The PlayStation 5 has enjoyed one of the most successful first 12 months that a new games console has ever seen, but it’s not all been plain sailing for Sony. They’ve struggled with producing enough consoles to meet demand during a global semiconductor shortage, they’ve had to delay a bunch of highly anticipated games, and they’ve come in for some criticism at times.
Let’s dive in and look back on the first year of PlayStation 5.
The Sales Figures
The one thing holding the PlayStation 5 back, it seems, is how quickly Sony can produce and ship them around the world. The demand for new generation consoles is immense, and with the ongoing semiconductor shortage, Sony hasn’t been able to keep up.
Still, they’re able to just, just track ahead of the PlayStation 4’s own meteoric first year of sales, pushing past 13.6 million at the end of September 2021 and projecting to ship over 22 million by April 2022 – though there’s reports that they’ve had to cut production targets yet again. Many have felt disaffected by the purchase process for new consoles, new GPUs and CPUs over the last year, so much blame being laid at the feet of scalpers and bots buying up stock. The true impact there isn’t know, but even without them, Sony would not be able to keep up with demand.
The system updates
One year on and (partly because I juggle consoles) I’m still not used to the PS button behaviour on the DualSense controller.
That aside, Sony has gradually fleshed out the features of the PlayStation 5’s system software over the past twelve months. There’s still a feeling that it puts form before function, that features like the PlayStation Activity cards and trophy help videos aren’t being used to anywhere near their fullest, but core functionality has made the console much more usable. In particular, the ability to backup PS5 games on an external drive and then support for NVMe SSD expansions have both come in turn, helping to lift the pressure on that internal SSD. Then there are minor touches such as the return of vertical trophy lists and being able to remove the capture notification when recording or taking screenshots in-game.
There’s been plenty of other tweaks and changes, but Sony has also played a little bit of catch up behind the scenes, improving their developer tools so that games running in backward compatibility can offer separate performance options for PS5. Variable Refresh Rate and other technical features are still outstanding, though, and Tempest 3D AudioTech has only been expanded to built-in TV speakers thus far. There’s still work to be done.
The games come first
In a parallel dimension, 2021 has been the most monumental of years for PlayStation exclusives. In this dimension, 2021 has been a year where pretty much anything that can be delayed has been. Following on from the initial launch line-up of Demon’s Souls, Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Sackboy, the first half of 2021 saw the release of Returnal and Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, a pair of fantastic first party exclusives that showed off what this system could do in different ways. However, Horizon Forbidden West, Gran Turismo 7 and God of War: Ragnarok have all been delayed to 2022. This gives them a better chance of living up to their potential, but it’s meant that the back half of the year has felt a little bare, certainly when Microsoft is dropping two tentpole releases in the form of Forza Horizon 5 and Halo Infinite.
Then again, that’s given third party exclusives the spotlight. Kena: Bridge of Spirits has been a big hit, while Deathloop’s plaudits have surely led to more interest and people playing it than if it was competing with Aloy’s second adventure for attention and buying power.
It’s not been as good as it could have been, but it’s still been a fantastic first year. Let’s not forget the dearth of game releases through the PlayStation 4’s first year on sale, compared to the wealth of new and updated games we’ve seen for the PS5.
A few too many gaffs
The PlayStation brand is as strong as it ever has been, but there’s been a few times where Sony’s put their foot in it. Most notable has been the ripple effect from Jim Ryan’s “we believe in generations” comment in the run up to release. Since then it’s transpired that Sony’s cross-gen plan was actually surprisingly similar to Microsoft’s, with Horizon Forbidden West, GT7 and God of War: Ragnarok all turning out to be cross-gen games, despite appearing to be PS5 exclusives when they were announced.
They also bungled the messaging on cross-gen upgrades, having to backtrack after breaking their promise of free upgrades for Horizon and initially not even offering a paid upgrade path. It’s settled with the ability to simply pay the difference, but the initial stance should not have been so anti-consumerist.
Speaking of bridging the generational divide, this is another area that the PlayStation stumbled. Though the frameworks for developers have been updated, there’s still games with no ability to move save files forward and that rely on uploading save data from the PS4 version (which could be a 100GB download for something like Marvel’s Avengers), because the support wasn’t there at the time. It’s a problem that’s going to fade into the background, but has been a disappointing note through the last year for those having to wait in order before making the generational jump.
A haptic happy place
On the road to release, the PS5’s DualSense and its haptic feedback became one of the most hyped next-gen features. There was the promise that this would revolutionise the way, offering a more nuanced, immersive evolution of the DualShock’s rumble. However, since putting Sony’s newest gamepad through its paces in Astro’s Playroom, haptic feedback has become something we’ve talked about less and less. There have been some clever applications here and there, such as Returnal’s subtle rain patters and shooters using a half-stop trigger, but while it seems less of a gimmick than the PS3’s SixAxis, few games utilise this clever controller to its full potential.
If PC gamers won’t come to PlayStation…
From Sega and Capcom to Microsoft and now Sony, everyone has come to realise that there’s actually quite a lot of money to be made by bringing your games to PC. Not only that, but it’s an understanding that, if you’ve just dropped cash on a PC that’s worth four times as much as a home console, you’re probably going to want to reap the benefits that it can bring through higher frame rates, more flexibility with resolutions, and everything else. Maybe you don’t want to buy a PlayStation?
Sony’s making big moves in this direction, bringing out a port of PlayStation 4 game Days Gone and announcing that God of War, Uncharted 4 and more are on the way. They even went out and bought up PC porting specialists Nixxes, who have an outstanding track record in this regard. However, their strategy is less about day and date parity, and more about picking up money that’s been left on the table, while also tempting those who enjoy what they see to maybe buy a PlayStation in future.
Best first year ever?
The first year of PlayStation 5 has been pretty remarkable in a number of ways, from the sky high demand that Sony simply cannot keep up with, to having new and exclusive games coming out that puts the PlayStation 4’s launch year to shame. Still, we do have to acknowledge the year of gaming that this could have been had everything gone to plan for Sony’s first party studios (and, you know, the world).
There’s a lot of pieces being put in place for the future of PlayStation 5, a slew of strategic acquisitions strengthening Sony’s first party studios, but it’s taking time for Sony to make good on some of the features expected to come to the PS5 and for developers to use them to their fullest.