Lego Horizon Adventures highlights that even PlayStation recognizes expansion opportunities extend beyond its own platform | Opinion

The recently announced Lego Horizon Adventures did not come as a total surprise, given the pre-release leaks often associated with major launches. However, what caught everyone off guard was the announcement that this game will be available not just on PlayStation 5 and PC but also on Nintendo Switch.

To put this into perspective, it's quite rare to see a PlayStation-owned intellectual property make its way to a Nintendo console. This hasn't been seen in decades, reminiscent perhaps of the days of Wipeout 64, as highlighted by Christopher Dring, head of GamesIndustry.biz. While Sony's MLB The Show is available on Switch and Xbox, it's a licensed title rather than a true PlayStation-owned game.

Lego Horizon Adventures might not be the blockbuster that kickstarts Summer Game Fest, but its significance cannot be overstated. This move is akin to the era when Mario and Sonic featured in the same game, evoking a sense of peace between console rivals that defined the '90s gaming scene.

Earlier in the year, there were rampant rumors about Microsoft's potential multiplatform strategy, including speculation that Starfield and Indiana Jones would appear on the PS5. These rumors eventually culminated in theories about Xbox possibly exiting the hardware market. Microsoft put those speculations to rest but did announce that four games would release on other consoles, though not its flagship titles. Both Starfield and Indiana Jones remain exclusive to Xbox and PC at this time. Microsoft seemingly continues to favor exclusive arrangements for titles such as the newly-announced Doom: The Dark Ages, also coming to PS5.

During an interview at IGN Live, Microsoft's gaming CEO Phil Spencer hinted that more of their games would be seen on various platforms, indicating a shift to broader reach and brand expansion. Similarly, PlayStation has verbalized its own strategies for expanding player bases and increasing revenue through PC ports and the development of mobile titles. Titles from the Horizon series have already seen PC ports with favorable outcomes, and PlayStation seems committed to continuing this approach.

The benefits are clear: expanding beyond a single platform allows reaching new audiences, which can boost brand awareness and provide insights into the preferences of different gaming communities. Despite its market leadership, growth on a single platform has its limits. For instance, the PlayStation 5 might be Sony's most profitable console yet, but its sales lag behind those of the PlayStation 4. PC ports help capture the attention of potential players who may not own PlayStation consoles.

The Nintendo Switch, with over 140 million units sold, represents a vast and diverse audience, including many younger players – a demographic that Sony may not reach as effectively. This makes it rational for Sony to choose the family-friendly Lego Horizon Adventures as its first major IP to cross over to a Nintendo platform. The smaller technical demands of creating a new Lego game align well with the capabilities of the Switch.

Microsoft has previously employed a similar strategy, like bringing Viva Piñata to the Nintendo DS in 2008 to tap into Nintendo's family-oriented market. It's intriguing to see PlayStation adopt a Nintendo-like approach with one of its mature franchises, especially considering Horizon's intense themes of environmental collapse and its brooding protagonist. Given the Switch audience, one might have expected a spin-off appealing to families with characters like Astro Bot, Sackboy, Tearaway, or Ratchet & Clank instead.

Ultimately, this move by PlayStation underscores a broader trend where all major gaming platforms seek to reach different demographics by going beyond their established ecosystems.

Xbox, traditionally known for bringing its games to PC, will enter the mobile market this summer and is also aiming to attract PlayStation players by offering select titles. Nintendo, meanwhile, continues to explore mobile platforms to engage with casual gamers; a recent event for Super Mario Run, for instance, was used to drum up interest in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. Additionally, PlayStation, beyond its PC ventures, is now looking at growth opportunities via the Switch, moving past its historical rivalry with Nintendo, whose Wii in 2006 marked a shift away from direct competition with other consoles.

Moreover, expanding beyond their respective consoles is crucial. As former PlayStation head Shawn Layden pointed out during our IGN Live discussion on Sunday, the combined user base for consoles has steadied around 200-250 million across multiple generations, only briefly surpassing this during the peak of the Wii.

To expand their brands and attract more users, these companies must look at other entertainment mediums. For example, Xbox has extended the Halo universe to a TV series, and Bethesda, a subsidiary, saw immense success with the Fallout show on Amazon Prime this year. Nintendo boasts the top animated movie of 2023 with Mario's cinematic journey. These avenues help to grow the brand in ways that multiple video game spin-offs cannot achieve.

The emergence of Lego Horizon Adventures on the Switch shows the changing dynamics; barriers within the industry are now more permeable.

For years, Sony has been working to expand Horizon's audience. Last year, the Call of the Mountain spin-off was the highlight at the PlayStation VR 2 launch. There are also various transmedia products available, including Titan-published comics, special edition Lego sets, and an upcoming animated Netflix series. These initiatives reflect a well-established relationship between Lego and Horizon's protagonist, Aloy.

However, it's uncertain how much impact the Lego Horizon Adventures will have. Bringing this family-friendly spin-off to the Switch, which has over 100 million players and a substantial following for Lego games, makes more sense compared to porting the main Horizon titles to a console with a smaller and less family-oriented audience. Notably, this Lego version is not being released on Microsoft's platforms.

Moreover, Nintendo is unlikely to start releasing Mario spin-offs on PlayStation or Xbox. The potential for growth within these ecosystems' 150 million players is less significant than expanding through movies and mobile games, appealing to a broader demographic.

Despite these cross-platform ventures, PlayStation and Nintendo will continue to prioritize their own systems, as these remain their primary revenue sources. Yet, Lego Horizon Adventures on the Switch are an indicator of evolving dynamics, demonstrating that some barriers have become more flexible.

The era of exclusive titles isn't over just yet. The industry has room for both multiformat games and console exclusives. PlayStation's strategy still hinges on 'killer apps' to attract users, with blockbuster titles like Astro Bot showcasing the DualSense controller’s capabilities. Nevertheless, spinoffs like Lego Horizon can help introduce the franchise to new audiences that wouldn't have been reached otherwise.

Whether Lego Horizon Adventures will inspire Switch users to purchase a PS5 or high-end PC to delve into Aloy's full adventures remains to be seen. Sony, no doubt, will monitor this title's performance closely. In a conversation with former PlayStation head Jim Ryan in 2021, he mentioned Sony's interest in finding ways to engage hundreds of millions of players with its games, highlighting the importance of expanding PlayStation brands beyond its consoles.

Chris and I delve into this topic further in the latest GI Microcast, available for viewing here or for download on your preferred podcast platform.

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