Everyone’s on a buying spree in the gaming world. Embracer Group has been snapping up studios, Tencent has been putting its fingers in as many pies as possible, EA owns Codemasters and all the racing games and Microsoft has made potentially the biggest purchase in gaming history picking up Activision Blizzard (fuck Bobby Kotik btw). Now Sony and PlayStation are hitting 2022 strong and making moves.
All the way back in a long forgotten 2021 Sony acquired Housemarque, Bluepoint Games, Firesprite, Nixxes Software and Valkyrie Entertainment and welcomed them into the PlayStation family. Now Bungie joins them. Not as a direct PlayStation Worldwide studio, but as a Sony funded independently run studio. It will be interesting to see what this relationship holds and how independent Bungie will actually be on future projects. There’s a lot of positive chatter from both Sony through Hermen Hulst and Bungie’s Pete Parsons on being independent but collaborative. It’s an odd step sideways from the usual relationship of studios making 2nd party games, into 1st party funded, multiplatform titles, a well funded sideways independent step. Unlike Sony’s recent success with the PC releases for Horizon Zero Dawn, Days Gone and God of War coming years later than their console releases it’s expected these Sony funded Bungie developed and published titles will be day and date multi-platform releases.
With a new way to work being established between Bungie and Sony what other acquisitions could we see for PlayStation? Is their future rooted in this kind of relationship over the traditional buy out which Microsoft has aggressively pursued over the last few years and Sony has ‘organically’ and slowly expanded through last year? The new PlayStation studios added last year were this more traditional affair but Bungie is a bigger beast than those. Could other equally, or bigger sized publishers join forces with Sony to reach Embracer Group size?
The answer is of course, anything is possible and Sony will still have some money in its pocket to burn. Jim Ryan has said they’re not done with purchases, ‘We should absolutely expect more’ and ‘we are by no means done’ being two direct quotes. I would expect to see a combination of smaller developers joining the Worldwide studios brand and developers/publishers having a similar relationship to Bungie. Who then could those bigger developers and publishers be, remembering Sony are looking for organic fits, historic working relationships and technological advances?
I think Capcom would be the most realistic company to join on a Bungie style agreement. They are bigger than Bungie. Have a larger range of games and a worth of around $4.9 billion. It would bring a wealth of experience and well established internal studios. Franchises like Resident Evil and modern Street Fighter are synonymous with PlayStation, SF having had console exclusivity for the latest game, SFV which was released 6 years ago. Capcom would also tie PlayStation back to its Japanese roots. A solid base they’ve been leaving behind in recent years with the Japanese market shifting to more handheld and mobile experiences. Sony has a strategy to get more into mobile gaming. Capcom or (spoiler for below) Square Enix could lift the console market for this generation in Japan before that strategy comes to fruition. They’d also tap into the success of franchises like Monster Hunter which has been doing very well on Switch, the biggest console in Japan. With MLB The Show 22 heading to switch and being multiconsole it’s easy to see Sony tapping into certain successful games on other consoles.
Along with Capcom, we could also see PlayStation picking up Dimps. Rumour suggests they are working on an exclusive PS5 game. They’ve also provided support on both Street Fighter IV and V. Another Japanese studio to aim at that market with experience in fighting games and importantly anime franchises. Sony already has stock in Dimps. That might be enough for now as it provides a relationship with Bandai Namco, another Dimps shareholder, for potential future exclusives. Or buy out Bandai’s stock to bring them into Worldwide studios for new games and support.
Bandai Namco are maybe a leap too far to join PlayStation. They are a much larger beast, not quite Activision Blizzard but closer. If Sony are going to make a big money purchase it’ll fit the more organic strategies they’ve been talking about which Bandai Namco doesn’t necessarily fit but Capcom does.
This would be bigger than Capcom but potentially a similar size of announcement in terms of market impact to players. Valued at around $5.9 billion with a huge slate of franchises, they work closely with PlayStation for console exclusive games like the upcoming Final Fantasy XVI and the recent Final Fantasy VII Remake. As Sony are looking at (in James Stephanie Sterling’s voice) ‘live service’ as a model to explore there’s the potential to fund and reap the subscription and in-game market benefits a new Final Fantasy online could also bring.
It isn’t all about Final Fantasy. PlayStation could grow their dominance of Marvel games on the platform with SE having recently published the poorly received Avengers, another live service game, and the well received Guardians of the Galaxy. With Spider-Man and Wolverine firmly under their belts at Insomniac, PlayStation would be the go to platform for future Marvel games.
As with Capcom some Square enix owned franchises are historically linked with PS. Chrono Cross/Trigger, Tomb Raider and of course Final Fantasy VII, VIII and IX lived on the first PlayStation console. There is a lot of history there to pull on. More rumours suggest a Chrono Cross Remake is in the works and, of course, Bluepoint’s name was thrown into the arena as the developer but it’s looking unlikely it is them. Bluepoint are also supposedly remaking Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Metal Gear Solid and Bloodborne, whilst crafting a new IP so I’m sure they’ll fit a huge JRPG in there too. Even so with the list of IP Square Enix own PlayStation could delve into new entries of some huge PlayStation icons.
As Sony looks to also acquire based on new technologies we have Square Enix banging that drum too. In a new years address from Yosuke Matsuda, President and Representative Director of Square Enix, SE have put aside some of their budget to explore new tech. The cloud, XR and adaptive AI were all mentioned and tie in well with what Sony are currently doing. But, hold the phone, and sack them off, blockchain and NFTs were talked about at length. Fuck that. No thanks SE, not what we want. Although I think Jim Ryan might be rubbing his trousers at the thought of it.
