In a long investigation, Bloomberg details the misadventures of several niche studios, hampered in their creative freedom and sent as reinforcements to help the star studio of the Japanese publisher, Naughty Dog. The symptom of a policy of “Blockbuster above all” at PlayStation which wreaks more havoc on some who feel neglected.
It seems a long time ago when Sony had a reputation for financing the creations of small independent studios to supply the store of the PS Vita, as had been the case with Olli Olli. According to an article by Bloomberg, despite its dozen owned studios around the world, the Japanese publisher seems obsessed with blockbusters and remakes produced by its favorite studios.
We can cite the well-known developers of The Last of Us Naughty Dog, Santa Monica to whom we owe God of War, or even Guerrilla Games behind the success Horizon Zero Dawn. As a result, several groups or studios saw their projects thwarted, leading in some cases to departures.
Shadow work without much consideration
The article goes back at length on the setbacks of the Visual Arts Service Group (VASG), normally responsible for helping Sony-owned studios to finish their games and which had begun to emancipate itself somewhat to set up a development team. Three years ago, the director of VASG, Michael Mumbauer, recruited around thirty developers into his teams. The goal was clear: to gain more creative control and, perhaps, even create their own games over time, instead of being confined to a supporting role. At first, the team thought it was smarter to embark on a remake of a game for the PlayStation 5 and then decided to put that of The Last of Us under construction.
If Sony had given a prior agreement, the existence of the team remained secret for a long time and the budget did not follow. Things did not improve with the appointment in 2019 of a new Sony executive, Hermen Hulst, who considered the project too expensive. Worse yet The Last of Us Part II released in 2020, the VASG team found itself headed by members of Naughty Dog, creator of the license. What finally offer a decent budget to the project, but many more obstacles, forced in a way to leave the reins of his idea. Disappointed by the experience, many VASG executives left Sony at the end of 2020, including its boss, Michael Mumbauer, after 13 years with the company.
Noticeable departures in Japan
According to Bloomberg, the VASG case would not fall under the isolated case. Sony is in fact obsessed with its upcoming blockbusters, leaving its niche teams and smaller studios in the process, causing them to have a certain turnover. Last week, for example, Sony reorganized its development team in Japan, triggering a series of departures from Japan Studio and the closure of the company’s oldest studio. Only Team Asobi, behind the recent Astro’s Playroom of the PS5 and to the task on upcoming virtual reality experiences, was spared.
This obsession with studios capable of producing hits also struck the team behind the open world. Days Gone, Sony Bend. The studio tried in vain to propose a sequel to its game. Although profitable, it had received only a mixed reception and the team was therefore entrusted with the multiplayer mode of another game, there also signed Naughty Dog. For fear of being absorbed by the Californian star studio, the Sony Bend team asked to be removed from the project and are now working on a new franchise. The exception that confirms the rule at Sony? The future will tell, because the atmosphere is rather bleak among the “little ones” of PlayStation.
Standard bearers to make the PlayStation shine
Sony’s desire to rely on its key studios like Naughty Dog is not new. This is even the heart of its strategy to sell its consoles, details the analyst of Bloomberg Matthew Kanterman. Admittedly, the company has its PlayStation Studios – 13 all the same! – and it owes its biggest successes to them, but often by repeating franchises (Uncharted, God of War, InFamous pour Sucker Punch, Ratchet & Clank or Spider-Man pour Insomniac Games…).
This sells consoles and nourishes the brand image of the Japanese manufacturer. But in its absolute quest for blockbusters and profitability, Sony displays a certain lack of consideration for its smaller “collaborator” studios which obviously no longer have the right to trust and to take risks which can often be lifesaving in the long run. term for a video game publisher.
Opposite, it is interesting to note that Microsoft is increasingly assuming a diametrically opposed position. The firm relies on a large number of studios that make up Xbox Studios and mainly supply its Xbox Game Pass, as well as a large pool of independent partner studios through its ID @ Xbox program. A way to bet more on variety rather than on a few important and exclusive titles, which was also often criticized. But also with a risk-taking that no longer seems to really tempt Sony. But why change a recipe that works?