This week, Naughty Dog told PlayStation fans, via the PlayStation Blog, that Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, Sony’s flagship PS4 release for this holiday season, has been delayed until 2016. Giant Bomb’s Jeff Gerstmann wrote an article about how scant both PS4 and Xbox One’s 2015 retail release lists currently look. Granted we’ve not been hit with the annual dollop of E3 announcements, but, despite grand promises, the current generation of game consoles have been plagued by a dearth of specially-created software worthy of their processing power and feature sets.
Traditionally, it has been first-party studios – game developers wholly owned by a platform holder, such as Nintendo, Sony or Microsoft – that have led the way when it comes to defining what a new game platform is capable of. We saw that with Wii Sports and the Wii, with Halo and Xbox, and with Wipeout on the original PlayStation. But on Sony and Microsoft’s latest boxes, both closer to PC specs than ever before and often referred to as simpler to develop for than their predecessors, it’s been third-parties and independent developers who have been left to fill the mammoth gaps between major first-party releases, such as Kinect Sports Rivals and Sunset Overdrive, Driveclub and Bloodborne.
It really shouldn’t be like this, though. In 2001, PS2’s first year on sale in the US and Europe, there was a procession of enticing platform exclusives – from Sony studios, external developers and third-parties – many of which became system-sellers or cult titles in their own right: Gran Turismo 3, Ico, Metal Gear Solid 2, Devil May Cry, Frequency, Dark Cloud, Klonoa 2, PaRappa the Rapper 2, Final Fantasy X, Twisted Metal: Black, Jak and Daxter, GTA III. Not all of these titles came out on both sides of the Atlantic, but even this sample gives you an idea of the consistent output of anticipated sequels and, more importantly, original titles PS2 owners were enjoying in the first year of the system’s life.
The original Xbox wasn’t blessed with as many console exclusives as the PS2, but by the time the 360 arrived in 2005, Microsoft had realised the importance of bagging exclusives and original games – especially when you lack the first-party muscle of your competitors. Beating the PS3 to market, the 360 was the first place for a heap of big-ticket games in 2006; including Full Auto, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Prey, Dead Rising, Saints Row, Rumble Roses XX, Ninety-Nine Nights, Viva Piñata, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six, Lost Planet (Japan), and Gears of War.
Both Sony and Microsoft had been plotting the launch of their current-generation consoles for years. And seeing as they have both been around to witness the ups and downs of the console marketplace (from Sega’s retreat from console hardware to the more recent lacklustre performance of Nintendo’s Wii U), you might think they would throw everything they have at their first-party teams and partners to make certain that current-gen titles would be coming to market with as few gaps as possible.
At E3 2013, SCE Worldwide Studios president Shuhei Yoshida said Sony had 30 first-party PS4 games in development, and that 20 of them would arrive within the console’s first year. Meanwhile, at the reveal of Xbox One in May 2013, Microsoft’s Phil Spencer boasted: “Microsoft Studios is investing more than ever [$1 billon, reportedly] in studios around the world to create new and original IP for Xbox One. In fact, we have more titles in development now than at any other time in Xbox history”.
But the reality has been far less impressive than the studio heads promised. Aside from the PC ports, reissues, cross-play (appearing on PS3 and/or Vita) and indie titles, PS4 had fewer than five retail games that you could only play on that system, by my count. Xbox One is around 10, but, with the exception of Titanfall, Project Spark and Sunset Overdrive, all of them are known franchises or motion titles that have appeared before.
For all the platform holders’ claims about kick-starting more projects than ever, the delay of titles such as Driveclub, Uncharted 4 and (according to rumour) Quantum Break shows that they may have underestimated how large an undertaking current-gen game development would be. Furthermore, the desire, or necessity, to “downsize” has seen both Sony and Microsoft close several of their internal studios over the course of the PS3/360 era. Microsoft is reportedly “merging” the second London studio it opened just two years ago. This patchy dry period is partly the result of both companies choosing restructuring over creative risk.
All of this is a bummer for the 20m PS4 owners and 11m Xbox One owners, neither of whom are getting the kind of variety or frequency of original titles that previous consoles have seen. Of course it’s pleasing to see the first four Halo games, Forza and Dead Rising on Xbox One; and The Last of Us, LBP 3 and Infamous on PS4. But, compared to the procession of original, platform-specific titles that came to their predecessors within 12 months, PS4 and Xbox One’s first year could be perceived as the most conservative start ever in console gaming history.
What do you think about the start to the latest console generation? Are you loving the platform-specific games or less than impressed?