Feature Article

The Changes at Sony's Studios Aren't Anything to Worry About...Yet

Where the sidewalk ends.

Amid the celebratory success that the PlayStation 4 is currently enjoying lies a dark current beneath the surface. Turnover has changed the makeup at many of Sony's internal studios. In a short period of time, we've seen an entire team cut loose from Sony Santa Monica, creative directors from Sucker Punch and Evolution Studios moving on, and the head of the Uncharted franchise leaving Naughty Dog. And now we can add one more to that growing list. Nate Wells, the lead artist of The Last of Us, is now designing the visuals at Giant Sparrow. It's easy to look at all of these departures from Sony's studios and worry that the quality and quantity of their games will suffer. Yet, even with so many high-profile people taking part in other ventures, I'm not too scared about the future of Sony's first-party teams.

And for his part, President of Worldwide Studios Shuhei Yoshida doesn't believe these departures signify a deeper problem. "It's a part of the industry, a part of the process. If we finish all the games we start making, I don't think the industry would be able to survive. Publishers take risks in starting projects that may or may not work, creating genres or game mechanics that may never have existed before, so we expect some part of our projects to fail." It's strange to think of all the interesting situations happening behind the scenes, that we'll never hear anything about, but that's just how things work. Companies choose what they want to make public. Could all of these shifts happening at the same time just be coincidental? Yoshida believes so. "In this case, it just happened that some of them happened around the same time. Unfortunately, when a project's cancellation involves many employees, sometimes you have to shrink the studio a bit. Otherwise it's just not healthy to have lots of people waiting for new work to do, a new job."

Though you could brush off Yoshida's words as mere marketing speak, the history of Sony shows that we shouldn't worry just yet. When the original PlayStation made fools out of industry veterans Sega and Nintendo two decades ago, it was on the backs of stellar marketing and exciting third-party franchises. Resident Evil was born on Sony's first console, Final Fantasy entered the mainstream, and Tekken redefined fighting. While a bevy of revolutionary experiences were calling attention away from the Nintendo 64 (with its miniscule library) and the Saturn (with its old-school sensibilities), Sony was working to establishing an identity of its own so it wouldn't be so reliant on outside companies. I have fond memories of pulling off crazy racing moves in Jet Moto and toppling the Eiffel Tower in Twisted Metal 2, but during those early days of development, Sony was more likely to churn out a mascot dud like Blasto than anything that would remain relevant years down the road.

During those early days of development, Sony was more likely to churn out a mascot dud like Blasto than anything that would remain relevant years down the road.

As someone who grew up immersed in all things Nintendo, I took great pleasure in laughing at Sony's meager efforts to establish itself as a legitimate video game company. After all, relying on outside companies to prop up your console is a dangerous prospect that can disappear all too quickly if you're not careful. Just look at what happened to Nintendo. Third parties bailed after the Super NES was retired, but Nintendo has remained viable because its internal teams are so talented. Even the Wii U has a solid lineup of games, despite almost no one other than Nintendo releasing games for it. With Sony's first gaming foray, it didn't have enough inside teams to pick up the slack from fickle third parties, and so the dynasty it had created threatened to crumble if it somehow stumbled in the future.

Of course, it takes more than one console cycle to grow from newly planted seed to thriving tree, so we didn't see the fruits of Sony's labor until the PlayStation 2. Finally, we had a system that contained tons of interesting third-party adventures alongside home-grown efforts. We explored open worlds in both Grand Theft Auto III and Shadow of the Colossus, honed our espionage skills in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty and Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus, and practiced our marksmanship in TimeSplitters and SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs. Sony's team had grown considerably after a rocky start, finally offering satisfying complements to the best efforts of its independent partners. And when things turned south toward the beginning of the last generation, Sony stayed afloat in large part because of its outstanding internal teams. As Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, God of War III, and Killzone 2 made it difficult to resist buying a PlayStation 3, eventually Sony overcame its early problems.

