Burning Bridges: Abandoning PlayStation exclusivity

By Andrew Yoon, Feb 13, 2013 11:00am PST

Sony is expected to announce its next PlayStation console at its February 20th press event. Every day until then, Shacknews will look at PlayStation's history, and analyze what that could mean for the company's future.


While Sony has a strong collection of first-party teams to rely on, the PlayStation brand has always been synonymous with strong third-party support. Key studios pledged allegiance to Sony, but as the generations have gone on, that support has waned. During the transition from PS2 to PS3, third-party publishers moved away from console exclusivity, leaving Sony to rely on the support of second- and third-party developers to build up its exclusive portfolio.

Unfortunately, not all of these relationships ended fruitfully. Many developers, once synonymous with the PlayStation brand, are moving on to other platforms--some abandoning Sony altogether. The transition to PS4 will make it even more difficult for Sony to find exclusive content to rely upon.

First-Party Closures

Over the PS3 era, Sony has closed a number of its studios. BigBig's closure is perhaps the least surprising, considering their games--from Pursuit Force to Little Deviants--never really caught on. However, more surprising is Zipper Interactive's shuttering. Founded in 1995, the studio was responsible for Sony's SOCOM franchise. The team's final PS3 release, SOCOM 4, was largely considered a disappointment--but the lengthy PlayStation Network outage did the game no favor. Unit 13 for Vita proved to be an adequate launch game, but at that point, the writing was already on the wall.

Perhaps the biggest first-party studio to be closed by Sony was SCE Studio Liverpool. Founded as Psygnosis in 1984, the team was responsible for the Wipeout series. Not only were the games critically acclaimed (even during the PS3 era), but they were regularly technical showcases for PlayStation hardware. WipEout HD is one of the most impressive games on PS3, running not only in "full HD" 1080p, but offering remarkable 3D support as well. Given the team's pedigree, it's rather unnerving that Sony would close the studio, which was rumored to be working on a Wipeout game for PS4 and a stealth action game as well.

Going Multiplatform

One of the most talked about losses to the PlayStation family is Insomniac Games. Although never owned by Sony, the studio was well known for its support of PlayStation platforms, having worked exclusively on PS hardware from 1996. The platform's biggest franchises were created by the Burbank studio: Spyro the Dragon, Ratchet & Clank, and the Resistance series. The studio announced plans to go multiplatform before the release of Resistance 3. Since then, the team has released Outernauts on Facebook and is working on Fuse for PS3 and Xbox 360.

thatgamecompany, whose Journey earned multiple Game of the Year awards, and brought newfound attention to the PlayStation Network, is also leaving Sony. Recent revelations that PS3 development led the studio to go broke could be one of the reasons why Jenova Chen and company are seeking new platforms for their future games.

Another long-time Sony partner, Q-Games, has been dabbling with new platforms. Although the studio has never been exclusive to Sony (having released multiple games on Nintendo platforms), the PixelJunk franchise is no longer PSN-only territory. In addition to PixelJunk Eden on Steam and PixelJunk Monsters for Facebook, the studio's next game (currently codenamed 1-6) has only been announced for PC.

Going Mobile

Other developers of high-profile PS3 exclusives are leaving console development altogether. Eat Sleep Play, which shipped the PS3 version of Twisted Metal, actually suffered layoffs before the game even came out. Outspoken developer David Jaffe left the company, which is now working on iOS games. At the time, co-founder Scott Campbell said that the incentive to work on mobile was the ability to reach more people. "It's a platform that is in our pockets almost 24/7. It's kind of the size and types of games we're playing," said.

The developers of Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified for Vita also downsized after releasing the game. While critically panned, it was pretty much doomed from the start, with a five-month development time that would cause any developer to suffer. The experience not only tarnished their name, but had the developer leaving console development altogether. As "nStigate," the smaller studio will focus on mobile games.

Housemarque, developers of PSN's popular Super Stardust series, is also making a transition to mobile. The studio recently released Furmins, after the studio was supposedly denied work on a sequel to the PSN-exclusive Dead Nation.

Idol Minds, developer of PSN-exclusive PAIN, is also moving onto mobile development. The studio was supposedly working on a Vita/PS3 game called Warrior's Lair which has since disappeared entirely off of PlayStation.com, suggesting its cancellation. Instead, the studio recently released Linked Together.

LightBox Interactive shipped the impressive 32-player online multiplayer shooter, Starhawk. Three months later, the studio would lay off most of its team to work on iOS games. Well, as you know... the industry is changing," LightBox president Dylan Jobe said then. Sony apparently "amicably ended its working agreement" with the team--a sentiment that's been echoed yet again with another high-profile developer.

Recent Burns

SuperBot Entertainment, developer of PlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale, also had its relationship with Sony "amicably ended," a move that surprised many. Although the developer promises to move on to its "next chapter," studio head David Yang told Kotaku that "it is unlikely we can continue with our current work force for an extended period of time. We are still working things out and hope to continue on with as many of us as possible."

Most recently, Sanzaru Games, developer of the recently-released (and very good) Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time, was also burned by Sony--who did little to market the game's existence. 1UP's Chris Pereira sums it up best: "The fact remains that not marketing the game is effectively a slap in the face of everyone who made it, as the result of their efforts is not being given a reasonable chance of making its mark." According to Superannuation, Sanzaru had to "lay off most of their staff" after wrapping up work on Sly 4. We discovered that Steve Kuroki, who served as senior game designer on the title, quietly left the studio at the end of last year, aligning with Superannation's report.

What Remains

There are many reasons for developers to no longer work with PlayStation. The primary root of these departures appear to be sales: developing on a PS3 is expensive, and it takes many copies to recoup costs. Developers are seeing greener pastures in multiplatform development, and mobile and social gaming. And with many of these titles, Sony has proven inept at being a proper marketing partner. However, what external development partners still remain in Sony's favor?

Clap Hanz, developers of the Hot Shots series, is likely working on another entry in the franchise, given their long-standing partnership with Sony. Quantic Dream, developer of Heavy Rain and the upcoming Beyond: Two Souls, is rumored to be working on an Orbis title, and has admitted to being quite fond of Sony's support. Tarsier Studios and Double Eleven, developers of LittleBigPlanet for PS Vita are likely to continue working for Sony--the latter due to a newly signed exclusivity contract with the publisher. Finally, Novarama Technology, developer of the Invizimals games, has also signed an exclusive deal with Sony. A potential question mark is Ready at Dawn, a studio that has already shipped two God of War games for Sony. The team has been quietly working on a next-gen title, and it's a good bet that it will make an appearance on Sony's next console.

That's a rather short list going into the next generation. Sony has burned a lot of bridges in the PS3 era--but PS4 presents a new opportunity for the company. Sony will have to deliver on the promise of next-gen to build new relationships, and restore its stable of exclusive third-party partners.

Correction: We incorrectly stated Insomniac Games went multiplatform after the release of Resistance 3. This has been updated.

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