Through the past few weeks, there have been rumblings in regards to Sony purchasing independent studios to add to their first party teams. These rumors have circulated from an interview with CEO Jim Ryan, who said part of PlayStation’s next-generation plan was focusing on securing more content. Either through mergers and acquisitions of independent studios, as Ryan stated: “content is more important than ever before”. Now no doubt Sony has been watching Xbox, who have doubled their first party studio line up in just over a year. While this may be “forcing” Sony’s hand into looking considering purchasing studios in order to strategically battle their competitors. It is very important to remember that bigger companies like Sony are always looking for strategic partnerships and mergers to increase their market share. With all of this being said, in my honest opinion, Sony doesn’t need to outright buy studios the same way Xbox has been doing for the past year. Now let’s talk about why I think this.
Sony has 13 first party studios which are.
- Bend Studio
- Japan Studio
- London Studio
- San Mateo Studio
- Sony Santa Monica
- Guerrilla Games
- Media Molecule
- Naughty Dog
- Polyphony Digital
- Sucker Punch Productions
Almost all these studios have what many would classify as genre-defining games in their catalog. From Sony Santa Monica with the God of War franchise or Guerrilla Games with their classic Killzone IP or their brand new PS4 success story Horizon Zero Dawn. Even some of the smaller studios have created groundbreaking content such as Media Molecule with its unique new game Dreams, all the way back to LittleBigPlanet. Sony’s first-party studio’s cover a wide variety of different genres, styles, and budget sizes. This has been a huge selling point of the PlayStation 4 console if you ask a PlayStation owner what game made them decide to purchase the console you will almost guarantee to get a wide spread of answers. Diversity of content is not something Sony is struggling with at the moment, one could argue they could stretch outside the 3rd person action genre more often. However, that is a minor criticism in the grand scheme of things. Sony has a strong variety of games and is consistently churning out interesting and varied content.
Many people don’t understand the key difference between Microsoft and Sony at this point. If you remove all the console war nonsense and look at how both companies are shaping up. Sony has a very clear cut plan on what works for their audience and how to sell them their next generation console. Xbox is playing catch up, and while I applaud them for their acquisitions of some of the most creative studios in the industry. With studios such as Double Fine, Obsidian, Ninja Theory and more that all bring fresh new talent to Xbox Game Studios. There will be growing pains, not all these studios that have been acquired will be able to knock hit after hit. There will inevitably be some missed shots. Even Sony during the PS3 generation and PS4 generation have stumbled. Look no further than the closure of Evolution after the failures of DriveClub. Xbox is essentially chasing what Sony has already established. A core group of creative studios that are making a wide variety of content that will draw players to play the games. This is a very important part of Xbox’s strategy with Xbox Game Pass, a constant flow of first party and third party content is essential to success. Sony has cornered the market in terms of first-party content, with Nintendo being the only hardware manufacturer that can go toe to toe with Sony’s first-party offerings.
Sony also has the advantage of having a great relationship with many 2nd party developers. With studios such as Bluepoint, Insomniac Games, and Kojima Productions are all studios that have or are making exclusive games for PlayStation without being owned by Sony. Many people have yelled for years that Insomniac Games should be a Sony first party studio with their work on Ratchet & Clank, Resistance and most recently Marvel’s Spider-Man. While Insomniac Games would no doubt be a very talented acquisition for Sony it’s one that just doesn’t make sense on paper. As we have learned from Xbox’s acquisition spree, buying up developers even smaller ones is a very costly task. Insomniac Games with over 300 employees and counting according to their LinkedIn page, would be a massive investment. For the amount of talent within the studio, you could argue that it would be worth the investment. However, Insomniac Games has always had a great working relationship with Sony and have made many memorable games together. They can continue building and working on this relationship inevitably with the follow up to Marvel’s Spider-Man that will come on PS5. This money could be better invested elsewhere, where you might ask? Try looking a little closer to home.
With all the talent and leadership that Sony has built naturally through their own studios. A good option would be to build up these pre-existing studios and start teams from the ground up. Giving promising developers already invested in the ecosystem a leg up so to speak. You never know who the next Cory Barlog could be, amongst your own team. It has been no secret that Sony has been hiring en masse for Sony Santa Monica, Naughty Dog, Polyphony and Guerilla Games. But there has been one project that has been holding my interest in particular for a while. Some may have forgotten, but back in 2018, Quentin Cobb of Naughty Dog pedigree was named Senior Game Designer of an unnamed project with an unnamed studio. While speculation has run rampant on perhaps he is working on something Uncharted related we have no solid information at this time. However, there is something so exciting about watching a studio be built from the ground up. In an industry where we are more used to hearing about studio closures then new ones opening. The prospect of a premier new studio draws a lot of attention from both fans and developers. Just look at the interest that Xbox’s The Initiative has gotten. Fan’s are furiously asking what are they working on, and developers are jumping on board excited to be creating something from the ground up. With creative minds like Drew Murray (formerly of Insomniac Games) and studio head Darrell Gallagher (one of the key designers behind the Tomb Raider reboot) it is safe to say plenty of people are paying attention to the Initiative. There is so much pre-existing talent in Sony’s studios it seems almost silly to go out and buy up developers when there really isn’t a need too.
That’s not to say if certain studios are in trouble or pitch themselves to Sony that they shouldn’t perhaps invest, but do it where it makes sense. Housemarque the developers behind Nex Machina, and Resogun are a developer for example that would be a strategic pick up. With House Marque’s desire to dive into AAA development with Stormdivers and other projects, it would be a smart movie for Sony to pick them up. Housemarque is a beloved small studio who is highly ambitious and brings a very unique spin to ever game they develop. With them testing the waters in AAA and multiplayer, they could be a perfect fit for Sony. Sony has received criticism for their lack of first party multiplayer IP’s, so a brand new multiplayer IP from Housemarque could fill that gap.
In conclusion, I don’t think Sony needs to get into a buying war with Xbox over studios. However, I think approaching certain developers to fill gaps in content, while building up the already amazing talent you have. This to me seems like the smartest strategy going forward, but only time will tell.