If you're one of the folks lucky enough to get a hold of a PlayStation 5 already, perhaps you've been whizzing through Spider-Man: Miles Morales or the Demon's Souls remake with the help of Sony's new Activities feature. Baked right into the PS5 UI and available with a button press, Activities don't necessarily work the same from game to game. According to confidential Sony developer documentation, that's exactly the point.
Over at Vice, Patrick Klepek goes into detail on some Activities-related documentation that was provided to a small number of PS5 game developers in 2019. At the start of a presentation introducing the feature, Sony's braintrust behind the PS5 dives right into the issue Activities is designed to solve: "everyone knows single player is dying." It's a gotcha opener that Sony then swerves on with data—single player is still quite popular, says Sony, but many people do struggle to find adequate time to engage with it.
"In an ideal world, every player has the time to spend hours per day, every day, playing games," posits one slide in the presentation, which comes across as both optimistic and a little hyperbolic. While acknowledging that "most people" have other obligations like childcare, work, or school, Sony explains that many players find themselves both pressed for time and uncertain of what they can or should do with small play sessions. Survey responses Sony obtained from people who struggle with single player games back this idea up.
Activities, then, are primarily intended to tackle this one problem. The goal for the PS5 featureset is to "change 'should I start playing' to 'which part should I start playing?'" By surfacing missions, quests, or activities that can be completed in small chunks of play time, Sony hopes to see single player engagement rise.
As Klepek notes later in the piece, the Activities feature set can also extend to tasks that might not lend themselves to short play sessions like chasing down a friend's speed record in Astro's Playroom. The Sony documentation is more like a set of guidelines and principles for developers than a hard-and-fast ruleset; despite coining "Universal Data System" in the presentation, Sony presents no universal way that games should leverage Activities.
Instead, Sony hopes developers will tie each Activity presented to players to "a unit of gameplay inherent to the game structure," like a Harlem sidequest in Miles Morales or a particular boss in Demon's Souls. Moreover, these newly revealed documents should quiet the concerns of people who see the Activities feature and the optional video guides they support as muscling in on the territory of YouTube tutorials and guides writers. According to Sony, single player is strong, and the players who have the time to engage with those resources likely are already. If Activities then help some time-crunched player nab a Trophy or two without first overcoming decision paralysis on what to do, that seems like a win worth celebrating.