<<enter caption here>> on April 10, 2012 in New York City.

Is Sony Really in Trouble?

It is not uncommon in these times of economic hardship to skim across news of companies downsizing, laying off employees, or shutting down altogether. This is most prevalent in the gaming industry, which has seen many studios do everything on that list over the past couple of years. From THQ to Irrational Games, it seems no company is immune to the recession, whether it be completely financial or merely enough to make a studio reevaluate its structure and products.

The latest company to fall under the spotlight is Sony. With the myriad problems arising from its first-party developers, as well as a slow start to the PlayStation 4 (in terms of software), it’s only reasonable that consumers are skeptical. After all, other major studios have seen restructuring and downsizing, prime examples among those being the aforementioned Irrational Games and Square Enix. As far as Sony goes, one of its most successful studios, Naughty Dog, has seen a lot of recent activity, with Uncharted creative director Amy Hennig and Uncharted 4 game director Justin Richmond both departing the company.

But is any of this really so alarming? In young industries, recessions can be particularly troubling. Gaming, like film in the mid-20th century, is still finding its foothold and has plenty of competition for consumers’ money with other entertainment industries. Yes, the gaming industry was rivaling Hollywood a decade ago, but it was a lot cheaper to develop a video game two generations ago than it is today. As demand for the quality in AAA titles has risen (a consequence of increasing frugality in consumers, thanks to the hardships accompanying the recession) and indie gaming has grown in popularity (thanks to smartphones and, again, the recession), there has been an unusual fissure created in the industry, rendering low-cost indie titles and the blockbuster AAA games as the only financially viable investments.

Unhcarted 4 is Naughty Dog's next blockbuster project

Uncharted 4 is Naughty Dog’s next blockbuster project

It is natural, then, that many studios have had to close their doors or lay off a good chunk of employees. It’s probably one of the big reasons Irrational Games shut down and its remaining employees are refocusing. Does it have anything to do with Sony’s problems? Maybe, but they certainly aren’t as severe. Naughty Dog, Sony’s golden ticket right now, has taken a blow with two prominent employees working on their newest title, Uncharted 4, leaving. However, this is no indication that Naughty Dog is in financial trouble. They enjoyed extravagant success with last year’s The Last of Us and are sure to ride that profit with the PlayStation 4 port due out this summer. Add to that the film that is planned (which is being produced and distributed by a variety of Sony companies) and my guess is Naughty Dog is set for the time being. You will also notice neither employee was laid off; they left of their own volition.

Now, you might be thinking that says something bad about Naughty Dog, but it could just as easily say something good. Amy Hennig left to take a position working on the new EA-developed Star Wars game and Justin Richmond took a job with Riot (who is responsible for League of Legends). Perhaps these two were sought after by other companies because Naughty Dog’s talent is that good. You also can’t forget that both Bruce Straley and Neil Druckmann are still with the company, and right now they seem to be the developer’s greatest assets. Though Uncharted 4 is in a bit of trouble now with its key developers out of the picture, it seems way too early to count Naughty Dog out.

As far as the PlayStation 4 goes, it’s not really that surprising that the system has so few games out. While its problems may be vastly different from the Wii U, it seems to be a trend that next-gen (or current gen) systems have limited launch titles. In any company, it behooves executives to look at the long-term goals, and as long as the PlayStation 4 is prepared to meet those—and rest assured, it will be—there is little need to worry that the PlayStation 4 will struggle in its lifetime. If you recall, the PlayStation 3 didn’t have the best start, either, but by the end it was head-to-head with the Xbox 360.

It was fun while it lasted

It was fun while it lasted

The one bone I’ll throw to the naysayers is Santa Monica Studios, developer of all console God of War titles. With the layoffs that have afflicted the studio, as well as the disappointing performance of God of War: Ascension, it’s safer to assume Santa Monica is a tight spot, especially since its only real asset (God of War) seems to have gone as far as it can.

Is that enough for me to worry that Sony is in serious trouble in the gaming market? No, and unless we start seeing serious financial failures from Sony’s first-party studios, I’ll rest easy. How about you?

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  1. timgruver

    I see most of Sony’s change of hands in the same manner of Jack Tretton’s departure: people merely seeking job opportunities and advancement. Mr. Tretton left when the Playstation 4’s strong, and no doubt to some other place where he can get an even bigger paycheck or simply retire altogether comfortably. So it is with most of the designers you see leaving, including to lucrative places like Riot Games. 

    Amy Hennig’s case is a different one, partly in favor of something as grand and alluring as Star Wars, and I truly think just a big of ego in the case of her former collaborators. She may not have been “ousted” per say, but obviously she wasn’t going to have anything but creative differences. I still think Uncharted is in genuinely good hands, so throwing her weight behind something as unsure as EA’s Star Wars projects is making me starting to actually get excited for it again. 

    It’s generally unfortunate that Sony has to be shuffling the organization now right when they’ve launched a new console instead of during the PS3’s end, but it’s probably natural. People are getting a perspective on where’s Sony and the rest of the industry’s headed thanks to the new-gen launch, and they’re figuring out where they can prosper best. Most of it’s not Sony’s fault so much as it is the industry’s throwing a lot of money around everywhere. 

     If anything though, Sony certainly has an upper hand in management as opposed to ones like Nintendo, I’ll give ’em that. Sony of America being its own corporate entity with greater assertion it seems, they can be a bit more proactive about PR in the heart of their real battleground of NA. Nintendo’s still sluggish when it comes to its Japanese bosses relaying strategy so slowly, so it’s a boon for Sony to be this hands on with their prime territory.

    Like you say, I have no idea what’s going on with Sony Santa Monica. I think God of War bled itself dry with Kratos’s story, and I’d rather they finally go onto some other mythology entirely. With no GoW outright confirmed by anyone, I wouldn’t put it past the studio to realize some other IP or probably end up splitting off into their own different directions.

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