Kojima seems like a good fit for PlayStation. After his departure from Konami PlayStation was there. They part funded Death Stranding, an insane experience that I loved. It was exclusive to the PS4 for around a year before it’s release on PC. They already have a strong working relationship from the studio’s formation.
There is also that historic relationship too. Through Konami, Kojima has worked closely with PlayStation. Metal Gear Solid is a big PlayStation franchise with only the final entry from Kojima going multiplatform. Similarly, the first Zone of the Enders was a PS2 exclusive. Whilst he has released games on other platforms there is an inextricable link with Metal Gear Solid and PlayStation.
Hideo Kojima, though, seems like a man who likes his and his studio’s independence. Death Stranding was published on PC by 505 Games, not through Sony, although Sony’s PC strategy was pretty nonexistent at the time so the avenue may not have been there. KP recently also opened a new studio to focus on other entertainment products like films and whilst PlayStation can help Bungie bring their franchises to TV and film Kojima doesn’t need that help. Although distribution may be easier working internally through a company like Sony. Kojima Productions have set themselves up to be successful independently and explore the world of entertainment.
It may also be slightly telling that Kojima Productions were name dropped by Hermen Hulst in a PS blog post discussing ‘what’s to come’. On 1st vs 2nd party he states:
“Yeah. You know, these partnerships are very exciting. You could, I guess, make a distinction between development teams who are part of Sony — like Naughty Dog, Insomniac, Media Molecule, Sucker Punch, and so on — and then development teams who are working with us like partners… Haven, Firewalk, but also teams we’ve worked with over years, like Kojima Productions, From Software. To me, in many ways, there really is no difference. They’re all PlayStation Studios. We are, at the end of the day, a creator-led organization. Which to me means that we want to find the best possible development studios in the world and help them passionately pursue their ideas.”
Currently Hermen and PlayStation may just be happy with the relationship they have with Kojima not to pursue anything further.
A revived Psygnosis (SCE Studio Liverpool)
This isn’t necessarily an acquisition as Sony already holds the name and logo of Psygnosis, recently re-establishing the trademarks. What if however they could pick up a struggling developer and help them rebrand and join the PS family under Psygnosis. Games are a difficult and costly thing to make and establishing new studios takes a lot of time. A buyout and a rebrand seems a little easier. Psygnosis has a big history with PlayStation having been bought, almost sold, rebranded into SCE Studio Liverpool and then shut in the space of 20 years. PlayStation as a company and brand are different now so a new Psygnosis could be possible; and I’d like a new Wipeout game, please.
As with Psygnosis, Sony also isn’t above reshuffling studios or shuttering them completely when they aren’t seen to work. Japan Studio was quietly closed and restructured into Team Asobi. The shift from a certain type of single player game was made into more VR and family friendly experiences. Could there be a struggling UK developer who might fit this bill, using their talent to shift into making slightly different games? Sony could be seen to save jobs and help structure and manage a talented set of developers. Maybe someone like Frontier Developments after a poor financial year and low game sales (they probably wouldn’t make Wipeout and are a big enough name not to rebrand). Or maybe someone with fast paced racing game experience like Codemasters; oh no EA gobbled them up to own all the racing games. We’re talking about a small studio that could be expanded with Sony’s cash and creative freedom on all those retained Psygnosis IPs.
If I’d been asked last year if Firesprite or Nixxies Software would have been brought into the PlayStation family I’d have answered, Who? Illfonic though are a fairly well known quantity and a developer I would have put money on to join PlayStation. For PS they are a tricky one as they haven’t been that successful. Their recent PlayStation and Epic games Store exclusive Predator Hunting Grounds was not well received earning very middling review scores. Illfonic’s next title Arcadegeddon flew right under the radar. Released last year on PS5 and EGS as an early access game it hasn’t had much coverage from the press. Whilst Friday the 13th was successful — that was 5 years ago — and they haven’t been able to capitalise on that.
Illfonic is a small team and making games is very hard but there is talent there. They’ve got a wealth of experience and have provided support on a number of games too. Potentially, although they are US based they could be a good fit for a rebrand, maybe not as Psygnosis, but a different brand under PlayStation Worldwide Studios. Working on asymmetrical and other multiplayer games or providing support to other studios would work well in PlayStation’s stable of developers and games.
Illfonic obviously have some love at PlayStation. Gio Corsi, once on the PlayStation team as Head of Global Second Party Games and the biggest proponent of the Vita, left Sony to join Illfonic in 2019 and remains there two years later. It’s an easy relationship for both Illfonic and PlayStation to lean on if talks were to take place. And if I was a betting man I’d say Illfonic are next in line for Sony to acquire. They can keep letting Illfonic make Arcadegeddon, making those PC links stronger (although Sony already own part of Epic Games anyway) and fill in where needed for support whilst expanding the team with an injection of Sony cash. Yeah, I would have lost that bet last year but I think this year I’ll be quids in.
Whether Sony places larger developer/publishers alongside Bungie or smaller developers within the PlayStation Worldwide Studio’s it will be an interesting year for the growth of the brands and wider industry. Consolidation is going to be discussed a lot this year. I hope any acquisition is a measured and well thought through action from bigger companies along the lines of Sony’s stated goals of organic, natural growth. Buying developers to fill gaps in what a company can offer will only lead to a more platform agnostic experience for everyone. Platform holders are seeing the benefits of multiplatform titles. And whilst Sony might not be there with the First party studios releasing day and date everywhere for a while this could come in the future. There are worries about the long-term financial viability of continued buyouts and growth. It could be the early 2010s all over again. Though, if done in a sustainable and responsible way (which corporations tend not to do) then layoffs and closures could be mitigated against if the gaming market begins to stagnate. I’m hopeful it won’t.