Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge
The PlayStation 5 will have one selling point Sony thinks might be important to fans who are on the fence about upgrading to a new generation of gaming console: exclusive titles, playable only on the new hardware. Speaking with Gameindustry.biz in an interview published Friday, PlayStation boss Jim Ryan said his company’s upcoming device — which, as of today, has its first official reveal event scheduled for next week — will have games you cannot play on existing PlayStation 4 devices.
Of course, that’s been true of pretty much every past console generation of the last three decades. But it’s notable now because Sony and its primary competitor, Microsoft, have gone to great lengths over the last few years to create new system architectures that bridge current and future generations of gaming hardware. That means, in theory, Sony could release new games for both the PS5 and PS4, as Microsoft plans to do with its Xbox One platform for at least the first couple of years after the release of its more powerful, next-gen Xbox Series X. But Ryan says he wants to give PlayStation fans “something new, something different, that can really only be enjoyed on PS5.”
“We have always said that we believe in generations. We believe that when you go to all the trouble of creating a next-gen console, that it should include features and benefits that the previous generation does not include. And that, in our view, people should make games that can make the most of those features,” he said. “We do believe in generations, and whether it’s the DualSense controller, whether it’s the 3D audio, whether it’s the multiple ways that the SSD can be used… we are thinking that it is time to give the PlayStation community something new, something different, that can really only be enjoyed on PS5.”
This is, of course, less of a technical debate about platform capabilities and more of a conversation around marketing strategy. Both the PS5 and the Xbox Series X will support backwards compatibility, meaning you’ll be able to play most, if not all, of your current game library on a next-gen device. But only Microsoft has so far committed to supporting cross-generation support for first-party games, like its upcoming launch title Halo Infinite, that will be playable on PC, Xbox Series X, and Xbox One. (Third-party developers, like Madden and FIFA owner Electronic Arts and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla maker Ubisoft, are also far more likely to continue supporting current and future generations simultaneously for quite some time.)
That makes sense: Microsoft’s entire platform strategy going forward is about deemphasizing what device you’re playing on and focusing instead on letting players move purchases across platforms with, in some cases, cross-save and cross-buy features. This started with Xbox Play Anywhere, and it’s now extending to a new initiative the company calls Smart Delivery, which will ensure you don’t have to buy copies of games twice when you move from, say, the Xbox One to the Xbox Series X. You’ll simply get the enhanced version of the game on whatever platform you choose.
It’s important to remember as well that Microsoft is investing heavily in technologies, like its Xbox Game Pass subscription service and its xCloud platform, that might make unit sales and other traditional financial metrics less important to its business in the future. That will be especially true if Microsoft successfully bridges the console and PC platforms in ways Sony could never pull off.
But it also makes sense then that Sony doesn’t want to follow suit, as Ryan’s comments confirm. Sony had the best-selling console of the last decade in part by focusing heavily on exclusives like Bloodborne, God of War, and Horizon Zero Dawn. Even now, in the last few months of the PS4’s life cycle, Sony is continuing its strong track record with The Last of Us Part II and Ghost of Tsushima, two exclusive titles likely to be big sellers this summer.
The challenge for Sony going forward will be in making the case that its new hardware justifies the jump from the current generation and that the company isn’t just gating new titles behind a pricey console upgrade. That will mean really selling the PS5’s capabilities, like its supposed ultra-fast solid-state drive and its upgraded CPU and GPU, and doing so in a way that makes consumers feel justified in spending hundreds of dollars on new hardware. It will be interesting to see how Microsoft positions its Xbox Series X against the PS5, and whether Microsoft can successfully win over consumers with its argument for more cross-platform, cross-generation support.
We don’t know what the PS5’s launch slate will look like. Presumably, the company will have more to show next week. And it could be the case that at least some first-party Sony games do see concurrent releases across both PS4 and PS5. Sony is also clearly building out a multiplatform strategy, starting with Horizon Zero Dawn, which involves bringing its exclusives to PC. But Ryan’s comments strongly suggest that Sony isn’t abandoning its trued and true console-first strategy. That means PS5 exclusives will, at least at launch, be a big selling point Sony will use to try to convince people to stick with its platform come this fall.