Sony May Just Be Loosening The Reins As Gaming Brings In A Plurality Of Its Revenue

Any trip down Techdirt’s memory lane when it comes to Sony is not going to leave you with a good taste in your mouth. This is a company that has been almost comically protective of all things intellectual property, engaged in all manner of anti-consumer behavior, and is arguably most famous for either using an update to remove features from its gaming console that generated sales of that console or for installing rootkits on people’s computers. When it comes to any positive stories about the company, in fact, they mostly have to do with the immense success Sony had in the most recent Console Wars with its PlayStation 4 device.

Positive results and gaming aren’t a crosstab of coincidence for Sony, it seems. There are couple of converging stories about Sony, one dealing with its revenue and another with its plans for its gaming divisions opening up a bit, that point to positive developments. To set the stage, let’s start with the fact that the video game industry is now the biggest revenue generator for Sony.

Sony’s full year corporate report was published over the weekend Australian time, and as always it covers Sony’s PlayStation division as well as the other units within its business. Naturally, the coronavirus was a big factor, with Sony estimating a ¥68.2 billion loss ($ 876.3 million) in operating income just from COVID-19.

But gaming has done well for Sony. The PlayStation business now generates more sales and operating income than any other part of Sony:

Now, it’s worth noting that Sony’s gaming revenue is actually down for 2019, but the percentage as revenue generator for the company is up. And, as noted above, gaming is now the single largest revenue generator of any market Sony is in. And what’s really interesting in all of that is that it’s happening while Sony has famously limited its own reach with walled gardens. PlayStation exclusives have been the norm wherever Sony can sign them. Sony’s first-party games, many of them among the best that gaming has to offer, have of course been siloed on PlayStation consoles. For years, Sony limited PS4’s remote play function to Sony Xperia phones that never broke ground in market share. Everything, it seemed, was designed to be as locked into Sony’s walled garden as possible.

But we’re starting to see signs that the company has recognized that it needs to change.

All that said, explicitly mentioning the potential for PC ports in its annual report is the latest sign that Sony continues to slowly loosen its tight, walled-garden approach to game hardware and software. In 2017, for instance, Sony expanded its PlayStation Now streaming service to work on Windows PCs as well as PS4 hardware. That service now has 2.2 million regular subscribers, Sony says, up significantly from the 1 million subscribers claimed last November.

In 2018, Sony finally opened PS4 titles to cross-platform online play with other consoles after years of public reluctance on that score. Then, earlier this year, Sony said MLB: The Show will come to non-PlayStation consoles as soon as 2021, after decades of PlayStation exclusivity.

It all speaks to a company that’s more aware that “competition from online PC games and players from other industries is expected to continue to intensify,” as it says in its annual report. Even as Sony pushes hard for the exclusive “speed, haptics, and sound” improvements of the upcoming PlayStation 5 this year, it is hedging its bets somewhat with support for non-Sony hardware as well.

If gaming is your best revenue generator, these moves only make sense. MLB The Show is fantastic; why should Sony only sell it to PlayStation owners? While Horizon: Zero Dawn took over three years to make it to the PC… it still made it. Why wouldn’t Sony want to sell its game to PC gamers that may never want to buy a PlayStation, but would love to play some of the games previously exclusive to it?

It’s long past time Sony teared the walls of its garden down. Let the revenue streams in. Increase availability of its products. Make more money.

The only surprising aspect of all of this is how much work it took to convince Sony that more money was good.