Should Sony acquire a developer going forward?

For the upcoming generation of hardware and streaming services, the old saying “Content is King” is seemingly more important than ever. Whether you’re talking about VR, consoles, phones, PC Store-fronts, or streaming services – exclusive content is what sells your platform.

We’ve seen it plenty of times at this point. Recently we saw Microsoft acquire Zenimax Media, but almost every single publisher is currently acquiring developers. Google, Epic, Facebook, Tencent, and even Ubisoft have recently acquired lots of studios. It’s the beginning of the exclusivity wars, and the question begs… Should Sony try to acquire a developer going forward?

Looking at Sony’s First Party lineup, there are 14 development teams, two of which serve as support/phone development teams. But the 12 teams Sony has available aren’t bad, they’re actually one of the strongest lineups of studios of every gaming publisher currently. They’re as follows

  • Bend StudioBubsy 3D, Syphon Filter, Days Gone
  • Guerilla GamesKillzone, Horizon
  • Insomniac GamesSpyro the Dragon, Ratchet & Clank, Resistance, Spider-Man
  • Japan StudioApe Escape, Legend of Dragoon, Siren, LocoRoco, Gravity Rush, Knack, Astro Bot
  • London StudioEyeToy, Singstar, Playstation VR Worlds, Blood & Truth
  • Media MoleculeLittleBigPlanet, Dreams
  • Naughty DogCrash Bandicoot, Jak & Daxter, Uncharted, The Last of Us
  • PixelopusEntwined, Concrete Genie
  • Polyphony DigitalGran Turismo
  • San Diego StudioThe Mark of Kri, Kill Strain, MLB Franchise
  • Santa Monica StudioKinetica, God of War
  • Sucker PunchSly Cooper, inFamous, Ghost of Tsushima

I didn’t bring up San Mateo, the support-studio, or ForwardWorks, the phone studio since they don’t really count for the argument in this case. This is a great lineup of developers, with a great range. Looking at what these teams have put out this past generation has been nothing short of spectacular.

At first glance, there really isn’t the need to acquire more developers, however, I do think it’s worth having more exclusive content that Sony also seems to believe. The fact of the matter is that most of these developers (Except for the wizards at Insomniac Games), seem to release a game every three to four years or so, and some of the developers on the list only released a single game through the entire lifespan of the PS4.

Sony is looking to fix that for the PS5, between having made deals for games like Final Fantasy XVI, Deathloop, Ghostwire, and multiple rumors for titles like Silent Hill. And also after they’ve taken Sumo Digital, Lucid Games, and Housemarque under the “Playstation Studios” banner for their upcoming exclusives, it’s clear to me that Sony wants and needs more exclusives.

Sony doesn’t have a huge history of picking up developers, the latest acquisition they made was Insomniac Games in 2019. That was after around 20 years of collaboration between the publisher and developer.

Looking at Sony’s track record, they have almost exclusivley acquired developers that works closely with Sony. For example, Sucker Punch in 2011, Media Molecule in 2010 or Evolution Studios in 2007 (Rip)

And I believe that might be the case going forward too. (If they’re buying a developer, that is)

There’s always the argument that they should expand their existing studios, which to be fair… They have. Guerilla Games has almost grown to double the size that they were when they developed Horizon Zero Dawn, and that is true for a lot of the teams at Sony.

The other counter-argument to acquisition is that they should build a studio from the ground up, which they’ve also recently done. They recently started a new San Diego based studio, that is seemingly working on a big AAA title, rumored to be Uncharted since Naughty Dog is done with the franchise.

But I’d say there are some arguments for some type of acquisition. While I tend to not be a fan of acquisitions as long as the developer in question isn’t in need of financial stability, I do think there’s an argument to be had as Sony.

The biggest worry I foresee is that studios that develop exclusive games might be picked up by competitors. For example, recently Ready At Dawn got acquired by Facebook, earlier they had a great relationship with Sony having developed games like The Order 1886 and the God of War PSP games. Similarly, Sanzaru Games also got acquired by Facebook, and they developed Sly Cooper 4.

I’d also like to say that initially, Ninja Theory and even Double Fine to some extent might have been viewed upon as Playstation related studios. Ninja Theory had worked on exclusives for the brand, and Double Fine had a partnership with Sony for multiple years to bring back a few titles like Grim Fandango.

As the market grows and we see Amazon and Google entering the game, Sony gets put in a position where they might not need to acquire more studios, more-so secure the studios that they’re close with. (Like they did with Insomniac Games last year)

We don’t have a lot of proof that Sony is looking for acquisitions. As I stated earlier, the most recent one took place in 2019 and since then they’ve mostly either invested in studios (Epic Games) or straight-up bought timed-exclusives like Final Fantasy XVI among others.

However, Sony did say the following during their latest annual report.

 addition to improving the personnel and work environment in its own studios, Sony Interactive Entertainment (SIE) continues to invest in, or acquire, firms with abundant creativity and cutting-edge technologies to build up Worldwide Studios (WWS), an association of first-party title production studios.

This at least signals that they’re looking in ways to grow their library. We also know Sony bid for the publisher Leyou Interactive earlier this year, but lost against Tencent. It would’ve been a big investment worth over 1B USD that would include multiple developers, and IP’s. (Warframe being the biggest)

It shows that Sony is actively pursuing developers and publishers not only for timed-exclusives but also for acquisitions.

