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Sony in 2023: PlayStation 5’s exclusives are still untouchable – it’s just a shame about everything else

PlayStation is unstoppable when it comes to behemoth first-party releases – why can’t the rest of its strategy be that good?

Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart. God of War: Ragnarok. The Last of Us: Part I. Returnal, Horizon: Forbidden West, Gran Turismo 7, Demon’s Souls. It’s been a weird launch period for a new generation of consoles, but Sony has a solid little raft of killer exclusives under its belt at the moment.

Sony needs more than just new controllers to keep the momentum up in 2023.

Even if you’re not into the third-person, over-the-shoulder, hide-in-the-grass formula that many cinematic PlayStation blockbusters like to abide by, you cannot deny the quality of these titles. They’re big budget, glamorous, prestige games – interactive media’s version of Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, or The Sopranos. The fact that Sony has more or less cornered this market over the past few generations is admirable, really. We just have to hope the platform holder doesn’t pigeon-hole itself and risk becoming something of a one-trick pony (even if that one trick is particularly stunning).

In 2023 and beyond, we’re going to see Sony and PlayStation lean even further into this blockbuster mentality with Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, Marvel’s Wolverine, and perhaps The Last of Us mysterious multiplayer game (whatever that ends up looking like). On top of that, there’s the curious multimedia/gaming partnership Sony is establishing with Bungie, which promises to give us more Destiny stuff, as well as new games, and god knows what else.

We can’t ignore the third-party exclusives in the form of Final Fantasy 16, Silent Hill 2, and Forspoken coming up, too – and let’s not forget that the next in the trilogy of FF7 remake games is coming late this year or early next. Some of these games may end up on Xbox in the distant future, but for PS5 owners (or those looking to buy), these might as well be coming from Sony given the length of the exclusivity periods we’ve seen to date. Then there’s the 10+ GAAS titles that PlayStation wants to have up and running on the PS5 by 2026; how many of those will we see in 2023?

We’re probably going to see what else Bend and Sucker Punch are working on at some point over the next 12 months, too, and there’s a lot of PSVR2 miscellany to look forward to. In terms of exclusive output, Sony is killing it… and is probably going to continue killing it for the rest of the year.

Kratos fights Dreki the Crocodile in God of War Ragnarok
With games like this, who needs remedies?

But, outside the walled garden of PlayStation’s first-party and limited third-party ecosystem, things aren’t looking quite so rosy. At the tail-end of last year, there was a very public and very messy selection of documents published by the UK government that made both Sony and Microsoft look like massive idiots, frankly. But there were a couple of eye-opening stats to come out of all this chaos; first, it was revealed that Xbox Game Pass subscribers are currently way ahead of the PS Plus tiers, despite what Sony has tried to do since the service’s relaunch in 2022.

Sony notes there are roughly 29 million Xbox Game pass subscribers, and that the PS Plus tiers lag behind that number ‘significantly’. There are over 100 million users of PSN, too. So, in theory, there are some 80 million players in the PlayStation ecosystem that haven’t converted to the PS Plus tiers – why do you think that is? Is it the poor value for money at the higher end of the service? Is it the fact that the promised retro titles just… aren’t materializing? Is it because Game Pass is simply a better option for gamers with both consoles (and, indeed, PCs) because of the sheer number of ‘day and date’ releases that arrive on the service?

The slow start of PS Plus’ shiny new branding is probably due to a mix of all of the above. And if Game Pass continues on its current trajectory – and there’s no reason to believe it won’t – PS Plus’ fate is unlikely to reverse in the near future. PlayStation is winning the battle of the exclusives, and by some margin, but Xbox has the service ground covered.

Can Final Fantasy carry PS5 when it all get a bit quiet?

Then there’s the console itself. The PS5 is a genuinely impressive bit of tech (size aside) and we’ve still yet to really scratch the surface of what it can do as a console. But the UI is hideous, and many of the features that were supposed to revolutionize this generation – like activity cards – are still completely useless. Maybe PSVR2 will give virtual-reality-centered gamers something to cling on to in 2023, but other than that, the PS5 has a hard path ahead. And that’s before you consider the constant database rebuilds, the console sometimes refusing to turn on, and the weird bugs that’ll pop up here and there when you’re navigating from game to home menu.

Aside from the two Marvel games and the Horizon VR spin-off, we know precious little about what to expect from Sony and the PlayStation 5 in the years to come, let alone 2023. Over on the Xbox, a constant and varied smorgasbord of Game Pass games helps kill time in between the big releases – it doesn’t really feel the same here on the PlayStation. That said, we do get some good morsels of DLC from PlayStation – and the upcoming PS5-only expansion for Horizon: Forbidden West could really show off another string in Sony’s bow for this generation.

Sony needs to outline its future plans soon if it wants to keep up with the strong momentum it accrued in 2022. It feels, as we head into 2023, that Xbox and PlayStation are starting to do very, very different things in this industry, and I think that’s a good thing; more variation means more choice for gamers, and a healthier creative environment for developers. Let’s just hope the consumer-first approach the platform-holders took at the start of the pandemic sticks around for just a little bit longer.

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