Talking Point: PlayStation's Big Employment Perception Issue
Posted by Sammy Barker
In and out
Sony’s Worldwide Studios got a lot lighter this month. There’s been more hiring and firing within the platform holder’s pool of first-party developers than an episode of The Apprentice of late, with departures seemingly occurring every day. The end of SCEA president Jack Tretton’s colossal tenure was sad enough news at the beginning of March, but the PlayStation employment plague also claimed Uncharted overlord Amy Hennig, God of War III director Stig Asmussen, and more lower level grunts than we have the resources to name. That’s got some pundits pondering whether all is hunky-dory behind closed doors – but are we just worrying over nothing?
There are few important things to consider before pushing the big red panic button. For starters, people leave their jobs all of the time. The average period that an employee spends with a single company is around 4.6 years, making life-timers like Jack Tretton exceptional examples. Amy Hennig, Stig Asmussen, and recently announced Naughty Dog departee Justin Richmond all spent longer than five years at their respective studios – a couple of them close to double that figure. Moreover, layoffs are an unfortunate part of this industry, and take place at all studios, particularly after the completion of a project. This is because as a title nears completion, team sizes bloat to a size that can’t support the early production phase of a new title.
The consolidation process that took place at three of the Japanese giant’s British studios this week, then, was most likely a consequence of this unfortunate – but common – practice. For example, Guerrilla Cambridge, one of the team’s affected, not long finished work on PlayStation Vita title Killzone: Mercenary, while London Studio recently wrapped up production on multiple Wonderbook releases, as well as The Playroom and The Deep for Project Morpheus. The only outlier is DriveClub, but with the release presumably going through a polishing period, we suspect that some of the more creative members of its team may have been twiddling their thumbs. It’s a sad situation for all involved, but it makes sense.
The problem is that we’re not privy to the internal happenings at these developers, and that makes it difficult to appreciate the full picture from an informed perspective. The cancellation of Stig Asmussen’s sci-fi title at Sony Santa Monica caused an enormous backlash earlier this month, but none of us know what that project looked like. Speculation suggests that the platform holder had poured a significant amount of cash into the game, but it was not shaping up. With no work to support the team propping up the jettisoned release, it makes sense that the manufacturer would let those employees go once the decision had been made to not pursue it. And it seems likely that the person at the helm would depart upon seeing their dreams in tatters, too.
Where the layoffs are concerned, we feel strong empathy for everyone affected – after all, there are families that are going to be turned upside down by these corporate decisions. However, the business implications have to be considered, too. Japan Studio consistently underperformed during the PlayStation 3 era, which has been attributed to serious bloat throughout the company. There’s a Kotaku article that details the restructuring process in more detail, but in it, new boss Alan Becker points out that the outfit had 40 or so different projects in production at one point. It was chaos, then, and the solution was – sadly – to consolidate and refocus. Since going through that process, the firm’s output has increased significantly, with Knack, Soul Sacrifice, Rain, and Freedom Wars all coming out of its doors.
It’s the kind of bigger picture that we’re not privy to, and it’s why these restructuring efforts aren’t always bad. The problem is that we’re in an age where every departure is magnified. Seth Killian, who worked at Sony Santa Monica until December, announced that he had left on Twitter this week, stressing that he’d been inspired by the company’s external developer relations to start his “own thing”. Without wanting to put words into his mouth, it sounds like he’s planning to open up a studio of his own – a perfectly rational move after working for gigantic firms like Capcom and Sony. It’s interesting that Col Rodgers – the former director on DriveClub, which must be almost finished at this point – has chosen a similar path.
However, when all of these departures occur at the same time, rational thinking goes out of the window. These are people whose names would merely represent a sequence of letters on a credits sequence previously, but the industry has grown to a point where every studio has rock stars, and thus their departures are magnified. It’s undoubtedly a good thing that the industry has reached a stage where creative leads are richly rewarded for their endeavours, but it doesn’t mean that the world is ending when they leave. God of War creator David Jaffe exited Sony Santa Monica after finishing the first game, and his successor Cory Barlog departed shortly after the completion of the second. However, this didn’t stop Stig Asmussen from creating the most successful entry in the series with God of War III.
The point is that this has happened in the past, will continue to happen, and won’t ever stop happening moving forward. The problem that the Japanese giant has at the present is a perception one; the result of a perfect storm of structural changes, customary project cancellations, and standard personnel turnover. The seemingly neverending slew of departures is starting to look bad, and it’s making people question exactly what’s going on within the platform holder’s walls. However, the unexciting reality is most likely nothing. This month’s news – for as sad and disappointing as it’s been – has been too spread and inconsistent to signal at anything sinister bubbling beneath the surface. And we daresay it’ll all be forgotten when you’re enjoying The Order: 1886 and Uncharted PS4.
Are you worried by this month’s departures, or do you agree that it’s just a consequence of increased attention on the industry as a whole? What do you think that Sony needs to do to break the perception problem, and turn the attention back to games rather than personnel changes? Let us know in the comments section below.
Are you concerned by all of the Sony departures this month? (54 votes)
Yes, I’m really worried that something bad is happening
Hmm, I’m not really sure
No, I think that things are being blown out of proportion
Please login to vote in this poll.