Sony’s Uncertain Future

Sony’s Uncertain Future

Sony had a terrible 2014. For the 2015 financial year (April 2014 to March 2015), they posted a $2.35 billion USD loss. They finally got rid of their failing Vaio PC products. Their well-reviewed phones fail to make a dent in the Apple- and Samsung-dominated market.

But surely the company that owns Spider-Man did OK film-wise, right? Wrong. Their attempt to build a cinematic superhero universe with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 failed dismally. The Sony hacks later in the year then blew the lid on Sony’s attempts to right themselves with news that they were considering leasing Spider-Man back to Marvel and a proposed 21 Jump Street/Men in Black cross over. And to top the year off, The Interview almost started World War Three with North Korea.

Ok, so that all sucks terribly for Sony, but didn’t the PlayStation 4 hit something like 10 million sales? Oh yeah! That must help offset some of that $2.35 billion USD loss, right? Well, sadly, again, wrong. Guesstimations put the production cost of the PS4 at about $381 USD, so with a sale price of $399 USD that means that Sony made a sweet $18 per console. Heck, with that $18 USD per console you’d think they’d be able to afford to buy themselves a ticket to see The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

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Of course, consoles aren’t what makes the hardware manufacturers their money. Most of the time, they make a loss on the console and make most of the money with licensing on the games. With most of what were meant to be 2014 exclusive games being pushed to 2015, it didn’t give Sony the ability to make the money they were likely expecting.

Both Microsoft and Sony have taken initial steps into the burgeoning world of streaming television. Microsoft realised fairly quickly that it wasn’t a game that they were able to play in, and decided to remove themselves from that market by closing Xbox Entertainment Studios. They still have their Halo: Nightfall series in production with Ridley Scott producing, but the terrible reviews are doing nothing to keep the proverbial hammers from nailing the coffin shut on a successful video game series.

Sony will be launching their online streaming service later in 2015, starting off with the comic book adaptation, Powers. But what about their game IP’s? Surely the company that helped produce such great characters as Nathan Drake, Kratos, Ratchet & Clank, Crash Bandicoot, Cole McGrath, the Sackpeople, and more would want to put those characters to use in the cinematic world?

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The buzzword for 2014 in the cinema world was “cinematic universe”. Marvel started the trend years ago when they hit phase one of their combined universe of superheroes. Warner Brothers and DC hit back with announcements that they were building a cinematic universe with DC characters. Then Universal announced they were rebooting their Classic Monsters in a… you guessed it… cinematic universe. Sony were attempting to do the same thing with their limited Spider-Man IP, but two average Spidey films in a row burst that bubble.

Given how much stock Sony had put into Spider-Man, the critical failure of the rebooted Spider-Man films is what hurt the most. Financially, the films did well enough, with a combined box office of $1.4 billion USD – but Sony’s poor understanding of the Spider-Man universe meant the desired fan reception was not there. When the PlayStation 3 was released, the font that was on the side of the console was the Spider-Man font. As a cynical outsider, Sony seemed to hope at the time that the successful Spider-Man films would rub off on their console and boost sales simply thanks to a font (and, of course, many other things as well, but that’s for a different article).

Whilst the spotlight is well and truly on superhero films right now – and up til 2020 if Marvel and DC have their way – that spotlight is likely to wane soon, and I believe the next wave of great films will be video game adaptations. It’s always hard being the first to create a truly great film that starts off a new set of genre films. Fox managed to kickstart the superhero genre with the X-Men films, and odds are that Legendary films (the studio partially behind the successful Nolan Batman films) will kickstart the video game adaptation genre with Duncan Jones’ Warcraft. So why doesn’t Sony look to the wealth of video game characters that they have, and create a successful new genre of films?

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It’s not for lack of trying. They worked for years shopping around an Uncharted adaptation among different directors – most notoriously American Hustle and Silver Lining’s Playbook director David O’Russell, with a cast featuring Mark Wahlberg and Robert De Niro, but that fell apart due to drastic changes to Nathan Drake’s story. Right now, the focus is on the steadily progressing Last of Us adaptation with Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams in the role of Ellie – fortunately with the game’s writers heavily involved. Sony are also involved with a possible Watch Dogs adaptation, after discussions regarding an Assassin’s Creed adaptation fell apart – that adaptation ultimately ending up with 20th Century Fox. From Sony’s own stable, though, is an animated Ratchet & Clank film coming out in 2015. Sam Fisher will be making an appearance in The Bourne Identity director Doug Liman’s adaptation of the Splinter Cell series.

On top of all this, we are also living in a world where the following game-to-film adaptations will also exist – Angry Birds, Tetris, Cut the Rope, and Temple Run, to name but a few. So, like it or not, as a Sean Bean-related meme could say in the future “brace yourselves, the video game film adaptations are coming”.

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Given how often game developers go out of business, and how many in-house studios Sony has had to close, it’s just not feasible to rely on games alone to keep the rest of the company afloat. The plain fact is that running a video game business alone is simply not enough. Whether streamlining other hardware sections and helping focus on possible money makers such as video game film adaptations will be profitable and help correct Sony’s failing empire is something that only time will tell.

Sony is heading in the right direction by removing chairman Amy Pascal. With the direction that the game industry is heading (i.e., a mostly digital streaming market), Sony will need to refocus their divisions into truly profitable areas. I hope that they can ride on possible future video game film adaptation successes and right themselves, whilst also spearheading a new genre of films and reaffirming themselves as a major player in the cinema world. Also, I do hope they eventually make that 21 Jump Street/Men in Black cross over.