Such dramatic growth has accomplished the unthinkable: Sony's internal teams have now matched Nintendo's own efforts. What seemed like a sacrilegious fever dream so many years ago has now come to fruition, and it's that rise from nothing that has kept me optimistic as each news story hits about another departure. Jumping to dire conclusions is something that I've been guilty of in the past, and it's easy to do considering how many people are bailing. It's impossible to not wonder what the reality of Sony's situation is. Are things murkier than they appear from the outside? Are there management issues? Monetary shortcomings? Is this the first sign that doom is coming? Should I worry about Sony selling its share of Square Enix? Or its inability (or unwillingness) to secure third-party exclusives?

The questions pile on top of one another, creating a mountain of unease. And I can't just brush off these events as if they don't matter. After all, there's no positive way to spin the dismissal of an entire team at Sony Santa Monica, especially when the creative director of God of War III is one of the people no longer at that studio. Although the individuals in question may be moving to a better situation (Giant Sparrow doesn't have the name recognition of Naughty Dog, but it could be the next thatgamecompany), losing talent can't be good for Sony's internal teams. So it's unlikely this transformation is good for fans of the PlayStation 4 or Vita in the short term, or for any of the people who didn't have a choice in the matter.

Still, I have not become mired in the depressing reality of these changes. I have no idea how Driveclub will turn out, or if Uncharted 4 will carry the torch of its incredible predecessors, but we shouldn't lose sight of the forest while we stare at the trees before us. These changes will have an effect, and could lead to fewer games being released or maybe even lower quality than we're used to. There may be bumps in the road. I wouldn't be surprised if Sony doesn't have many huge games coming out this year, at least not from its own studios. But it's the long term that matters. And history has shown that Sony cares enough about its first-party efforts to make sure things don't turn to dust.

Plus, Sony has done a great job in the last two decades of building a large stable of quality teams. There are so many studios working on so many different games, that changes at a couple places shouldn't destroy what Sony has built up. Furthermore, we've seen even more dramatic shifts in the past, and things have still moved along smoothly. Remember that Sony recently closed studios such as Zipper Interactive and Lightbox Interactive, and though their absences have been felt, the flow of excellent games hasn't abated. The industry continually transforms, and as trends emerge and technology improves, we often see unexpected studios deliver unbelievable games. I certainly wouldn't have expected The Last of Us after playing Naughty Dog's Way of the Warrior or Crash Bandicoot, so who knows which team will suddenly make a game that blows us away.

There is also the independent situation that has been brewing for the last few years. While Sony's own teams have been fluctuating a bit of late, that murkiness has been brightened somewhat by the bevy of indie studios that Sony has partnered with. It's part of the change that has been coursing through this industry. Making games is expensive, and when you're talking about the biggest games that populate retail shelves, it takes tons of time and manpower to bring those to fruition. And Sony has done a great job of late in ensuring a steady flow of releases even when not many are coming from internal teams. Similar to its strategy in the PlayStation era, courting indies provides a constant flow of games from the outside, providing entertainment while the first-party teams are reloading.

Things are not all bright for Sony right now. Though it made waves with the PlayStation 4, there is some instability in its first-party studios. People losing their jobs is never good, and it's hard to not wonder why others are choosing to join outside developers. But it's too early to assume the worst. We'll see a hint of the near future come E3, and as we move into next year, it should become clear how much impact all of this movement had. But until more information comes, relax and enjoy what's already out there. Sony's history is too bright to assume the worst of this questionable situation.

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95 comments
soaponapope
soaponapope

my theory is that this was SCEA meddling. from what I understand SCEA (Sony) had at that point lost a lot of money- reportedly upwards of $100 million- on a game that ended up being scrapped. to make up for the loss they had Uncharted 4 being re-written to feature Nathan Drake instead of Todd Stashwick's character, as this would allow them to take advantage of the series' brand loyalty and sell very well. this is why Todd Stashwick was released from the project, along with his character being re-written to take a backseat or removed from the story entirely and replaced with Drake. this is why in the 2nd teaser trailer the voice of the character from the 1st trailer was inexplicably absent while Drake- voiced once more by Nolan North- was back. Amy Hennig and others pushed back on this, believing it was time to put Drake on the shelf and creatively move on rather than simply remaking the same game for the 4th time. SCEA was not on board with this, and people fled. this whole ordeal is also a good example of the volatility of the gaming industry today. the standard production value of modern games has increased dramatically and as such they are really expensive to make, and for this reason making a modern A-List game is a high risk, high reward investment. one overwhelmingly successful title such as the Uncharted series can return significant wealth, while one poor game can completely financially dismantle a production studio. so... that's that.

augustine777
augustine777

I think the question to ask is if the game developers are signed to long term contracts like Disney animators are.  If that is the case, then departures can be controlled.  In any event, about 120 games should be released for the PS4 this year and 3rd party developers are bringing major titles to the PS4. 

