On July 8, Sony held its annual, independent State of Play games showcase. The online event came only a month after gaming’s biggest yearly event, E3, and was confirmed a mere two days before its livestream. Like E3, the event would be all-digital due to the ongoing pandemic but would focus exclusively on PlayStation titles. The spotlight and subsequent expectations were placed solely on Sony’s upcoming slate of releases. Yet, anticipation was already heightened months prior to the event.
PlayStation players had been awaiting something noteworthy since the launch of the PlayStation 5 back in November and firmly believed that State of Play 2021 would be the perfect opportunity for the company to pull an ace out its sleeve. Yet when the livestream concluded after an underwhelming 30 minutes of previews, the general consensus was less than ideal. The titles previewed weren’t impressive enough to overcome fans’ disappointment over those excluded, and the overall event paled in comparison to Xbox & Bethesda’s Game Showcase at E3. Sony appeared outdone by their bitter rivals but stood to lose more than pride with a mediocre game library. Ultimately, console sales come down to the games players want.
When Sony released the PlayStation 5, fans were exceedingly pleased with the company’s exclusive titles. Sony’s first-party titles alone included “Spider-Man: Miles Morales,” “Sackboy: A Big Adventure” and “Demon’s Souls,” each of them a valued sequel or remaster to a beloved game series. Even the console’s free functionality showcase, “Astro’s Playroom,” offered gamers a fun, nostalgia-filled platformer to enjoy. Fans flocked to stores and restock sites to purchase their PS5s and play such releases as soon as possible. But what followed was an inevitable dry spell in which players able to buy the console had little new to play on it, and those who couldn’t had little incentive to then get one.
The PlayStation 5 is still as difficult to buy at retail as ever, a trend that doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. With resellers employing bots and gouging prices at every possible restock, the central problem remains unmendable: supply. To produce ready-to-play PlayStation 5s, Sony manufacturers rely on semiconductors, yet an ongoing global shortage has set back a range of industries. From medical equipment to video game consoles, the consequences of the pandemic have hindered the production and distribution of countless goods, the essential semiconductor notwithstanding. So, while the pandemic sent many home from their work and social lives, it also kept most of them from spending that time on the new PlayStation.
Even for those lucky enough to be stuck at home with a state-of-the-art console, its immediate releases played out fairly quickly. This is why State of Play 2021 was such a pivotal, yet pressurized, opportunity for Sony. The company had to assure buyers of their purchase while appealing to potential ones, despite already announcing in May that their “supply wouldn’t be able to catch up with demand” this year. Such would prove a daunting task for anyone, even without considering their competitor’s showing halfway through 2021.
While State of Play primarily focused on indie titles, Xbox & Bethesda’s Game Showcase took an entirely different approach a month earlier. Currently boasting 23 studios, Microsoft used its platform at E3 and recent $7.5 billion acquisition of Bethesda’s parent company to swing momentum in the “console war” in its favor for the first time since the new generation of consoles. They first covered what was lacking with the release of the Xbox Series X compared to the PlayStation 5: exclusive games. Microsoft announced new additions to classic franchises with Forza Horizon 5, another installment in the popular racing series, and free-to-play multiplayer for Halo Infinite. Other AAA console exclusives included Redfall, Starfield and “S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2: Heart of Chernobyl,” each of them promising in their own right. This helped level the initial disparity between the consoles yet served as an even better transition into the Bethesda-centric overhaul to the Xbox Games Pass.
Under the revitalized Games Pass, Xbox players can expect substantial franchises in their hands well into 2022. With classic Bethesda franchises like The Elder Scrolls, Far Cry and Fallout at their disposal, the question of Xbox or PlayStation grows increasingly complicated. By focusing on blockbuster hits and emphasizing quality over quantity, Xbox roused its consumer base at E3. Sony’s follow-up response, however, didn’t hold the same gravity.
Rather than updating fans on highly anticipated games like God of War: Ragnarok, Horizon: Forbidden West or Final Fantasy XVI, Sony collected a handful of unproven titles to rouse excitement for its still-young console. Player anticipation turned to outrage online, not over the quality of what was previewed, but because of a few key absences. Fans felt unattended to for months following the PlayStation 5’s release, and the abrupt announcement for State of Play 2021 likely offered players a degree of false hope. Such urgency on Sony’s part may have suggested a rebuttal to Microsoft’s positive reception or a big announcement that they couldn’t hold back any longer, but neither proved true.
Instead, the event appeared as a patched-together showcase for lesser-known indie titles. Allowing a spotlight for independent releases is both admirable and necessary for Sony as a top-tier producer, especially for the promise that many of them displayed. But an unfortunate truth remains: that few titles shown at State of Play 2021, if any, could draw prospective consumers to the system. Xbox leaned on its household names and set a strong precedent for the early lives of the next console generation, one that Sony didn’t counter.
Despite owning some of the most iconic properties in all of gaming, Sony failed to excite the masses with its State of Play 2021. While this shouldn’t be the expectation moving forward, as there is still plenty confirmed for Sony to showcase once ready, it remains unfortunate that gamers weren’t allowed these early glimpses. Regardless, a slew of indie games and internal improvements are on the horizon for those with the coveted console, and a complete list of the event’s trailers can be found here. Take the time to judge Sony’s upcoming lineup for yourselves and, agree or disagree, remember: There’s always next year.