk averse sequels.

Yet the PlayStation showcase felt narrow in scope with less genre diversity than what we saw Microsoft and Nintendo show elsewhere this year. Even a hitmaker like Sony has budgetary limits; every investment in one of their AAA games means other titles don’t get a green light. I’d like to see less big PlayStation games that look and play like God of War in exchange for the esoteric fare Sony used to champion like Wipeout, Dreams, Resogun, and The Last Guardian.

Perhaps my concerns are overblown. We’ll look back at Sony’s positioning as a temporary phase to solidify its market strength. Give it time, and a weirder, funkier PlayStation emerges. But I think there’s just as much a chance the PS5 2021 showcase marks a line in the sand, a harbinger for a new PlayStation era that’s never looking back.