Sony’s oldest developer is soon to be no more (pic: Sony)
Sony’s famous Japan Studio will soon cease to exist in anything like its current state, as the company’s focus away from its home territory continues.
What was once Sony’s most important internal studio has been all but shut down, with the company admitting that it is ‘re-organising’ the 27-year-old Japan Studio.
There had already been rumours that development of new games at the studio was being scaled back, following the exit of a number of senior staff, but Sony initially denied any major changes were planned.
However, Sony has now confirmed to IGN that the studio will be ‘re-centred’ around Team ASOBI, the division of Japan Studio responsible for Astro’s Playroom on the PlayStation 5.
An earlier report by VGC suggested that Japan Studio was being wound down and the ‘vast majority’ of its staff let go, following in the footsteps of veterans such as Gravity Rush director Keiichiro Toyama and Bloodborne producer Masaaki Yamagiwa.
Prior to that a stream of reports, from both within and without Japan, claimed that Sony was purposefully sideling Japanese development and that Nintendo was now so dominant in the region that the PlayStation brand would not be able to recover there.
Although Japan Studio has developed games such as Ape Escape and Gravity Rush itself the vast majority of its work has been co-productions with other independent Japanese companies, with the studio lending its expertise and resources to smaller developers.
That capacity will now be lost, as a statement from Sony confirms that, ‘the roles of external production, software localisation, and IP management of Japan Studio titles will be concentrated within the global functions of PlayStation Studios.’
In that sense the reality is even worse than initial reports suggested, with the rest of the statement as follows:
‘In an effort to further strengthen business operations, SIE can confirm PlayStation Studios Japan Studio will be re-organized into a new organization on April 1. Japan Studio will be re-centered to Team ASOBI, the creative team behind Astro’s Playroom, allowing the team to focus on a single vision and build on the popularity of Astro’s Playroom.’
Which is good news if you want more Astro Bot games (which most PlayStation owners almost certainly do) but bad news if you expect to see any other first party Japanese games from Sony.
The central problem is simply that Japan Studio hasn’t had a sizeable hit in some years and that has made it a target given PlayStation’s increased focus on America, which began in 2016 with a major reorganisation of the business away from Japan.
As a result, many ex-Japan Studio staff have been setting up their own studios, which will no doubt produce multiformat titles or may even be open to being acquired by Microsoft or Nintendo.
Where once Sony’s strength came in its wide mix of studios from across the world – something which rival Microsoft has never been able to match even after its recent spending spree – almost all its major developers are now based solely in North America, to the point where even something like Ghost Of Tsushima was made by US studio Sucker Punch.
Despite the obvious shift in priority PlayStation boss Jim Ryan has previously insisted that ‘the Japanese market remains incredibly important to us’, although currently the only big budget Japanese-made game known to be in development by Sony is Gran Turismo 7 – whose country of origin is not obvious to casual observers.
There’s no doubting that Japan is less interested in home console gaming now than during the heyday of the PlayStation 1 and 2 but Japanese made games are appreciated across the world and now Sony, despite their long history and home side advantage, have willingly reduced their involvement with Japanese developers and left it easy for their competitors to take advantage of their disengagement.
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