Comment & Opinion

With Jim Ryan's exit approaching, could PlayStation's next CEO finally realise their mobile potential?

Could PlayStation finally go all-in with mobile?

With Jim Ryan's exit approaching, could PlayStation's next CEO finally realise their mobile potential?

With Jim Ryan making an exit as head of Sony Interactive Entertainment, the brand that heads up PlayStation, under Sony, it's time to take a closer look at the one console company that's currently on track to only be remembered as the one too stubborn to embrace mobile.

Sony's boisterous entry into the gaming market started in backrooms in the early 80s when they worked alongside, rather than against, Nintendo on what would have been Nintendo's first CD-based console. Fearing Sony trying to use the Nintendo Playstation as a foothold into the industry, Nintendo cut them in favour of Phillips, but it back fired and in the mid 90s, Sony PlayStation was born.

That was a different time though, in '95 the industry was fascinated by the shift from pixels to polygon, mobile gaming wasn't a thing (Snake came two years later), and the industry value was nestled under $50bn, with a noticeable portion of that being from arcades.

Ryan's history with PlayStation dates back to before the launch of the first console, his departure could signal a fundamental business strategy shift for Sony Interactive Entertainment

In 2023 mobile is everywhere. Newzoo reports that it's the dominant slice of the market at $92.6, while console which is still a three-horse race, is expected to bring in a paling $56.1bn. However, that console market isn't growing in a traditional manner, and the main players are tinkering in other spaces: Nintendo is tip-toeing back its mobile experiment, but it remains committed through Pokemon Company projects like Pokemon Sleep, Pokemon Unite and Pokemon Niantic's Pokemon Go which are expanding the brand and turning a tidy profit.

Sony's traditional rival, Microsoft, has a different approach though, with their strategy clearly revolving around cloud stream services and delivering a uniform experience across platforms: According to Sensor Tower data, they've almost silently brought in around 1.6m mobile downloads on app stores in August 2023 alone, and that's not something to be sniffed at.

PlayStations's place in the mobile-dominated market

But where is Sony during all of this? They've no major brands in the mobile gaming space, instead still doubling down on exclusives within the console gaming market, while slowly dripping their games onto PC services after the dust has settled. As a company, they're bringing in a lot of their revenue from their media and electrical businesses, and so Playstation itself is - surprisingly - almost an entirely unknown entity in mobile gaming.

Of course, we've had our eye on them for ages, while mobile is undeniably at the forefront of gaming now, it hasn't always been that way, and so we always make sure to check in with PC and console entities to see about their next moves. There've been numerous 'almosts' with Playstation over the last year, with them forming a mobile division (the aptly named, PlayStation Mobile), acquiring Savage Games Studios, and even announcing a handheld console.

Sony Group President Hiroki Tokoki will be stepping in to fill Jim Ryan's absence, his history as a CFO who has had oversight over PlayStation positions him in an interesting position.

However, PlayStation Mobile has since become synonymous with departures, Savage Games Studios' founder made an early exit and the handheld console turned out to be an off-screen, alternative screen affair rather than anything for independent play. There's still some hope as PlayStation are active in South Korea - a mobile-dominated region - looking for partners, but then again, we reported back in early 2021 that PlayStation were exploring the mobile market and that seems to have gone nowhere.

PlayStation's history with mobile has been incredibly bumpy, especially in these last four years - so, exiting CEO Jim Ryan won't be particularly well-remembered on this site. However, as Sony Group President Hiroki Totoki steps in to serve as interim head over Sony Interactive Entertainment there's an opportunity for the company to expand to mobile in ways that it hasn't previously.

Time for a change

Totoki could be the right man for the job too, as the chief financial officer for Sony he's very aware of each branch of the company's revenue, and even stated during last November's earnings call, that PlayStation was into its second quarter of underperforming: "Our biggest regret is that we have made a significant downgrade to the operating income forecast". 

Surely, innovation and exploration of new avenues is the path to profit.

With a new generation of consoles on the way, and Apple showing off console games running natively and tauting “iPhone is the best mobile gaming platform in the world”, it could be the perfect opportunity for PlayStation to finally take action.

Let's face it, if they don't then they risk being left behind.