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HD Report | September 19, 2017

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Is PlayLink Sony’s Secret Weapon?

Is PlayLink Sony’s Secret Weapon?
Matthew Byrd

By the end of Sony’s E3 2017 press conference, many walked away feeling like they had missed something. A couple of surprises notwithstanding, Sony’s conference featured quite a few titles that we had seen before which still aren’t scheduled to come out until next year. It was a strange showing that did little to ease concerns that the biggest PlayStation 4 games already came out during the first half of the year.

Shortly after the press conference was over, though, fans quickly realized that many of them did, in fact, miss something.

Sony’s E3 2017 pre-show contained a few announcements that probably should have been promoted to the main stage. None, however, was quite as meaningful as the reveal of the PlayLink program.

PlayLink refers to a series of upcoming PS4 titles which are designed to be played with your smartphone or tablet. For instance, That’s You! requires you to use your phone’s camera in order to complete a series of photo-based minigames. Knowledge is Power, meanwhile, is a trivia game that utilizes the PlayLink’s multi-screen design to create unique game show scenarios.

Actually, unique probably isn’t the word to use here. This idea has been done before and was recently popularized by the JackBox series which also requires you to use your mobile device in order to participate in an ever-changing series of party games.

Still, there aren’t many companies utilizing this technology, which does make you wonder why Sony was so hesitant to feature PlayLink during their press conference.

The most likely answer to that question involves the popular belief that smartphone-based gaming is intended entirely for a casual audience. Since E3 is typically attended by a hardcore contingent of gamers, Sony likely feared that the PlayLink reveal would be met with awkward silence.

To be perfectly clear, PlayLink is intended to appeal to a broad audience of players. The relatively simple nature of most of the games it supports confirms as much. However, PlayLink is also designed to appeal to the growing group of gamers who organize board game nights and play more and more cooperative titles. Gamers who recognize that in a technologically driven world, the right games can still bring people together.

Meanwhile, that dreaded smartphone requirement is actually PlayLink’s trump card. Unlike other elaborate peripheral-based gaming initiatives, PlayLink requires you to use a device that almost everyone owns. It’s accessible, but as games like the conceptually brilliant Hidden Agenda – a murder mystery with cooperative and competitive elements – proves, PlayLink isn’t necessarily limited to mobile gaming-type experiences.

In any case, PlayLink isn’t trying to emulate mobile gaming and it isn’t a response to the mainstream success of the Nintendo Switch. PlayLink is Sony’s realization that there is a rapidly growing market out there for games that double as social experiences that is currently being served by indie developers and relatively few major publishers.

PlayLink is Sony’s chance to get in on the ground floor of this emerging movement and become an innovator in this field. PlayLink may not have been featured heavily during E3, but it may very well be Sony’s secret weapon in the console wars to come.

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