Sucker Punch on Sony sale

Q&A: Infamous developer's cofounder expands on joining the PlayStation family, says Sony deal will let it continue taking risks; "hard at work on stuff" but not sharing just yet.

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Earlier today, Sony announced that it had acquired Sly Cooper and InFamous developer Sucker Punch, making the Bellevue, Washington-based studio the publisher's 16th wholly owned studio.

The move came as not much of a surprise, as every game the studio has made except the Nintendo 64 game Rocket: Robot on Wheels has arrived exclusively on Sony's PlayStation 2 or PlayStation 3.

Sucker Punch is now wholly owned by Sony.
Sucker Punch is now wholly owned by Sony.

In an interview with GameSpot, Sucker Punch cofounder Chris Zimmerman explained what led to the acquisition, the implications of it, and what's next for the studio.

GameSpot: On a day-to-day operating basis, what does it mean to Sucker Punch to be acquired by Sony?

Chris Zimmerman: I don't think it will have much of an effect on our day-to-day operations. Everyone that's been here for the past dozen years is still here; we still have the same goals in mind. We're still working on the same things. So the day-to-day isn't going to change, I think. We're expecting this is going to put us in a position where we can continue to work on innovative genre-defining content. That's kind of why we're doing this. And we've been in that position before, and we think we're going to continue to be in that position.

GS: Is there going to be additional pressure now that you're officially under the banner of Sony?

CZ: I don't think there's going to be a lot of change there. We've really worked hard to make high-quality games; games that are critically successful and games that are popular with consumers. And Sony's been a super partner for us in that.

They've really been supportive of us and the things we've wanted to do in our games and helped us grow as a studio in the past dozen years. They've helped us see where we needed to improve. And I think that's going to continue moving forward. I think the pressure that we have to do great games more than anything else comes internally.

We're really excited about doing games, we're excited about doing great games, and we put a lot of pressure on ourselves, so that's not going to change. And I don't think it will really have a big effect. We're going to continue to push forward and provide experiences for users as compelling as possible.

GS: Is it going to be geographically awkward for Sucker Punch, given that you're a Sony-owned studio residing in Microsoft country in Bellevue, Washington?

CZ: I don't think so. It's really kind of interesting because I and the other founders of Sucker Punch are ex-Microsoft guys. I worked at Microsoft for almost a decade, and when we started at Sucker Punch, it was really before Microsoft got into the console business. This was pre-Xbox; this was 1997.

When Microsoft started along that path, it was a little strange; I had friends who worked on the Xbox, and yet I was a Sony guy. I think after a decade, everyone is used to that. It's no more awkward than it has been. It's kind of funny, though, because it's not just Microsoft; it's Nintendo. We're in Bellevue, and my house in within walking distance of the Microsoft campus and the Nintendo campus. It's a little strange, but after 12 years we're pretty used to it.

Rocket: Robot on Wheels was Sucker Punch's first game.
Rocket: Robot on Wheels was Sucker Punch's first game.

GS: Can you describe the process leading up to the acquisition? Did it have anything to do with how you developed only for Sony's machines since the beginning?

CZ: It certainly made our long-term path obvious. We've been independent since 1997, and yet with every project we've done since the first Sly Cooper game, we've come back to Sony every time to do our next game. And the reason is we've been so happy with the relationship. Sony's been a great partner. They've been very supportive and they've also pushed us when we needed to be pushed.

And we've really enjoyed the people we work with at Sony; we enjoy the process. And we've enjoyed the support we've gotten from the corporation in terms of marketing. So every time we come back to do a new game, the decision has been obvious. We wanted to come back and do a game with our partners at Sony.

So after five games of that, we were like, "Why are we pretending that we're going to do something with someone else at some point? We should just make this a permanent arrangement." And Sony was open to that idea, and we worked out the details and here we are.

GS: You've said before that being an independent studio means you can't have a large number of projects existing at once and that there's pressure for each to succeed. Now that you've joined up with Sony, is some of this risk taken away? And does this give Sucker Punch the ability to develop multiple titles simultaneously?

CZ: The reason we do one game at a time is less about finances. We have been approached all the time with offers from other publishers to do other titles over the years, though I'm sure they'll approach us a lot less often now (laughs). And we've always turned it down. And the reason is we thought that doing one game at a time let us do better games and make more compelling experiences is it let us focus on one thing at a time.

We could put all our studio's efforts and all the best efforts of everyone here and really direct it at a single title. And in doing so, we thought we'd do better games. And the tricky bit is, as a one-project-at-time studio, it puts a lot of pressure on each game to be successful. Because, you know, we're basically betting our company every time we do a new game. We aren't spreading the risk in any way.

And we thought that, moving forward, as games continue to get more complicated and more expensive to develop, it made more sense for us to be part of an organization where that risk was spread over multiple products.

We've always been pretty aggressive about being innovative in the games we do. We haven't played it safe, even though there were financial pressures on us to play it safe, and we feel that this partnership with Sony is cementing it. It is really going to put us in a position where we can take risks and we really can be innovative. We're doing it less to be able to afford to make multiple games--we could have done that before--and more to make sure we're continuing to be in a place where can push forward on the one game at a time we intend to make.

GS:There's a new Sly Cooper game in development and you guys aren't making it. What are your thoughts on a third party making it?

Sucker Punch is not making the new Sly Cooper game, but Zimmerman says not to worry.
Sucker Punch is not making the new Sly Cooper game, but Zimmerman says not to worry.

CZ:I think it's great. After Sly 3 was done, we started working on InFamous. And it took us a long time because we were part of the process with Sony of looking for studios that might be able to take over the Sly Cooper franchise. And it wasn't until Sony made contact with [Sly: Thieves in Time developer] Sanzaru that we knew that we've found the right fit.

They were super, super passionate about Sly Cooper. You could tell that they really got it. They knew what made it special and had their own ideas about where it ought to go. And for us that's super exciting. It's really neat to make the video games and know how many millions of people play them and enjoy them.

But to be part of the creation of something like Sly Cooper and see that it was so exciting for someone else and see that they wanted to take that and run with it…that was really neat for us. We're really excited about what they're doing with Sly Cooper.

And speaking personally, I'm really looking forward to it because I've never really been able to play a Sly Cooper game; I was always in the middle of developing it. So I knew exactly what was going to happen before it happened when I played the game, and now I actually get to play a Sly Cooper game as a consumer. And personally, I'm really looking forward to that.

GS: What are Sucker Punch's plans for the PlayStation Vita?

CZ: We haven't really announced anything about the Vita or about what are plans are after inFamous 2. We are hard at work on stuff right now. But we haven't announced anything.

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