Crawler3333
Crawler3333

I think we all have to face the fact that the gaming industry is changing in general. With the arrival of PC MMO, Android and other devices whose games can basically be played for /free/ it's going to be difficult to attract more casual gamers to those big titles that consoles offer.

Not everyone can be invested in playing games with deep, engaging themes like the Last of Us or challenging old-style action like Dark Souls II, and unfortunately quality doesn't always assure that a certain game is going to sell - especially when you don't have to spend a single cent for games that can run into your device as soon you click on a "create your account" button straight from your Facebook page.

With that said, I don't think that we are all facing a console apocalypse. It's just that Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo sale expectations in general are going to be debunked a bit in the future.

Did stressed the word "free" enough ?

raziel2kain
raziel2kain

so TLoU finally blew you away, after that ridiculous 8 out of 10 ?

xrizz1066
xrizz1066

I'll worry in a few years time. 

From a business point of view and I own and run 2 SME's. Restructuring like this can be a good thing, like you do with your garden in autumn cutting back to increase new growth the next year. Also look at how bad things got for Apple, did they die off er no I think they're still just about in business!

I'm not trying to defend Sony here or anything but the whole electronic industry has been in flux, so to jump to conclusion that Sonys dieing is just wrong. 

steelmouth
steelmouth

that "yet" at the end of the tittle is not very reassuring is it

MondasM
MondasM

wow, i didn't know that so many sony shareholders were commenting here on the discussion board about their rock solid knowledge about the inner workings of the company and its studios... :)

people do change jobs, it can be personal, financial, or something else... close to all of ms' gaming executives were replaced during the last year, did anyone declared the branch's demise???

these are natural things in work life, people change jobs for whatever reason, there is no need to create a fuss about it, ms, sony and nintendo are companies with a heritage so their demise may not lie in some of their employees quitting their jobs...

MatiasMGS
MatiasMGS

Ok, I'm not gonna read all that, so I'm sorry if this gets addressed on the article; but seriously, Tom? Nothing to worry about? 4 important people suddenly left from Naughty Dog, and that's nothing to worry about? I'd be surprised if Uncharted 4 launches before 2016 after all this, and ends up being a good game (at Naughty Dog standards). Consider that the actor that played the main villain of the game left, so they're gonna have to rework all of the motion capture and voice acting, and I'm assuming that they let him go because the new directors have a different vision for the game, so basically the game is getting made from scratch at this point. Not to mention that they FIRED the CREATOR of the series, and the DIRECTOR of U4 left. I mean, don't misinterpret me, Naughty Dog is definitely one of the best dev studios of all time, but this is really bad news, even if The Last Of Us's directors took over.

diego_corleone
diego_corleone

Damage control, something is really wrong with Sony.

That's fine, because i'm Xbox to the core.

Mandrew257
Mandrew257

Some negative news about Sony

Journalists/Sony Fanboys: Whatever...

Some negative news about Nintendo or Microsoft

Journalists/Sony Fanboys: OH! IS NINTENDOOMED!?!?! NINTENDO JUST BECOME THIRD PARTY! MICROSOFT JUST GIVE UP! PLAYSTATION FTW!

We wouldn't hear the of it from them. People will forget about this after about 24 hours. Had this been Microsoft or Nintendo, this would've lasted for a couple of weeks.

-__-


Heisenberg1
Heisenberg1

So many comments saying that they're sooooo sure this is the death of Sony....thanks for enlightening us on the state of the industry, always reliable doom prophets. 

Vodoo
Vodoo

The problem is that Sony is bleeding money. That's the reason for studio closures, selling off buildings that used to house corporate offices and them selling off large amounts of stock.

