Sony and the PlayStation brand looks like it’s in great shape from the outside looking in. The PlayStation 4 is officially a smash hit. It’s sold out everywhere, and Sony doesn’t expect to meet the consumer demand for the next-generation console until the summer.
Everything points to Sony being in a wonderful position after a few years of troubling instability in its video game division. But there’s been a lot of moving and shaking within the PlayStation game development ecosystem. It appears Sony can no longer insulate itself from problems like game cancellations, delays and the exodus of major creative talent.
On March 6, Jack Tretton, President and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment of America, announced his resignation. It came out of nowhere. There doesn’t appear to be any sinister reasons for him leaving. It only appears that he’s ready to move on. After all, he was with PlayStation for 19 years and had a hand in developing or launching every PS console during that time, and the PS4 is performing remarkably. It seems like a logical time to make a change, but Tretton’s announcement is part of a disconcerting chain of events for SCEA.
Nobody likes to hear about layoffs. This time of year is an especially morbid time for game developers as it is the fiscal year-end for many and layoffs are expected. Most of Sony’s major game development studios have been insulated from turbulent times in the industry. In a little over a month, between February and March, layoffs have hit Sony Santa Monica, developers of the “God of War” series, and three United Kingdom studios: Evolution, Guerilla Cambridge and Sony Computer Entertainment London.
Around 60 people were laid off from Sony Santa Monica and a AAA project in-development was canceled. It was also revealed that two high-profile employees, Seth Killian, lead gameplay designer, and Creative Director on “God of War 3,” Stig Asumussen, left months ago.
Of the three U.K. studios, Evolution may be the most alarming because “Driveclub’s” status went from a PS4 launch title to an indefinite delay. Col Rodgers, game director on “Driveclub” left Evolution to be closer to his family and to start an independent studio, casting even more doubt on the project.
As if things couldn’t get worse, Naughty Dog, creators of “Uncharted” and “The Last of Us” and arguably Sony’s most esteemed developer, has had an extremely high-profile turnover. Writer, director and overall creative force behind “Uncharted,” Amy Hennig, left Naughty Dog on March 4. There were alleged (behind closed doors) creative problems, but those rumors were refuted by Naughty Dog’s presidents. Twenty-three days later, Justin Richmond, game director for the PS4 “Uncharted 4” left for Riot Games, best known for “League of Legends.”
Sony is not a sinking ship by any stretch of the imagination, yet one has to wonder about the stability, or lack thereof, with its many game developers. Presumably, to spread good news, Sony revealed a list of over 100 games coming to PS4 in 2014. It is good to see such strong independent and third-party support for the PS4, but the majority of the games on the list are independent games. Sony has a surprising lack of first-party AAA presence in 2014. “Infamous: Second Son” was just released on March 22 and “MLB 14: The Show,” “Driveclub,” and “The Order: 1886” are Sony’s only other confirmed 2014 releases. Games like “The Last Guardian” have been in development hell for years and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.
No one expected so much speculation and uncertainty in early 2014 considering how well the PlayStation 4 is selling. Sony has weathered worse storms, but price and first-party exclusives were a big selling factor for the PS4. In order to put PlayStation gamers at ease, Sony needs to curb the in-house disorder and focus on getting awesome first-party games out.
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