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Lego Horizon Adventures shows even PlayStation knows growth lies beyond your own platform | Opinion

A Sony IP on a Nintendo device shows increasing platform holder efforts to reach new audiences

The unveiling of Lego Horizon Adventures was not a surprise. As is often the case around major debuts, hints and details had leaked out in the days before.

What was surprising, however, was that not only is the game coming to PlayStation 5 and PC (as expected), but it is also coming to Nintendo Switch.

Let's take a moment to process that: a PlayStation-owned IP on a Nintendo platform.

As far as I can Google, such a thing has not occurred in decades – not since, as GamesIndustry.biz head Christopher Dring reminded me, Wipeout 64. Yes, Sony's MLB The Show is also available for Switch as well as Xbox, but that's a licensed title rather than a property PlayStation owns.

Lego Horizon Adventures may not have been the biggest blockbuster with which to open Summer Game Fest, but it's perhaps the most symbolic reveal we've seen throughout this year's array of showcases: seeing PlayStation IP coming to a Nintendo console is almost akin to Mario and Sonic appearing in the same game, both of which the '90s child in me sees as a sign of peace between the major players in the console war of that era.

Earlier this year, there was a lot of discussion around Microsoft going multiplatform, with simple rumours that Starfield and Indiana Jones were coming to PS5 escalating into full-blown conspiracies that Xbox was going to stop making consoles (it isn't).

It transpired that Microsoft was bringing just four games to other consoles, and they weren't exactly flagship titles. Starfield and Indiana Jones are still bound for Xbox and PC only as far as we're aware (for now?), while some of the firm's upcoming titles, like the newly-announced Doom: The Dark Ages, will also come to PS5. In fact, Pure Xbox reports that, during an on-stage interview at IGN Live on Sunday, Microsoft gaming CEO Phil Spencer said: "You are going to see more of our games on more platforms."

The point is, as we discussed at length earlier this year, there are a myriad reasons why it makes sense for Microsoft to release select titles on other platforms: the need to reach more players, the limits of its own install base, growing its brand to grow its ecosystem. Much the same applies to PlayStation.

Sony has already openly discussed its plans to grow both its audience and its revenue with a string of PC ports for its blockbuster hits – including both Horizon titles – as well as upcoming but as-yet-unannounced mobile titles. After a few years of ports, PC is working out nicely for PlayStation with president and COO Hiroki Totoki telling investors earlier this year that Sony will be doubling down on this strategy.

Bringing your previously-exclusive titles to other platforms has many benefits: it reaches new audiences, raises awareness of your brands, gains you insight into what does and doesn't work with those communities.

Even for a market leader like Sony, growth is limited on their own platform. PS5 may be the most profitable PlayStation to date, but its sales have been tracking behind the PS4 – and a PC port reaches those who might be interested but lack the required hardware.

So, with Sony already reaching PC and mobile, targeting Nintendo with Lego Horizon Adventures makes perfect sense once the initial shock has worn off.

For starters, the Switch represents a sizeable audience at over 140 million units sold – more than 20 million more than the PlayStation 4, which still represents 50% of Sony's active audience, and more than double the PS5's current sales.

For another thing, it's a different audience (and arguably more so than PC). Nintendo has historically always attracted a family audience including a lot of younger players, often more successfully than Sony has. This likely explains why the debut of a PlayStation IP on Switch is a Lego spin-off, as opposed to a mainline entry. It's also more feasible to create something new that looks in keeping with other Switch titles than trying to port a PS5 powerhouse to Nintendo's more limited device.

And using Nintendo platforms to bring your IP to a broader, more family-focused audience isn't even a new thing. Microsoft expressly said this was the reason it was bringing Viva Pinata to DS way back in 2008.

It's also fascinating that PlayStation has opted to take a new Nintendo-like direction with one of its mature franchises. While Horizon isn't as violent as, say, The Last of Us, it is heavy with its brooding protagonist and story of environmental apocalypse; this makes it an interesting choice given the more obvious fit for a Nintendo audience would be the likes of Astro Bot (which happens to have a new game out this September), Sackboy, Tearaway or perhaps Ratchet & Clank.