There are a few studios I think would fit the lineup very well, both together with the other studios and also on its own. I want to compare Sony’s current lineup and what this “new” developer would bring them in terms of variety, quality, etc.

Bluepoint Games

Perhaps the best choice would be Bluepoint Games. A developer perhaps most famous for their brilliant remakes and remasters. They’ve also worked on multiple Sony titles throughout the years, like Shadow of the Colossus Remake or the Uncharted Collection. They’ve succeeded in every port, remaster and remake that they’ve made and they’re currently developing their next title, Demon’s Souls together with Sony.

They’re one of the highest quality developers that’s still indie and fits almost every criterion. However, it’s worth bringing up that Bluepoint’s goal is to develop their own IP’s in the future, and not make remakes. (At least not only remakes), since we haven’t seen them make anything original so far it’s hard to tell if they would succeed in making it. My bet is that they would make an excellent title.

Housemarque Games

I recently wrote about how much I love Housemarque, and how excited I am for their upcoming game Returnal. Similar to Bluepoint, they have a long history with Sony having made multiple exclusives like Dead Nation, Resogun, Alienation, and Matterfall.

Housemarque also already has a tight relationship with most Sony developers, often interacting with them on social media, and fits well into the mold. They’re also great at gameplay focused games, which is proven throughout the years by their well-made arcade-like titles.

But the biggest reason I feel like Housemarque should be acquired is that they’re in need of financial stability. They even went as far as saying that they couldn’t develop more arcade games because of how bad their situation was. An acquisition would work well in this case.

Sumo Digital

A big developer, that has a pretty choppy track record is Sumo Digital. A developer that mostly works on other publisher’s IP, with a few hits, and a few missteps, somehow feels like the perfect fit for Sony in my opinion.

They have a relationship with them since they’ve worked on LittleBigPlanet 3 and Sackboy A Big Adventure. They also have two big development studios working on games, and they have a lot of former knowledge of multiple genres. For example, they own the IP Snake Pass, which they developed and released in 2017. But they’ve also released Crackdown 3 and Sonic Racing, which means they have a great track record in terms of different genres.

Sumo Digital would be the key to a Playstation Crossover Karting game. Which means that it all of the sudden became a personal pick for me.

A Japanese Developer (Kojima Productions, Level-5, Arc System Works)

I recently wrote an article about how Sony is focused on Japan going into the next generation. They’ve seemingly shifted the focus to the Japanese market, and while I don’t think (and hope) we’ll ever see them acquire something like Square Enix, Konami, or Capcom, I do think we’re going to see them acquire a developer from Japan.

The argument for Kojima is plenty. He’s talented, has a great reputation, works well with Guerilla, and has a great staff. (For example, you secure Yoji Shinkawa) – the part that worries me is what happens when Kojima decides to retire. Who will run the studio and what will happen to the staff that – in a lot of cases – work there because of Kojima.

The arguments for Level-5 are also plenty. While Sony has a great JRPG presence on their platform, they don’t own a developer that makes them. Level-5 would be a great fit, since they’ve developed games like Ni No Kuni, but also Playstation exclusive Dark Cloud.

Finally, Arc System Works is a beloved developer, that has worked on Dragon Ball Fighterz, BlazBlue, and Guilty Gear. They don’t have a long-standing partnership with Sony like the others, but they do have one thing Sony doesn’t, Fighting Games. And they’re one of the best fighting game developers on the entire market as it currently stands. Once again, similar to Sumo Digital, this might just be a personal dream of mine – to see a full-fledged Playstation Crossover once again.

KadoKawa (FromSoftware)

My final one would be Kadokawa, the distributor that makes a lot of manga and anime, but also own the developer FromSoftware famous for Dark Souls, Sekiro, and Bloodborne. And you can call me crazy, but the only real prediction I have in this entire article, is the following:

Why do I believe that? Well, for a multitude of reasons. FromSoftware stands as one of the greatest developers of all time, and they also have a long-standing relationship with Sony. Having created both Demon’s Souls and Bloodborne.
Shuhei Yoshida of Sony also has a great relationship with the team at From. Similarly to how Kojima gives Sony a big name, FromSoftware gives Sony Miyazaki – the director of the Souls games.

Sony will acquire KadoKawa and FromSoftware in the future.

Sony as a whole recently said that they have a huge focus on anime and manga, and Kadokawa also gives them that. It’s an acquisition that works well for multiple parts of Sony, and that’s why I think it fits so well. While I do think the reactions to this would be interesting, to say the least, I do believe that owning the combo of Naughty Dog and FromSoftware would be huge.

As for my own thoughts, I really feel like we’ll see another acquisition from Sony during the upcoming 12 months. As I said, I predict we’ll see Sony acquire Kadokawa and FromSoftware because for multiple reasons.

However, I don’t really like it. I kind of feel dirty for contributing to this discussion in a way, since it’s often regarded as a toxic conversation and as a console war starter. However, I do think it kind of is important to talk about. Since the industry currently is moving towards a content-focused place, with multiple big companies like Microsoft, Amazon, Google, etc in the mix it’s important to talk about it.

I will make a similar piece on Nintendo in the future, however, as I’ve expressed earlier I don’t think Nintendo will – nor has any reason to – acquire any developers. However, I do think it’ll be interesting in seeing how their exclusive content evolves because I think we might see some interesting things from them.

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