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.
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?
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?
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”.
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.