I am back from a week of running around Gamescom at a convention centre in Cologne, drinking German beer out of deceptively tiny-looking glasses, only to discover that Sony is – in this economy! – raising the price of the PlayStation 5. The cost will remain the same in the US but everywhere else it will rise by up to 20%; in the UK, it will increase 6%, from £449.99 to £479.99 (or £359.99 to £389.99 for the cheaper model that has no disc drive). The hike is steepest (21%) in Sony’s heartland of Japan.
Given that middle earners are trimming costs and lower earners are facing heartbreaking choices between, for instance, food and heating when energy prices double this winter, this news has put me into a stage of late-stage-capitalism rage. Many are striking because people can’t afford to live any more. Small businesses are will close because they’re not going to be able to absorb endless increases in costs. All of us are worried, many of us are struggling. This is not the time to pass along increases in manufacturing costs to customers. Sony is displaying an unfortunate arrogance that reminds me of the early days of PS3, when then-PlayStation boss Ken Kutaragi suggested that people should simply work more hours to afford the console’s $599 launch price. The fact that the increase is highest in the two markets Sony dominates – Japan and Europe – displays unseemly complacency.
Sony described this move as “a necessity given the current global economic environment and its impact on SIE’s [Sony Interactive Entertainment’s] business”. But when times are hard, it’s never corporations that absorb the blow, is it? Instead of building up reserves to weather lean years – as Nintendo did, when it posted its first and only losses during the lifespan of the unsuccessful Wii U, released in 2012 – companies simply charge consumers more to preserve their profits, year on year. Unsurprisingly, the accepted reality is that it is right to prioritise shareholders over customers. Despite a 2% drop in sales of the PS5 over last year, Sony’s overall operating income in the first quarter of 2022 is up $2.3bn, by the way.
This is the first time a games console has had a post-launch price hike, as far as I am aware. There have been plenty of mildly embarrassing cuts: the PlayStation 3’s egregious launch price did not last long, and in the 1990s Nintendo was forced to lower the price of the Nintendo 64 and offer peeved early adopters a free game as compensation. Microsoft told Video Games Chronicle that the Xbox Series X/S price will remain the same (£250-£450 depending on the model), and the cost of Nintendo’s Switch won’t budge either, as company president Shuntaro Furukawa pledged in June. This leaves Sony in the unenviable company of Meta, which recently raised the price of the Oculus Quest VR headset.
The most successful video game companies often fall foul of hubris. Fresh from the wild success of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and the Game Boy in the 90s, Nintendo released the overpriced and awkward (if still beloved) Nintendo 64, and found itself overtaken by Sony’s original PlayStation. Sony, meanwhile, took years to recover from the awkward launch years of the unwieldy and expensive PlayStation 3, having seemingly considered itself unbeatable after the 158m-selling PlayStation 2. And while it was busy scrambling, Microsoft finally won hearts in the video game market with the excellent Xbox 360 – then squandered its lead with the Xbox One, a console that seemed more interested in selling people on the concept of an “entertainment hub” than actually letting them play games.
The PlayStation 4 might have outsold the Xbox One by more than two to one, but Sony is not untouchable. People will not like this price hike, and they will certainly not like its timing, as they stare in horror at their gas bills. I think it would be jusitified if PlayStation takes a reputational hit from this.
What to play
Sam Barlow, who created the fascinating mystery games Her Story and Telling Lies, has a new game out. It’s called Immortality, and I was absolutely spellbound. The game’s fictional actor Marissa Marcel starred in three films, but none of those films were released, and now she has disappeared. You, browsing through an archive of footage, scenes and rehearsals from her career, must figure out why. The craft and cleverness of this footage – the perfect film-making-history period detail, the stellar performances, the way that the underlying mystery gradually reveals itself to you in a way that feels natural and self-directed – is mind-blowing. I couldn’t tear myself away from it. It’s more than a game, more than a series of interactive movie clips: it’s a small, self-contained intellectual world.
Available on: smartphones, PC, Xbox
Approximate playtime: 6-10 hours
What to read
Lies of P picked up a lot of buzz at Gamescom last week: it’s a gothic Bloodborne-esque action game based on, uh, Pinocchio, made in Seoul. I was sold when evil Geppetto turned up in the trailer.
Masahiro Sakurai, the game-design genius behind Super Smash Bros, has started a YouTube channel to dispense wisdom and extremely informed opinions on games and their development. He is always interesting, even when he gets technical.
What to click
Still catching ’em all: why the Pokémon World Championships are bigger than ever
The Commodore 64 at 40: back to the future of video games
Pentiment, the 16th-century murder mystery that looks like a playable tapestry
How Capcom aims to reinvent Street Fighter after 35 years
Reader Maisie is looking for a recommendation: I really enjoyed Disco Elysium: I liked the atmosphere, the length (17 hours), and the game mechanics. What should I play next?
I bounced right off Disco Elysium – it’s something to do with the tone of the writing – but I love plenty of games with a similar cerebral mood. Here are some of them: Return of the Obra Dinn, a mystery game set on a boat; Sunless Sea and Sunless Skies, two literary exploration games; The Forgotten City, a Roman time-capsule with great characters and dialogue; and of course Planescape Torment, the solid-gold classic computer RPG. Its more modern sequel Pillars of Eternity is good, too. And if you’re into fantasy, Divinity: Original Sin and its sequel are, like Disco Elysium, pleasingly malleable when it comes to how your character’s abilities and your choices affect the way that things play out in the world.