Sony has a long history of keeping its first-party games behind the walled garden of console exclusivity.
So the company’s choice to bring its PS4 hit Horizon Zero Dawn to PC in August 2020 felt like a precedent-changing move away from that barrier to entry. It represented a seismic shift for a publisher protective of its wide array of console exclusives.
But as former CEO of Sony Interactive Entertainment Shawn Layden tells it, adopting a more open strategy for porting first-party titles to PC was actually an easy decision.
Speaking on the latest episode of the What’s Up PlayStation podcast, Layden—who left Sony in October 2019—said he had been one of a number of people who were considering adopting a PC initiative in the time shortly before his retirement. Following Horizon‘s launch in 2020, Days Gone hit the platform earlier this year. Meanwhile, Sony followed an Uncharted 4 leak in May with an announcement at its September PS5 showcase that next year’s Uncharted Legacy of Thieves Collection will hit PC shortly after its console launch. (Death Stranding was also ported over in July 2020, with 505 Games on publishing duties.)
Layden’s plans came down to one question: how could Sony attract new customers who weren’t already console-owning fans? PC owners offered an easy pool of new players to attract.
The strategy as we were developing it when I was there was that we need to go out to where these new customers are, where these new fans could be. We need to go to where they are… Because they’ve decided not to come to my house, so I’ve got to go their house now. And what’s the best way to go to their house? Why not take one of our top-selling games?
The gap between Horizon‘s launch on PS4 in February 2017 and a release on PC was a key part of the idea, he said. “It’s already been out there for 18 months or 24 months, there’s no real retail activity against that title,” he said, referring to his thinking in late 2019.
Layden doesn’t believe Sony will ever commit to simultaneous console and PC releases for its first-party games, either. So far, that holds to Sony’s outward strategy. In a June interview on the Playstation Blog, current SIE President Hermen Hulst said, in the wake of Horizon‘s success, the company was still “planning” on how to approach the platform moving forward. Sony’s own consoles, he added, would continue to be the presumably only way to play new PlayStation Studios exclusive “at launch.”
Holding to Layden’s ideas, Hulst pointed out that Days Gone launched on PC roughly two years after its PS4 release.
“We do value PC gamers, and we’ll continue to look at the right times to launch each game,” he said.
What comes next?
Sony has also seemed to commit to the idea of bringing more of its first-party roster over with its recent acquisition of Nixxes, a studio that specializes in PC port for developers like Eidos-Montréal and Crystal Dynamics. So far, though, Sony hasn’t announced what Nixxes may be working on. (The Legacy of Thieves Collection port is being handled by former Sony exec Adam Boyes’ studio Iron Galaxy.) Sony ramping up serious consideration of PC isn’t even the craziest thing it has done recently, either, after PlayStation exclusive MLB The Show 21 landed on Xbox platforms in April.
Where does this leave Sony’s PC plans looking into the next calendar year? Judging by its last tentpole PS4 exclusives, a safe bet is that something from its 2020 catalog will be in the cards. Our money is on Ghost of Tsushima, which has been a major success in its original 2020 incarnation. Sony could maintain some exclusive draw for Ghosts if it chooses to keep the PS4 and PS5’s recent director’s cut content locked to those versions, as appears will remain the case with PS5’s Death Stranding Director’s Cut. Given the relative popularity of Sony’s franchises across the board, though, it’s really anyone’s guess which one might get picked next.
There is, however, no reason not to keep up the strategy, Layden said. Some PC players who decide to check out Horizon or Days Gone will even pick up a PS5 after doing so, he explained.
“They might not have otherwise,” he said. “There’s no losing in this transaction. It’s allowing people have a glimpse inside the PlayStation world.”