The news that Sony Music has created a game publishing label called Unties isn’t exactly earth-shattering news.
What took people by surprise is that Unties is releasing its indie-style games on the PC and the Switch. There’s been a lot of talk about this being the first step towards a third-party Sony but we need to clear something up before I talk about the actual logic behind it – Sony Music and Sony Interactive Entertainment are two very different independently-functioning arms of the overall whole of Sony Corp. Whilst you’d think there’d be crossover or loyalty behind some of their decisions, ultimately both arms are intended to make money and Unties is distinctly distant from the Sony Interactive side to be almost an entirely different beast altogether.
Which might even be the point – distant enough to be separate from the PlayStation 4, which speaks volumes to the current state of the PlayStation 4 (which I will have to write about at another time). And the second point is – can we stop calling this an “indie publishing label”? It’s not. It’s backed by Sony Music, a literally MASSIVE arm of an otherwise also massive corporation. This is about as “indie” as One Direction.
So, why set up what undoubtedly is a third-party publishing arm in the first place?
Sony Music has actual form on this if it thinks it can promote or increase the value of its music properties. Earlier this year, Sony Music pushed a new label called Sacra Music, which was in fact aimed at collating and selling music mostly featured and written for anime. Considering how successful a lot of Anime is – and how Hollywood is rinsing Anime franchises in order to make a quick buck – it was a good gamble. Nashville is effectively owned by Sony Music at this point as a genre. This is sort of what Sony Music does – in essence, its primary drive is to add profit or value to the company as a whole.
Which is awesome and all but I think most of us know that the music industry has seen… changes in recent years. Fairly radical changes too, with the advent of streaming services and YouTube – and particularly that both are now counted for the UK Top 40 or Billboard Hot 100. A large amount of money these days in music is made on tours and through extraneous merchandising. There’s still money to be made – but it’s a far cry from, say, ten or fifteen years ago. The advent of MP3 and the Internet radically changed the music market, and half of Sony Music’s overall revenue depends on streaming services now.
That’s awesome and all but Sony Music clearly seeks to diversify; hence Unties, it’s “publishing label”. Now, I can’t see anything right now about music licensing for said projects but one could presume Sony Music is very keen on cherry-picking video games with soundtracks that could sell, which is an ideal situation for them and particularly if they do stick to low-to-mid-tier games. Sony Music still keeps music very much in mind so I can’t deny that there’s an air of potentially making bank on video game soundtracks here. And that’s fine too.
Here’s where it gets real – so… why support the Switch, when they could easily have been PS4 exclusive? Heck, that’s the real shock – Sony Music not Sony Interactive exclusive! *gasp*
Except… it’s not a shock.
As I’ve stated before on this blog – the Nintendo Switch is the beneficiary of an inordinate amount of good fortune right now. In what some consider to be the twilight years of Gen-8, here’s a brand-spanking new platform brand that people are excited over. But even –that– isn’t really enough; because again, the PS4 has a huge install base. If it was about that, then Unties would simply be another self-fuelling Sony brand. No, the crux of this is that a lot of developers are making it very clear that right now, they’re seeing huge spikes in their revenue thanks to the Switch – with some titles selling more copies in a week or two on the Switch than on all other platforms combined over many months.
This is where I see the shift happening – as I said in my last post, the Switch is the hot place to be right now and whilst I’m sure Sony Interactive would love to have all these “indie” games to themselves; it’s also fair to point out that as a whole, indie support for the PlayStation 4 has been dwindling over the last couple of years. Whatever the reasons are for that, it’s important enough that Unties – which appears to be going for low-to-mid tier video games (which is a good thing) – is ultimately about making money. So why turn down a good thing on the Switch?
Of course, like most people I don’t think this bubble will last indefinitely but for the moment at least, the Switch is attractive enough to different companies to be a valid platform choice in its own right.
It does also speak to a very good thing for the Switch – Sony seems content to let the Switch have the handheld hybrid space, at least for the foreseeable future. This means Nintendo doesn’t need to worry too much about Sony or even Microsoft breathing down its neck right now, and unquestionably if you want to argue the Switch as a companion console – why not take advantage of that fact? Why not have games and labels and brands that have some crossover with the PlayStation and/or XBox?
But more than that, I think Sony Music is distant enough from Sony Interactive that this can, for now, be its own thing. People forget how big Sony Inc. actually is – it’s enormous, and covers a lot of things. Having its own little publishing unit, distant enough from the PlayStation that it might get some interest from studios who heard bad things about the PS4’s treatment of indies (I’m guessing stemming from massive underpayment of PS Plus content, but I don’t really have the figures to back that up so take with a pinch of salt – it would just make sense). Big companies can sometimes contradict each other. It happens. It’s not a new thing.
Will this change in the future? Who knows! But I don’t see this as a bad thing. A big arm of a company decides to diversify and try something else to generate some additional revenue. Shock of all horrors! Next you’ll tell me bears really DO do their business in the woods!
There’s not much else to say on this though. It’s not the end of PlayStation. It’s just another string to another bow wielded by another multi-armed growth of the Chtulu-esque monolith that is Sony Inc. The Switch is just another platform to this arm. It’s not the enemy, or competition, it’s just another place to do business. And unsurprisingly, with so much talk from developers about the sales they’re getting – it seems to be an ideal place for a new, untested publishing label to get in on the ground floor.
But seriously, why do we keep throwing around the “indie” tag like this guys? It’s… you do realise it’s shorthand for “independent”? If you’re being published and/or supported by Sony Music, which is a multi-billion dollar arm of a multi-billion dollar company, you’re not exactly screaming independence at that point…