Horizon Zero Dawn isn’t even out on PC yet, but it’s already making waves. The one-time PlayStation exclusive shot up to the top of the Steam top seller charts based on the strength of pre-orders alone, and I have to imagine it will head back up when the game actually releases on August 7. For PS4 owners, the game is old hat, and they’re now looking forward to Horizon: Forbidden West in 2021. PC players, clearly are raring to go.
It’s a big deal. Exclusive first-party development is arguably Sony’s greatest strength and the lynchpin in its hardware strategy. Exclusive games are what allowed the PS3 to recover from a rocky launch to end out the generation well, and exclusive games are what allowed the PS4 to capitalize on Microsoft’s missteps to win the current generation hands-down. And, like Nintendo, the company has been understandably cautious about letting its most valuable properties outside of the walled garden.
But Horizon Zero Dawn shows a pretty good example of Sony’s path forward here, which should mean even better visibility for its IP and more sales of both its hardware and software. Sure, you could argue that making exclusive games available elsewhere lessens the incentive to buy a PlayStation console. But Zero Dawn is three years old now, and probably not moving a ton of consoles. Releasing on PC not only allows Sony to get some money off the strength of sales alone—never a bad thing—it introduces a ton of PC players to a new franchise. And who knows? It might just be enough to get them to consider a PS5 when it’s time to play the sequel.
So, worst-case scenario, Sony makes a bunch of money selling a video game, which is always ostensibly the goal. Best-case scenario, it builds hype for its newer games and hardware and moves some even bigger sales. Whatever happens, PC players get access to more games.
It’s part of a larger shift in the industry as we shift from simple hardware platforms to broader ecosystems. Microsoft is the standard-bearer here, with its promise to bring all first-party exclusives to both PC and Xbox, and even to older Xbox One hardware for an unspecified period of time. But Sony is right there with it, both by bringing backwards compatibility to the PS5 and by beginning to release these somewhat older games on PC.
For right now: we all win. I’ve long been a proponent of the idea that if you have a thing people want to buy, you should make an effort to sell it to them. But right now, we’re also seeing a dress rehearsal for the still-distant future of cloud streaming, where hardware platforms cease to exist and software ecosystems carry the day. It’s not happening right now, but Sony and Microsoft both know that they’ll want as wide a user base as possible to prepare for it.