Over the past couple of days, rumors online have begun circulating around Sony’s intention on shuttering their long-standing internal development team, Japan Studio. Or at the very least down-sizing the team in what would be the latest move by the company’s PlayStation brand to focus squarely on the Western markets. Well, in a statement issued to IGN earlier today, Sony Interactive Entertainment state that Japan Studio is to be, as they put it, “re-organized into a new organization”. Starting April 1, Japan Studio’s remaining team will be absorbed into Team ASOBI, the developers perhaps best known for the acclaimed Astro-Bot games.
“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.” SIE’s statement reads. “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. In addition, the roles of external production, software localization, and IP management of JAPAN Studio titles will be concentrated within the global functions of PlayStation Studios.”
This may not entirely be the full picture however; VGC had earlier reported that a vast majority of the studio’s staff had in fact been let go after their employment contracts were not renewed. Another reason behind Sony’s decision being that Japan Studio’s output in recent years, had not been as profitable as fellow first-party, PlayStation titles. The team’s original intention being to create titles that would appeal to the Japanese market first and worldwide audiences second. A decision that went against the company’s own focus, whom wanted something more akin to the multi-million sales figures of past first-party titles. A trait that has been rather common-place over the course of the PS4’s life-span, with such games as Horizon: Zero Dawn, God of War, Marvel’s Spider-Man and The Last of Us Part II, also achieving incredible commercial success, alongside an equally-high level of critical praise.
To many, this is but one more blatant indication of Sony’s disregarding of its home country’s fanbase and potential market and at the very least, PlayStation’s continuing reorienting towards the Western side of its business dealings. In 2016, Sony relocated its main headquarters to California and as if already seeing the writing on the wall, in the past year there have been a number of significant departures from PlayStation’s Japan-based development team. Keiichiro Toyama — director of both the Silent Hill and Gravity Rush series — was one of said departures last year, with Teruyuki Toriyama, who led production duty for both Bloodborne and Demon’s Souls PS5 remake, announced plans to leave the company.
Sony Japan Studio played an integral part in the establishment of many beloved and more niche IP’s, during the era of the original PlayStation, PS2 and thereafter. Including, but not limited to, the likes of Ape Escape, LocoRoco, Gravity Rush, The Last Guardian and Knack. With this, it leaves Polyphony Digital and Team ASOBI as the only two remaining Japan-based internal teams under the PlayStation Studios banner, with a vast majority of internal, first-party developers based in either North America (Insomniac Games, Santa Monica Studio, Sucker Punch, Naughty Dog) or Europe (Guerrilla Games, London Studio, Media Molecule). Today’s news will only reignite and in some spots reaffirm, many fans’ concerns that the library of future PlayStation games, will only veer even further away from its original, creative Japanese roots.