The PlayStation 4's game lineup for the year just took a big hit. The Order: 1866 from developer Ready at Dawn had been positioned as one of the new console's defining 2014 games, but a recent announcement has shifted the title to a 2015 release. While the game's delay is not exactly shocking, the release pushback is the latest in a run that have hit the console. In fact, delays of major PS4 titles have become so common that it's worth wondering whether their respective initial release dates were ever targeted as realistic possibilities. Has Sony (NYSE:SNE) been intentionally misleading about the PS4's lineup as a way to build hype and interest in the system?
Sony talked a big game, but has yet to deliver
Sony is showing clear weakness on the first-party development front. What's more, the frequent delays for its console's biggest exclusives give reason to view plans for future releases with a suspect eye. When the company first explained its transition from free to paid online service, representatives were quick to point to the fact that PlayStation Plus subscribers would receive an almost full version of the upcoming racer Driveclub at no additional cost. The game was originally stated to be a launch title for PS4, but was delayed to an early 2014 date.
Prospective consumers were reassured that they would still have access to a downloadable version of the game that had most of the content. However, when Driveclub's new October release date was announced, the story had changed. PlayStation Plus subscribers will now be able to download what essentially amounts to a sizable demo of the game.
Hype sells games, consoles, and online services
Sony over-promised with the PlayStation Plus version of Driveclub, relative to what it will eventually deliver, and it's easy to see why. When PlayStation 4 was first unveiled, one of the chief criticisms levied against the new platform was that online play would now require a paid subscription.
Flashback to before the PlayStation 4's explosive sales debut, and Sony had a lot to be uncertain about. Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Xbox Live had been substantially more successful than the PlayStation Network in the previous generation, and a thriving online service was even more central to winning the current console competition. A "free" game with triple-A production values stood as a great incentive to get early adopters to join Sony's online ecosystem. While the product has yet to arrive, the promise was somewhat effective.
The same delay problem is evident in Japan
The PlayStation 4's Japanese launch suffered from a similar delay problem. When Sony's newest console was first unveiled, by far its most impressive graphical showcase was Capcom's Deep Down. The free-to-play title was originally slated for release this past February, but it no longer has a firm release date. Unfortunately for Sony, the game is one of the few PS4 titles with the chance to spur Japanese interest in the system. The title's lengthy delay has become part of a suspicious trend.
Out of order
The news that The Order: 1866 had slipped to a 2015 release offered little in the way of shock value. The game's first showings prompted speculation that the title was too early in development to make its 2014 holiday release date. Given the degree of access Sony has to its first-party development projects, it's hard to believe that the company thought the title was on track for release this year. The game's absence points to a fairly weak lineup of exclusives for 2014.
The PlayStation 4 will receive the best console version of many of the year's biggest multi-platform releases, but right now, Driveclub looks to stand as the title's only big exclusive for the year. Considering key departures from premier developer Naughty Dog, plus layoffs and project cancellations at Santa Monica Studios, the are real reasons to be worried about Sony's first-party output in this hardware cycle.
Sony coming up short is an opportunity for Microsoft
Sony will probably pad out its PS4 lineup for the rest of the year with indie titles, many of which will be shown at June's E3 gaming expo. That said, Microsoft looks to enjoy a window of opportunity to regain some mind share and favorable consumer sentiment. It's still uncertain whether Xbox One exclusive Quantum Break will release in this calendar year, but Sunset Overdrive from Insomniac Games has the potential to make a splash. A remade version of Halo 2 and a Halo HD collection have been heavily rumored for a 2014 release. If Microsoft's Xbox One is to catch up to the PlayStation 4, this holiday season will be a key proving ground.
Has Sony been sneaky?
It's difficult to chalk three of PS4's biggest exclusive games being so substantially delayed up to coincidence. Early adopters aren't just shelling out cash for the hardware -- what they are really buying into is access to content and the promise of things to come. Sony's promising and repromising has the appearance of strategy.
Keith Noonan has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.