One of the many surprising gamescom 2019 announcements to come out of today’s Opening Night Live show was the sudden release of Erica, a title that was announced at Paris Games Week 2017 before dropping off the radar. Originally part of Sony’s PlayLink lineup—a series of games that use your phone as the controller—Erica’s release now makes no mention of PlayLink at all. Things weren’t looking great for the mobile-centered series of party games before, but this could definitively mark the death of PlayLink for good.
PlayLink was revealed in 2017, and a flurry of games that used the initiative soon followed. PlayLink games required a separate phone app for each title, using each player’s mobile device as a controller and second screen. In theory, the idea was a brilliant one, allowing for the kinds of gameplay that you can’t get with a single screen and standard controllers. Some games made use of the phone’s camera as well to add even more dimension.
Throughout 2017 and 2018, Sony kept a steady flow of PlayLink games coming to PS4. Each time I personally reviewed one, I praised some of the brilliant mechanics behind using a phone as a second screen, but lamented the convoluted difficulty that came with trying to convince people to all download a new app on their phones. Again, in theory the idea sounds great, but practical application in the real world never found favor with me, especially when most games were mandatory multiplayer and had no way of playing with a regular DualShock 4 controller.
PlayLink was filled with a smattering of bright and colorful party games, accented with the darker tones of games like Hidden Agenda and (at one point, anyway) Erica. The last game featuring clear PlayLink branding was Melbits World, which released in February of 2019. That’s now been six months without any games releasing featuring PlayLink, and when a game finally resurfaces that was attached to it, it’s been changed to sidestep any mention of PlayLink at all.
Erica will still allow players to use a mobile phone app to play the game. After all, it was developed with that in mind as the primary control scheme at the outset. All PlayLink titles are. However, Erica also allows the use of the DualShock 4, a notable departure from other PlayLink games that mandate an app to play. The app itself makes no mention of PlayLink in its icon or description (at least on iOS. The Android version still isn’t available at the time of this writing). Releasing a game that was once a PlayLink headliner without the associated branding pretty much signals the death of this initiative, at least as so named.
The Quiet Death of PlayLink
The writing was on the wall for PlayLink for quite some time. What was supposed to be a feature to open games up to even more players and accessibility simply became a hurdle to overcome. Not developing proper controller functionality really hindered the potential reach of the audience for these games. When That’s You and Knowledge is Power developer Wish Studios closed down, it didn’t bode well for the future of games under PlayLink.
If I had to guess, one of the biggest reasons that Erica, a game originally revealed in 2017, went radio silent was that the studio was developing a change, adding a DualShock 4 control option instead of just requiring phone/app controls. Removing its association to PlayLink also opens Erica up to a whole new audience that may have written it off for that alone. Now we have the best of both worlds: Mobile phone controls with an app for the complete immersive experience, and DualShock 4 controls for complete accessibility of play.
With Erica’s PlayLink-less release, and the length of time since Sony’s even released a PlayLink game, let alone talked about the initiative, I think it’s safe to say it’s dead. I’m sure we’ll continue to get the odd game here and there that will make use of a mobile app for second screen controller functions and other immersive features, but I doubt we’ll see them tied together under on singular branding in the future. For now I think it’s safe to say PlayLink joins other initiatives like WonderBook, Vita, and Move games (VR aside) in the Sony graveyard. Good riddance PlayLink, we hardly knew ya.
Of course, that’s all conjecture on our part—based on some pretty solid evidence, if I do say so myself—and not official word from Sony. We’ve reached out to Sony for comment on PlayLink and Erica’s failing to mention of the branding anywhere. We’ll update if/when they respond with an official statement.
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