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Oddworld: Soulstorm was an early success on the PlayStation 5. That was due in part to Sony’s deal that gave the game to PlayStation Plus subscribers on PS5 at no additional cost. But it was likely also because new PS5 owners were ravenous for new content in April 2021. But while that deal enabled developer Oddworld Inhabitants to finish the game with some guaranteed money, studio founder Lorne Lanning told Xbox Expansion Podcast host Luke Lohr that he also sees some downsides.
“It’s kind of a double-edged sword. [With Oddworld: Soulstorm] we — out of necessity to get the project done, and we were hitting a number of late technical debt issues and talent issues. The games industry is emerging fast. Huge companies are [paying developers] fortunes. So it’s harder to retain and harder to contract companies. And Sony was like, ‘hey, why don’t we do a deal.’ And the way we were working out the intention of doing the deal was that we would be free for a month on [PlayStation Plus].”
But Lanning and his team were expecting to launch Soulstorm in January of 2021. By that time, they didn’t expect many people to have PlayStation 5s. And the way that the Sony deal worked is that players would only get the PS5 version of the game at no additional cost through PS Plus. So Lanning was expecting around 10% to 20% of a few million new PS5 owners to get Soulstorm through their Sony subscription. The calculus of that deal changed quickly, though.
“Covid just completely kicked us in the gut,” said Lanning. “Every studio we were working with is going into lockdown, and everyone’s working from home. So no one could hand the controller to the person next to them — and that’s how you build games. That’s a long way of saying that we needed the money [from Sony] to complete the project.”
But those development troubles also pushed Soulstorm from January to April. This means significantly more PS5s were in the world. On top of that, lock downs were still pushing more people toward video games. This created a scenario where significantly more people took advantage of the PS Plus deal than Lanning first anticipated.
“We had the highest-downloaded game on the PS5,” said Lanning. “At the end of the day, it was close to 4 million units or something like that — all for free. Because they were all subscription. So for us it was devastating.”
Lanning is quick to not blame Sony.
“That’s how slipping can really sting the developer,” said Lanning. “No one did a dirty deed. No one played unfair pool. You know, this was just Earth in 2020 and 2021.”
A PS Plus deal is one more variable that developers need to juggle when trying to succeed. And it’s one that is difficult to balance because Soulstorm probably would not have sold 4 million copies on PlayStation. But would that excitement for new content on a new system have benefitted sales even beyond the free deal on PS Plus? It likely would have, but Soulstorm missed out on that because it took the guaranteed money.