PlayStation's targeting of Nintendo's audience speaks to a trend we've seen growing in recent years: all three platform holders are increasingly trying to reach different demographics by looking beyond their own ecosystems.

Xbox, which has always brought its games to PC, will reach mobile this summer in addition to targeting PlayStation gamers (a similar audience to Xbox) with select titles. Nintendo still dabbles in mobile to reach more casual players; for example, a recent Super Mario Run event was used to promote Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. And now, in addition to PC, PlayStation is prioritising the growth opportunities available via the Switch over its historic rivalry with Nintendo (granted, Nintendo removed itself from direct competition with other consoles with the Wii in 2006).

And it's not just about bringing games to other consoles. As former PlayStation boss Shawn Layden told us during our IGN Live panel on Sunday, the total console userbase has been hovering around the 200 million to 250 million mark for multiple generations now, only briefly exceeding this during the Wii's heyday.

This means to grow your brand, to grow your audience, you need to look beyond not just your own consoles and those of your rivals, but into other forms of entertainment. Xbox has the Halo TV series, while its subsidiary Bethesda had a smash hit this year with the Fallout show on Amazon Prime. Nintendo has the biggest animated movie of the year in 2023 with Mario's cinematic outing. These grow brands and attract new audiences in ways no amount of video game spin-offs could manage.

Lego Horizon Adventures on Switch demonstrates how the landscape has changed; there are now gates between the walled gardens

Of course, Sony has been trying to broaden Horizon's reach for years. The Call of the Mountain spin-off was the headline launch title for PlayStation VR 2 last year, and there are already a range of transmedia products and merchandise available – from the Titan-published comics series and the special edition Lego sets (showing a pre-established relationship between Lego and Aloy) to the animated Netflix series that's in the works.

Back in the real of video games, it's unclear how much of a precedent this particular title will set. Lego Horizon Adventures coming to Switch doesn't necessarily mean the first two Horizon games are coming to Xbox – putting a family-friendly spin-off on a console with over 100 million players, many of whom have flocked to Lego games, makes more sense than porting Aloy's blockbuster adventures to a device with less than half the audience (and an audience that is likely less family-orientated). It's worth highlighting that even this Lego spin-off isn't coming to Microsoft's consoles.

Nor does all this mean that Nintendo will follow suit by putting Mario spin-offs on PlayStation or Xbox. The 150 million or so players these two ecosystems represents holds less growth potential than making movies and mobile games that appeal to a far larger audience.

PlayStation and particularly Nintendo will continue to protect and prioritise their own platforms – after all, these are their primary sources of revenue. But Lego Horizon Adventures on Switch does at least demonstrate how the landscape has changed; there are now gates between the walled gardens.

It's also premature to declare the death of the exclusives. There is room for both multiformat games and console exclusives, and PlayStation's current strategy still centres around 'killer apps' to draw people to its ecosystem. But while its flagship games remain the biggest attractor to PlayStation – case in point: Astro Bot, a game that fully demonstrates the technical wizardry of the DualSense controllers – the brand extensions, like a Lego spin-off, can serve to introduce the IP to new audiences that companies would otherwise be incapable of reaching.

Will Lego Horizon Adventures drive Switch owners to buy a PS5 or a beefy PC, and pick up Aloy's full-scale adventures? Time will tell. But you can bet Sony will be watching the performance of this title closely. When we spoke to former PlayStation boss Jim Ryan in 2021, he talked about how Sony was interested in finding ways to reach hundreds of millions of players with its games. Taking its brands beyond PlayStation consoles is essential to accomplishing this.

Chris and I discuss this in further depth in the latest GI Microcast, which you can watch here or download on the podcast platform of your choice.

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James Batchelor avatar
James Batchelor: James is Editor-in-Chief at GamesIndustry.biz, and has been a B2B journalist since 2006. He is author of The Best Non-Violent Video Games
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Lego Horizon Adventures

PS5, PC, Nintendo Switch

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