Ahead of the May 2023 PlayStation Showcase, I wrote that the presentation needed to “elicit confidence in Sony’s future with live service.” Well, multiplayer-focused live service games did end up being a big part of the show, but I can’t say I’m that confident in them yet.
Between neat looks at single-player exclusives like Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 and Synapse, Sony revealed four live-service games that it’s publishing. Those games are Haven Studios’ Fairgame$, Arrowhead Studios’ Helldivers 2, Bungie’s Marathon, and Firewalk Studios’ Concord. The fact that these accounted for almost every major first-party announcements of the show signals that we’re entering a new era for Sony: one where multiplayer rules.
Over the past year or so, PlayStation Studios has made it very clear that it’s trying to break into the games-as-a-service sector now that it’s perfected the single-player adventure with games like Horizon Forbidden West and God of War: Ragnarok. Unfortunately, these early live service announcements raised more concerns than hope, which isn’t a great start when it comes to establishing a new direction for PlayStation.
A live service showcase
Haven’s sci-fi PvPvE heist game Fairgame$ was the PlayStation Showcase’s opening, and honestly, it wasn’t a memorable first showing. The trailer was purely cinematic, but its shots were composed like they were live gameplay. That still feels misleading 18 years after Sony did it with Killzone 2, even if it clarified it at the start of the trailer. It also means I don’t have a good idea of how this game will be structured and when I’ll have a chance to play it. All I know is that this is an anti-capitalist game that will probably also be a heavily monetized live service experience. It wasn’t a strong show opener; at least, like all of the other titles on this list, it’s also coming to PC.
Fairgame$ was followed up by the long-awaited reveal of Helldivers 2, a sequel to an entertaining 2015 PS Plus sci-fi top-down shooter. To Helldivers 2’s credit, it had the most honest-feeling showing of these games, with a trailer that showed lots of impressive third-person action gameplay and even gave a 2023 release window. Even if its anti-capitalist undertones were a bit similar to Fairgame$, this was the style of reveal I was hoping to see from Sony’s live service announcements. Unfortunately, it was the only live service game reveal to feature any actual gameplay.
After a break from live service announcements, Bungie emerged to reveal that it was reviving Marathon as a sci-fi PvP extraction shooter. While it’s very surprising to see Marathon coming back and that Bungie is making something other than Destiny, it was a purely cinematic trailer that leaned into its techno-futuristic aesthetics — much like Fairgame$’s reveal trailer. A dev diary released after the reveal also says that we’ll need to wait a while to learn more and see gameplay. But you can buy a $77 shirt based on this game we don’t know much about yet, though.
The most underwhelming reveal of them all, though, would come right before the show’s end with Concord. This is the first game from a newly acquired studio named Firewalk Games, but it didn’t feel that important of a game to Sony, with its purely cinematic reveal trailer that barely showed anything other than the inside of a spaceship (Editor’s note: I watched and covered the entire show and have no memory of seeing this game at all). A PlayStation Blog post would go on to say the game is a “PvP multiplayer first-person shooter,” which feels like something that should’ve come across in its reveal. From the start to the end of the showcase, you couldn’t escape live service games being developed and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment.
Why these reveals didn’t work
Outside of Helldivers 2, none of these games managed to leave a palpable impression of what their game experience will actually be like, which is critical when you’re trying to convince people that these live service games are the future for PlayStation owners. Frankly, the titles shown feel oddly similar as they’re all some variation on the sci-fi live service game (and Sony already owns Destiny!).
Of course, each of these games occupies a different multiplayer niche, but their showings blended together as mostly vague cinematic reveals of sci-fi live service games. When you’re trying to announce games that will stand out in a games-as-a-service market where titles like Fortnite, Apex Legends, and Destiny 2 are already taking up most of those players’ time and money, you need to highlight what makes your game feel unique.
Instead of getting excited for these games, I get the vibe that Sony is hedging its investments by releasing four similar sci-fi multiplayer live service titles in the hopes that one of them takes off instead of putting their full effort behind one truly great live service title. That doesn’t make me feel confident in that game lineup, which is concerning because it’s clear that Sony was making a statement during this showcase about how important live service games will be for the brand going forward.
Obviously, Sony won’t abandon the kind of single-player games like God of War: Ragnarok that won over the hearts of gamers; titles like Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 and Death Stranding 2 show that. That said, we could be heading toward a future where Sony is putting out more live service games than single-player titles. This was the company’s first chance to get players on board with that future, and it didn’t deliver the strongest sales pitch. It still has a lot of work to do to show the hardcore fans of its single-player adventures and players of other live service titles why they should care about the likes of Fairgame$, Helldivers 2, Marathon, or Concord.
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