Sony’s decision to focus on AAA games and to almost stop supporting smaller games and studios might be a good business move. However, this strategy has already led to staff turnover, Days Gone 2 rejection, and other internal issues.

Journalist Jason Schreier shed the light on the situation within Sony in his latest investigation. You can read the whole piece on Bloomberg.

Key takeaways from the investigation

  • Over the last years, Sony completely focused on its star studios, like Naughty Dog, Santa Monica, and Guerilla Games. This strategy damaged the company’s smaller and less experienced teams.
  • This year, Sony re-organized Japan Studio, known for Gravity Rush and Knack. The company said that it doesn’t want to develop small games with a focus on the Japanese market anymore. It led to mass departures from Japan Studio. 
  • Bend, the developer of Days Gone, pitched the game’s sequel in 2019, but Sony rejected it. Although the first title was commercially successful, its development was lengthy, and the game received mixed reviews.
  • Instead of working on Days Gone 2, a part of Bend started helping Naughty Dog with a multiplayer game, and a second team was assigned to develop the next Uncharted. The studio employees were afraid they would become “Naughty Dog North.” To prevent that from happening, they ask Sony to take them off the Uncharted project. Bend is now creating a new IP.
  • Sony also didn’t put enough money into marketing of Dreams, a platform that lets users create their own games. According to Schreier, the company “missed out on its own version of Roblox.”

A case that describes Sony’s strategy best happened with Visual Arts Service Group (VASG). It’s a division that usually helps the company’s first-party studios with animation, art, and other content. Here’s what happened:

  • In 2018, Michael Mumbauer decided to form a new development studio based on VASG. Realizing the risks, the team asked funding to remake one of Sony’s hits instead of creating a brand new IP.
  • Mumbauer initially wanted to remake the first Uncharted. VASG realized it would be too expensive and hard, so they decided to work on a remake of The Last of Us. The studio planned to package it with The Last of Us Part II for PlayStation 5.
  • The project received a codename T1X and was approved by Sony on a “probationary basis.” However, the company refused to give money to hire more employees, and some people wondered whether Sony was interested in creating a new development studio at all.
  • In 2019, Hermen Hulst, who became head of PlayStation Worldwide Studios in November that year, rejected T1X. He thought it was too expensive due to a new graphical engine for PS5. VASG wanted not only to improve The Last of Us graphics but to also redesign some outdated gameplay mechanics.
  • The development of T1X stalled after VASG was assigned to help Naughty Dog with polishing The Last of Us Part II.
  • Sony promised that Naughty Dog will later help the team develop the remake. However, the company eventually took the project from VASG and assigned it to the original game’s creators.

Over a couple of years, VASG again turned from ambitious developers to assistants. Many people were disappointed with Sony’s decision, and it led to Mumbauer and other leaders leaving the team. It’s still unknown what will happen to VASG next, but the studio is now jokingly called “Naughty Dog South.”

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