Their console game business is the only division that isn't falling apart. I'm sure the Vita has been more trouble than it's worth. The electronics division is doing terrible. Sony USED to make great electronics, but not anymore. Their products are mediocre at best, but command a premium price tag. Sony is the only one left that still thinks they sell best-in-class products. Not even close.

Samsung has moved into, and taken over, almost every field in the electronics arena. They sell products twice as good as Sony's, for half the price (exaggeration, but you get the point). Samsung cheaps out on build-quality for ALOT of their products, but as long as they work as advertised the end user doesn't care.

Sony needs to plug this gaping hole that's draining the company. By them being stubborn and not dealing with reality, they're slowly sinking all their other divisions. Basically, Sony needs to go back to the drawing board for their electronics department and recognize they're not the industry leader they once were. They're certainly down, but not entirely out... yet.

jsmoke03
jsmoke03

not worried yet...cautious optimism is okay in this situation. if in 2 years things dont look better and there is a shortage of new ips, then press the panic button

TimberWolf_CLT
TimberWolf_CLT

Folks, outside of Sony, who the hell really knows what impact this is going to have on them or what it represents?

Tom, repeatedly quoting Yoshida doesn't get us anywhere.  What do you expect him to say?  Yep, we're doomed and taking on water?  I do have to agree that the "relying on outside companies" comment is worrisome, but he's entitled to his opinion.

Sony's going through a restructure as many companies do.  Many emerge more financially secure as a result so we're going to have to wait a while to see how it plays out.  Personally I want them to stay in the business.  We need them and MS pushing each other to do stuff that's "more better" (I know, horrible grammar).

Let's all tone down the hyperbole, grab a lawn chair, a drink and sit back and watch.  And hope the waiter doesn't bring an iceberg when we ask for more ice.

deathstream
deathstream

How much did Sony pay for this propaganda?  There is something SERIOUSLY wrong at Sony right now.  Everyone knows it.  

Dannystaples14
Dannystaples14

I love it how he said "After all, relying on outside companies to prop up your console is a dangerous prospect that can disappear all too quickly if you're not careful." and "Even the Wii U has a solid lineup of games, despite almost no one other than Nintendo releasing games for it.".

Yeah, that is why Nintendo is failing miserably because it has a solid game library. The REASON Nintendo is basically in the lowest position right now is because it ONLY really has its own games, and they are not willing to branch out and reinvent their old franchises. 

Yet Sony and Microsoft rely mainly on outsider made games and they are in a whole different league at the moment.

Nintendo are stuck in the 90s, milking the same franchises. I mean I played Mario Kart on N64, it was great and now in 2014, nearly 20 years later we are looking at another Mario Kart that looks pretty much the same as the old one except with better visuals and some mix up of the tracks.

jasonredemption
jasonredemption

I don't know why anyone hasn't mentioned the obvious. It seems like developers and even gaming journalism has a lot more staff turn-over at the transition of a gaming platform generation.  We not have Wii U, PS4 and XBONE.  There's bound to be more turn over at IGN, GameSpot and of course within developers, publishers ETC.

Unfallen_Satan
Unfallen_Satan

I think it's healthy. Many of the high profile departures are creative talents; being stuck in one franchise with conservative and vocal fans, which most are, runs contrary to the word "creativity." The games industry should find a way to keep technical talents stable but have a much higher turnover for creative talents, in that they have a chance to regularly work on new projects.

I don't know anything about what's going on at Sony though.

Barighm
Barighm

Frankly, this article only made me feel worse. I figured the Playstation division could survive Sony's woes, but this article makes it sound like the Playstation is not immune to Sony's financial troubles and may actually be paying all of the parent company's expenses.

porcupeth123
porcupeth123

The only people who are worried are the fans of the systems that are getting completely owned by the PS4. keep them salty jelly coming.

Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

Why do stupid people act like there is a limited number of talented people in the video game industry?

jwsoul
jwsoul

To be honest the lack of games to play is the biggest factor for me right now. The PC is dying as well with fewer and fewer exclusive games released on it. No more RTS games or very few big budget decent ones. PS4 well i havent brought a game for it since release. 

berserker66666
berserker66666

But you know what Tom's worried about? Giving another 8 out of 10.

b00me
b00me

It's going to be harder to keep the top talent at studios now that there's never been a better time to be an indie developer. Nintendo, Steam, Sony, and MS all have self-publishing on their networks. Plus, the way fanboys of games are and the constraints and deadlines pushed by corporate publishers, it's not hard to see why many would choose to start their own company or join an Indie studio.

gamerno66666
gamerno66666

Not worried because the change is not happening to sony only. Its happening throughout the industry.

deckardsdreams
deckardsdreams

3rd from last paragraph, Mr. McShea lets it slip that The Last of Us blew him away, good to see him finally getting over his picky "first impressions"  review.


Key personnel leave thier posts in every walk of life for better or worse so why should developers be any diffferent and the gaming media has to write about something between big releases, adding a touch of "shock" factor to the editorials so I'm not surpised so much "sensation" has been written and pontificated over the Naughty Dog departures.


But, was this really a shock, Uncharted perhaps needed a clearing out to allow new ideas to develop for the next installment, why was it Deception didn't quite capture the magic of Among Thieves ? And yes I agree that TLOU was a refreshing departure from Nate and his chums even though Uncharted has a hallowed place in my gaming heart.


One could argue the gaming world has never been more dynamic and creative as it is today with new hardware to exploit on almost every platform, I'm sure MS has had their fair share of "purges" over the years, for better or worse... And still nurtured solid teams who launched great games thereafter.      

Kinguard73
Kinguard73

I'm not worried yet either. Honestly Xbox One folks needed this bad and to find out M$ handed some of those who left money under the table wouldn't surprise me one bit.


But again I think what occurred is legit and gives Xbox fans something to rib us over. Thus far not a big deal and I like to think we are giving back to the disembodied fans of Xbox One. =)

augustine777
augustine777

@Crawler3333  

Well, Sony's PS4 sales expectations for the future is looking quite positive since they still cannot make enough consoles to fully meet worldwide demand.  So for the present, the future looks bright for the PS4.  

No one can predict what the future holds but we all know that Android phones or PCs have not had any impact on PS4 sales. In fact we might be experiencing the opposite and that is, people who were introduced to gaming on their portable devices are now moving up to console gaming in larger number.  So the future looks bright for the PS4 and console gaming in general.

anshanlord
anshanlord

@raziel2kain Gamespot was heavily anti-Sony in the last gen....remember the 8 for Uncharted Drake's fortune and whining about the most ridiculous things that it didn't do wrong?

augustine777
augustine777

@diego_corleone  

The core problem is Xbox ONE struggling to run next generation games, but then again I prefer the PS4. A problem at Naughty Dog only means 1 part of 15 studios. That is, Sony owns 15 major gaming studios and lots of indie developers, and major 3rd party studios are creating major gaming titles for the PS4. Maybe Sony is expecting some incredibly surprising games coming from indie developers in addition to their other studios.  At least at Sony they can control the damage, but what about at MS for their Xbox ONE issues?

sanchango
sanchango

@Heisenberg1  I'm sure you're not a troll/sony fanboy, but if you look on other articles like Nintendo and Microsoft articles, people have said the exact same thing. They said Nintendo was doomed because of the Wii U and that Xbox One was a flop and will be their downfall

hystavito
hystavito

@Dannystaples14  "Sony's internal teams have now matched Nintendo's own efforts."

When I read that, I thought, can you really directly compare them?  They are selling to very different markets.  Kids, they are a big factor.  I don't mean to say that Nintendo is for kids like so many people say, but we have to face the reality that they do target that market heavily and many people see it that way.


When most parents decide to buy their young kids a console (although less and less are choosing consoles now and tablets usually top the lists of kids' most wanted gifts nowadays) many will automatically choose Nintendo, and along with that automatically choose Nintendo first party titles like Mario or Yoshi or something.  Oh and BTW, I'm not including Zelda, compared to Mario Zelda is niche, sorry to break it to you gamers but most average people have no clue about Zelda.  Anyway.... :)  They're not reading reviews, they're not really doing any research, they have never heard of Gamespot :), and ultimately it doesn't even really matter if the game is "good".  By that I mean kids don't care, they enjoy those games in a totally different way from how adults or game reviewers see them.


