RIP in pepperoni Japan Studio. Killed by Sony itself.
Majority of development staff have been let go, but ASOBI Team remains…
Sony is winding down original game development at its oldest first-party developer, Japan Studio, multiple sources have told VGC.
The iconic developer behind Ape Escape, Gravity Rush and Knack has seen the vast majority of its development staff let go, the sources said, after their annual contracts were not renewed ahead of the company’s next business year, which begins April 1.
Localisation and business staff will remain in place and ASOBI Team – the group responsible for the Astro Bot games – will continue as a standalone studio within Sony Japan, it’s claimed.
Some Japan Studio staff will join ASOBI, we were told, while others have followed Silent Hill and Gravity Rush director Keiichiro Toyama – who left Japan Studio last year – to his new studio Bokeh.
It’s not entirely clear if the restructure has affected the studio’s External Development Department, which collaborated on games such as last year’s Demon’s Souls, but one person VGC spoke to suggested it would continue.
Sony Interactive Entertainment did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.
Multiple Japan Studio developers have announced their departure from the company on social media in the last few days, including Bloodborne producer Masaaki Yamagiwa and video manager Ryo Sogabe – who are both leaving at the end of February – while a cryptic tweet from executive producer Masami Yamamoto also hints at his departure.
2月末でSIE JAPAN Studioを離れることになりました。これまでありがとうございました。次の場所でもゲーム制作を頑張ります。
I’m leaving Sony Interactive Entertainment at the end of this month. I’m going to continue working hard on creating games. Many thanks to everyone! pic.twitter.com/WPpiLpCtoY
— 山際眞晃 Masaaki Yamagiwa (@giwamasa) February 25, 2021
I have a information.
I will leave from SIE JAPAN Studio at the end of Feb.
Rather than working, I've been playing with PlayStation and videos for the past 14 years.
I will continue to play new challenges in the new company to bridge between game and video.
— Ryo Sogabe / SIE JAPAN Studio – Video Manager (@sogachin) February 24, 2021
This also follows several high profile staff at the studio leaving. At the end of 2020, the director of Silent Hill and the Gravity Rush series Keiichiro Toyama announced his departure to set up Bokeh Game Studio. He founded this new venture with fellow Sony Japan veterans Kazunobu Sato and Junya Okura.
Meanwhile, the producer of Bloodborne and the Demons Souls remake Teruyuki Toriyama said he was leaving SIE Japan at the end of 2020.
People with knowledge of the matter told VGC that Sony Japan Studio simply hasn’t been profitable enough in recent years; the developer wanted to create games that appealed to the Japanese market first with hopes of having global appeal, while PlayStation wants the kind of global hits that its other first-party studios produce.
One person VGC spoke to said that Japan Studio’s fate had been sealed over a year ago, following the departure of its long-time president Allan Becker, who was replaced by Astro Bot: Rescue Mission director Nicolas Doucet, allegedly due to frustration over the developer’s lack of hits.
Another source said that this was part of PlayStation shifting more power from its native Japan to its new US headquarters. Since the company moved its HQ to California in 2016, it has been centralising power there, leading to layoffs and restructuring in SIE’s regional offices.
VGC’s reporting corroborates a Bloomberg article from November of last year, which said that Sony Japan had been “sidelined” and its development teams had been cut.
PlayStation boss Jim Ryan has downplayed this narrative several times; in December, he claimed that Japan continued to be a hugely important market for Sony Interactive Entertainment.
Meanwhile, just earlier this week Famitsu published an interview with the exec in which he said he considered all of SIE’s studios to be important and that he continued to support Japanese game development for PS5.
Bloomberg’s earlier report claimed that, as of November last year, many Japan Studio creators had already been informed that they would not have their rolling contracts renewed.
PlayStation’s US office has held a critical view of the Japanese operation, the publication claimed, and believed that the PlayStation business didn’t need ‘games that only do well in Japan’.
Responding to the November Bloomberg report, Sony spokeswoman Natsumi Atarashi said at the time that “our home market remains of utmost importance” and claimed that any suggestion Sony was shifting its focus away from Japan was incorrect and “doesn’t reflect the company’s strategy”.
Speaking to VGC’s network partners at GamesIndustry.biz about PlayStation’s globalization efforts, SIE CEO Jim Ryan said we shouldn’t expect its Worldwide Studios to create games designed for specific territories going forwards.
“The nature of AAA PlayStation 4 and certainly PlayStation 5 development… We’re obviously not going to have Worldwide Studios make a game for one specific European country,” Ryan said at the time.
“And that might have been the case back in the PSP times with Invizimals [which was popular in Spain]. I think this will be where Shuhei Yoshida‘s new task [of working with indies] will come in. If we are nimble, flexible and global, we can work with smaller developers to allow those countries’ specific needs to be met.”
Japan Studio was founded back in 1993 and has created IP iconic PlayStation IP like Ape Escape, Patapon and Gravity Rush, in addition to assisting other developers such as FromSoftware, Bluepoint and Q-Games.
Japan Studio is Sony Interactive Entertainment‘s oldest first-party studio, with a focus on introducing new styles of gameplay.
The developer is known for games such Gravity Rush, Knack, LocoRoco and Ape Escape, as well as its collaborations on the likes of Bloodborne, The Last Guardian and Everybody’s Golf. It most recently worked on PS5’s Demon’s Souls with US studio Bluepoint.
SIE Japan Studio also housed Project Siren – aka Team Gravity – which had worked on the Siren and Gravity Rush series.