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Andrew was nameless for the first week of his life. His parents were too busy trying to figure out the character creation model that they forgot to name him. Unfortunately, they molded him into a bearded film loving idiot who runs The Last New Wave and AB Film Review with his wife as well as talks about games every so often. Sometimes he knows stuff, most of the time he’s an idiot.
  • Of course, the day my article about Sony’s future goes live they go and announce that Spider-Man – their flagship franchise – has now partially returned to Marvel. The key point with this is that Marvel is going to co-produce any future Spider-Man films with Sony. Whilst the buck does essentially stop with Sony – with all creative control, distribution, financing and ownership rights still remain with Sony – Marvel are essentially being on board as an advisory role. This is great news.

    Having Kevin Feige – the head of Marvel – co-produce any future Spider-Man efforts means that there will be a great level of quality control. The added insurance of Feige’s name being attached to Spider-Man means that fans will have the understanding that there will be the same level of Marvel greatness as other Marvel films.

    But, what about the games though? There hasn’t been a truly great Spider-Man game since Spider-Man 2. Marvel have notoriously avoided having games that tie into the films ever since the abysmal Iron Man, Thor and Captain America games, so I do wonder if they’ll suggest avoiding having any game adaptations at all. The last Spider-Man films game adaptation was not warmly received with terrible game play and horribly restrictive mechanics. There are of course the Lego Marvel games and the Disney Infinity games – both series are not directly tied to the films themselves – but these are series which Sony won’t get a direct cut.

    I’m hoping that this news will help Sony get themselves out of that haze that is the $2.35billion deficit and back into the black. Keep in mind the next Spider-Man film won’t hit until 2017. I hope that having a profitable franchise under Sony’s belt means they’ll be able to take greater risks with the next level of film franchises – video game adaptations – and also allow them to help weather whatever challenges may hit them in the future with the directions of the game industry.

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    Official Press Release

    SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT BRINGS MARVEL STUDIOS INTO THE AMAZING WORLD OF SPIDER-MAN
    New Spider-Man Will Appear First in an Upcoming Marvel Film Within Marvel’s Cinematic Universe
    Marvel’s Kevin Feige to Produce Next Installment of the Spider-Man Franchise with Amy Pascal

    (Culver City, California, and Burbank, California February 09, 2015) – Sony Pictures Entertainment and Marvel Studios announced today that Sony is bringing Marvel into the amazing world of Spider-Man.

    Under the deal, the new Spider-Man will first appear in a Marvel film from Marvel’s Cinematic Universe (MCU). Sony Pictures will thereafter release the next installment of its $4 billion Spider-Man franchise, on July 28, 2017, in a film that will be co-produced by Kevin Feige and his expert team at Marvel and Amy Pascal, who oversaw the franchise launch for the studio 13 years ago. Together, they will collaborate on a new creative direction for the web slinger. Sony Pictures will continue to finance, distribute, own and have final creative control of the Spider-Man films.

    Marvel and Sony Pictures are also exploring opportunities to integrate characters from the MCU into future Spider-Man films.

    The new relationship follows a decade of speculation among fans about whether Spider-Man – who has always been an integral and important part of the larger Marvel Universe in the comic books – could become part of the Marvel Universe on the big screen. Spider-Man has more than 50 years of history in Marvel’s world, and with this deal, fans will be able to experience Spider-Man taking his rightful place among other Super Heroes in the MCU.

    Bob Iger, Chairman and CEO, The Walt Disney Company said: “Spider-Man is one of Marvel’s great characters, beloved around the world. We’re thrilled to work with Sony Pictures to bring the iconic web-slinger into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which opens up fantastic new opportunities for storytelling and franchise building.”

    “We always want to collaborate with the best and most successful filmmakers to grow our franchises and develop our characters. Marvel, Kevin Feige and Amy, who helped orchestrate this deal, are the perfect team to help produce the next chapter of Spider-Man,” said Michael Lynton, Chairman and CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment. “This is the right decision for the franchise, for our business, for Marvel, and for the fans.”

    “Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios share a love for the characters in the Spider-Man universe and have a long, successful history of working together. This new level of collaboration is the perfect way to take Peter Parker’s story into the future,” added Doug Belgrad, president, Sony Pictures Entertainment Motion Picture Group.

    “I am thrilled to team with my friends at Sony Pictures along with Amy Pascal to produce the next Spider-Man movie,” said Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige. “Amy has been deeply involved in the realization on film of one of the world’s most beloved characters. Marvel’s involvement will hopefully deliver the creative continuity and authenticity that fans demand from the MCU. I am equally excited for the opportunity to have Spider-Man appear in the MCU, something which both we at Marvel, and fans alike, have been looking forward to for years.”

    Spider-Man, embraced all over the world, is the most successful franchise in the history of Sony Pictures, with the five films having taken in more than $4 billion worldwide.

  • Dave C Haldane

    On a side note am I the only one who doesn’t find it kind of strange that a movie about assassinating a current leader got the green light? How could they NOT expect repercussions? Reminds me of a while back when a Call of Duty game came out where you could kill US troops as members of the taliban or something. HUGE outcry about it yet, at the same time, EA released a game (Homefront perhaps?) which was extremely anti Korea and used real names yet they didn’t bat an eye

    • Not really. Team America: World Police did it almost a decade ago. It’d be different if it wasn’t a comedy. But, then again… Red Dawn had to change the country invading America from Korea to Russia.

      I think you’re thinking of Medal of Honour’s option to play as the enemy. Well, what is perceived to be ‘our’ enemy. A bit like that Eight Days in Fallujah game which showed the American forces failing. I have no problem with games like that existing. But, that’s a discussion for a different article…

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