That's the magic, the power Nintendo has been milking for ages, if you want your Mario fix there's only one way to get it.  Even with the Wii's huge success, how many games did a typical owner buy besides the biggest first party titles?  But now we have that problem of these people not buying a game console anymore, kids being mesmerized by other devices.  And so, the teat is running dry :).




toffifee
toffifee

@Unfallen_Satan  Exactly what I was gonna write. There are so many game franchises that just become stale. For me Zelda is one of those. It feels like the same game over and over again, with small differences.

Dannystaples14
Dannystaples14

@Barighm  Of course they are the electronics division of Sony is a joke. Playstation is really the only asset they have that makes them money.

If I was them I'd liquidise ALL of the electronics division and pour the lot into the Playstation, square up the debt they got themselves in last gen with the overpriced PS3 and start making a console that is worthy of the Playstation name. Hell if they pull it off they might finally make a console that can knock the PS2 off of the number one position.

repetitious
repetitious

@porcupeth123  only ppl denying that there is problems are sony fans who are more worried about the competitors fans and their console choice.

Tuckpoint
Tuckpoint

@Thanatos2k Because if people don't believe they're super duper special, no one will pay them ten times the amount people actually typing the code make.

Barighm
Barighm

@jwsoul As I thought, the AAA development model is dying in the face of the cheap and lightning fast mobile game model. Great for companies like Steam and the mobiles. Not so great for the hardcore gamers.

deathstream
deathstream

@gamerno66666  


It is worse at Sony.  There is something not good happening with Naughty Dog.  That is undeniable.

TimberWolf_CLT
TimberWolf_CLT

Seriously, why would X1 folks need this "bad"?  (btw - Since it's being used as an adverb, it's "badly" not "bad".  Sorry, my inner "old man on the porch" crept out.)

slaughterdj
slaughterdj

@Tuckpoint @Thanatos2k Unfortunately, they don't make THAT much. Programmers have the highest starting salary, although lead creatives can get some pretty fat paychecks. Also, the problem is not the talent, the problem is taking someone else's idea and making it new & fresh, just like movies. These are original ideas spawned from specific peoples minds and they have worked out everything inside their head. Its not that others can't make good games, its that these fully fleshed awesome ideas don't come out of the blue.

Gears_0f_L0ve
Gears_0f_L0ve

@Barighm @jwsoul  Star Citizen, kinda blows that argument away.,  however I agree, there are fewer AAA games it seems.

Ninjalawpsn
Ninjalawpsn

@Dannystaples14 @Gears_0f_L0ve @Barighm  


"Just something as simple as having the list of your games in a linear line is going to become a problem as soon as you have more than a handful of games."


I agree with you on this. I have 7 games for the PS4 atm and 4 of them are on disc. I don't like how they all show up in that bar myself. It isn't much of a problem right now really, but once I start building up a significant library, it's going to look cluttered. I like the fact that the PS3 XMB let you group the downloaded games in files. I hope they update the PS4 with that same feature at some point. IMHO, the PS4 XMB is in need of a re-design.

Dannystaples14
Dannystaples14

@Gears_0f_L0ve @Barighm  Yeah problem is their hardware is fine but the hardware NEEDS great software. Sony are fucking terrible at making software.

The fact they haven't been able to make a user interface in pretty much ever that was of a decent quality just shows what I mean.

The PS3, PSP interface thing was horrible. And the Vita one isn't all that great really. Then the PS4 one might look quite shiny but overall it kind of falls down on overall functionality from what I've used of it. Not intuitive at all.

Just something as simple as having the list of your games in a linear line is going to become a problem as soon as you have more than a handful of games.

Basically the same problem Skyrim had. A few items is fine in the inventory but a lot becomes a MASSIVE issue in no time at all. That is why most PC gamers mod the menus and most console players rip the hair out of their head.

Their Bravia TVs are much the same from what I've seen, not to mention are stupidly over priced for what they do.