The Closure of London Studio Makes PlayStation Less Interesting

3 weeks ago 40

In May 2024, Sony London Studio formally closed. We’d known about closure for a few weeks, of course, but now the developer has issued a final statement, marking the end of an era. It also means the PlayStation brand, as a whole, will be less interesting with London Studio gone.

London Studio were not necessarily the first studio people thought of when it came to PlayStation. They were not as big as the likes of Naughty Dog, Guerrilla or Santa Monica Studio. But their impact on Sony’s gaming identity should not be downplayed. Their history is full of projects that were ahead of their time and made PlayStation an exciting place to be.

Let’s start with The Getaway. While not technically developed by London Studio, its developers Team Soho were its precursor, and it already showed signs of what we’d expect from the team over the years. The Getaway was ambitious. The team attempted to make an interactive gangster movie for the PS2, with maximum immersion in mind. This meant finding innovative ways to remove HUD elements and communicate information to the player through the world itself. Quest markers were replaced with the blinkers on your car. Damage would show on the main character through wounds and clothing damage. While Dead Space continues to be praised for its attempts to integrate its UI into its universe, The Getaway was attempting the same thing six years before.

It wasn’t the only time London Studio beat the rest of the industry to the punch. They were the lead developers tasked with making games that showed off Sony’s EyeToy peripheral. This camera predated not only Kinect but also the Wii, bringing casual motion control to the masses. Games like EyeToy: Play were primitive and casual, but they showed Sony’s desire to experiment with tech to create new experiences.

Image via Sony

It’s something London Studio would continue to do until their final days. They worked extensively on the PlayStation Home service for the PS3, creating a virtual space for players to hang out in. With the PS4, their work shifted to VR, where they showcased the capabilities of the PS VR headset with PlayStation VR Worlds. The critical acclaim of its London Heist section led to the full game Blood & Truth, which combined their tech experimentation with the gangster movie inspirations of The Getaway, resulting in critical and commercial success.

London Studio’s greatest achievement had to be SingStar. Once again predating the rhythm game boom that would dominate the later half of the 2000s, SingStar turned the PS2 into a gamified karaoke machine. It was a huge hit, with multiple titles produced for the PS2 and continuing long into the PS3’s lifespan. I personally have fond memories of playing this with friends, where most of the group were put to shame by the one person who’d previously had singing lessons. Which was definitely not me.

Image via Sony

These are all major contributions to PlayStation history. London Studio were out there doing weird, interesting stuff that made the platform much more exciting and innovative. It’s similar to Sony’s closure of Japan Studio. Not a studio producing blockbusters, but they were out there making games like Ape Escape, Patapon and Gravity Rush. Quirky, offbeat projects that did something unique and exciting, all shuffled away. The loss of Japan Studio made PlayStation less interesting, and reduced interest with the Japanese audience. The loss of London Studio is likely to be felt in a similar way.

The closure is also sad because of how much it further contracts PlayStation’s UK presence. While I admit I am a little biased due to being British myself, UK studios played a major role in Sony’s first-party output in the early days. The WipEout series from Studio Liverpool and MediEvil from Cambridge Studio were both beloved PS1 games and helped shaped PlayStation as a platform. Those studios are both long gone now, and with London Studio now closing, it leaves a barren landscape for Sony’s UK presence. All we have left are support studios for Horizon and Media Molecule. Even then, that studio is in a precarious position following the closure of Dreams, and if that gets shut down, I’m going into mourning for at least a month.

Image via Sony

The closure of London Studio represents a further reduction of what PlayStation is and the kind of games Sony are willing to put out into the world. It’s increasingly less willing to invest in the smaller, less obvious games. The kind of games that do something unique and off the beaten track. Games that are just playful for the sake of it. The only place that Sony have seemed willing to release a project of this kind this generation has been Astro’s Playroom. A pack-in title. From four years ago.

In place of these kinds of games, it’s more of the same kinds of cinematic game and an abundance of live services. Sure, the live service investment might make sense after Helldivers 2 proved so successful, but at the same time, that success was an organic one that grew out of investment in smaller projects. After all, Helldivers 2 doesn’t exist without the first Helldivers, which was a low budget top-down shooter that quietly launched directly to PSN. If the focus had been all big budget all the time in 2014, Sony simply wouldn’t have their breakout hit now.

As much as I love a lot of Sony’s current games, I have to admit they’re starting to blend together. In the PS2 era, Santa Monica Studio put out a series of brawlers, Naughty Dog were making open world platformers with vehicles, Guerilla were attempting to build their own so-called “Halo killer” and Sucker Punch were adding stealth to cartoony 3D platformers. Today, all four studios are making cinematic, realistically styled action adventures. The playfulness that London Studio represented is gone, replaced by meticulous renderings of facial hair and Neil Druckmann wanting to replace creative input with AI.

London Studio was representative of a part of Sony and the PlayStation identity that is now lost. The company might have saved some money with the closure, but overall, I feel the PlayStation brand just became poorer.

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