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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

13%

Hmm, I’m not really sure

35%

No, I think that things are being blown out of proportion

52%

Please login to vote in this poll.

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User Comments (15)

Cyrso

#3

Cyrso said:

An unlucky timing of events I'm afraid.

I don't think it's really exceptional that people move on and switch between game studios & projects but regularly, but well yeah this sounds like an unlucky unconnected following of events. I don't think think there's a reason to be worried, these are not things that are directly going to affect consumers or something. We should only start to get worried if the first-party development output severely slows down over time, compared to the PS3 generation

For know I'm staying confident, Sony still has an edge with their first-party studios over the competition (although yes I think Nintendo is definitely on par, but Microsoft Studios is not), and actually I've think they've been doing quite well looking at the past year. Tearaway and The Last of Us were huge critical hits and got lots of awards. inFamous Second Son seems great (don't have PS4). Puppeteer, Sly Cooper Thieves in Time, God of War Ascension, Ratchet & Clank: Nexus, Gran Turismo 6 were pretty good too.

I think they're going to be more careful with the release windows of their first-party games now, a lot of their PS3 exclusives went underrated and weren't sales wonders, maybe they had too much sales cannibalization within their own games, so maybe they're going to try to avoid that this time around (hopefully it won't mean less games, but simply better spread out and more effective marketing)

And as not-yet PS4 owner I can just take a wait and see approach, but I'm sure they'll bounce back strong.

Cyrso

#5

Cyrso said:

And not to mention it's not like it's exclusive to Sony or something.

I remember that one Rare veteran joined Sony London last year, 343 industries Corrine Yu, a lead programmer for Halo, joined Naughty Dog too last year. I remember that Naughty Dog had a very rough transistion to the PS3 generation and they were bleeding talent, and look at how they bounced back in the end. I remember that Retro Studios was also bleeding talent at some point when they were wrapping up Metroid Prime 3 and another round for DKCR. Rare had a very rough transisition to from Nintendo second party to MS first-party. Bungie split with Microsoft etc. (I'm not really sure anymore why they split with Microsoft. I think it was on good terms, wasn't it? Or did they 'buy' themselves out because of creative disagreements?)

These things happen, employees aren't locked up to companies or something. I am not defending anything (well I don't think there's anything to defend), I'm simply relativizing it.

So yes, I think it's being blown out of proportion right new, because the departures were happening quickly after each other.

Cyrso

#7

Cyrso said:

@Ndibu You made an account specifically to say that? :)

I don't think there's anything wrong with putting things into perspective.

There is nothing to rescue, nothing out of all this is not even in the slightliest going to affect consumers. So in fact no, it could be bad for SCE, but it is not bad for consumers in any way, I am not personally affected by what is going on at SCE.

Perhaps next time you could actually use reasoning if you're willing to argue instead of resorting to silly, one-lined personal attacks and ad hominems. You're entitled to your own opinions, but nobody is going to take you seriously with those kinds of posts.

Gamer83

#8

Gamer83 said:

@Ndibu

Did you really create an account at website just to post that? Not that I totally disagree with the statement but still.

I'd like to believe things are as perfect as writers at Sony specific sites and the fanboys seem to think, one thing that I do find interesting is how Sony's financial hell never ges mentioned because it is a real issue. I also remember around the time Sega was in trouble and everybody wanted to stick their heads in the sand. Maybe people like myself blow things a little out of proportion but going to the other extreme and avoiding any and all legitimate concerns non-fanboys might have doesn't mean things are perfect inside Sony either. As always, the truth is somewhere in between. I do like the last line in the article though. Looking forward to games like Batman, The Order and The Evil Within to start releasing because in the end it doesn't really matter if a console lasts 2 years or 10 as long as it has a great library while it's on the market.

BornOfEvil

#9

BornOfEvil said:

I've been saying for a while that people were blowing this out of proportion, but when it comes to the internet, there's only room for doom and gloom.

Madd_Hatter401

#11

Madd_Hatter401 said:

I feel like the theme song on this post should be everything is awesome.. no need for panic but these happenings are a bit odd and I find it impossible to believe its "coincidence".. thats a laughable statement at this point. Something is definitely up! What it is who knows but its something.

Carl-G

#12

Carl-G said:

People change Jobs it's as simple as that + People get laid off all the time, it's life. Nothing is forever(GOD that was to deep from me) :D

  • All these stories are getting out of hand on the internet :-/ + the Nitpicking about EVERY DAM GAME is getting out of hand to + if i worked for the gaming industry i wouldn't bother being on Twitter/Facebook etc etc. Oh well.
Epic

#13

Epic said:

Departures are fine, after all this big names want just to move foward, what concerns me is the layoffs and how hte departure of this huge names might affect games that are still on development by their lead.

Shaolin

#15

Shaolin said:

Hmmm, it could be good news, it could be bad news, or perhaps even something in between. The point is that nobody on the outside can say for certain what these departures mean. I don't think we know enough to optimistic or pessimistic about the future.

I will say one thing though which speaks of my personal feeling about all of this, and that is Uncharted 2 is my favourite PS3 game of all time. If Amy Hennig was the only person to have left, or if it had been any 2 random people going then I wouldn't think twice about it. It's just a little bit concerning that two fairly senior and fundamental members of the team are leaving. I will always be grateful to Justin for being part of the team that brought multiplayer to Uncharted 2. I've never seen multiplayer attached so well to an existing single-player game series.

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