Why PlayStation London Studio is leaving virtual reality to create an online fantasy fighting game

Why PlayStation London Studio is leaving virtual reality to create an online fantasy fighting game

PlayStation’s London Studio has always been one of Sony’s most experimental teams

From SingStar to EyeToy, Wonderbook to PlayStation Home, and more recently VR, London Studio has a reputation for working with and often defining new technologies.

Not all of these projects succeeded, but those that did would go on to inspire the entire industry.

Today, London Studio announced its next game: a currently untitled online cooperative fighting game set in fantasy London. There’s no plastic microphone or VR headset in sight. It’s certainly unique for the company, but it’s not the leap into the unknown that makes it famous.

“We’re proud of the history and innovation we’ve achieved over the years, supporting all kinds of PlayStation technology, whether it’s virtual reality, augmented reality, microphones or more. “, says Stuart Whyte, co-director of the studio.

“With this project, we really wanted to explore new avenues and set new challenges for ourselves. We really wanted to try something a little different, and I think this new project really channels our ‘brave’ value and allows us to to overtake. on the ‘curious’ front too. It’s an exciting future, really.”

Whyte refers to the developer’s key values: “courageous”, “team spirit”, “responsible”, “inclusiveness”, “curious” and “balance”. These are values ​​not a million miles from those Team Asobi – a PlayStation developer led by former London Studio alum Nicolas Doucet – told us about in August. One of Asobi’s values ​​was ‘innovation’, a word that might previously have been associated with London Studio. And Whyte insists innovation remains in the team’s DNA.

“Even though we’re not working on anything that uses peripherals, it’s still about taking that DNA and putting it into our new game.”

Tara Saunders, London studio

“Innovation will always be at the heart of what we do. If you look at our heritage and the titles we’ve achieved, there are a lot of firsts in there. And it will continue.”

Tara Saunders, co-head of the studio, adds, “What’s great about this legacy is the problem-solving aspect. We’ve taken different technologies and looked at how we’re transforming the gaming industry and delivering concepts that have never been done before.This heritage means the team is comfortable throwing themselves outside of their comfort zone.

“Even though we’re not working on something that uses all the different bits of peripherals, it’s still about taking that DNA of innovation and integrating it into any game concept.”

The game in question is that title that was teased today, which Saunders says is designed specifically for PlayStation 5.

“It’s our most ambitious game yet,” Saunders said. “We’re going to take all that innovation DNA and apply it to this online cooperative fighting game.

“[In our concept art] you see a vision of a fantastic modern London. Our main theme is to bring fantastic and magical elements and intersect them with familiar worlds, and you don’t know us much better than London.”

Whyte adds: “The idea for the game was born out of an ideation process that we went through with the whole team. We created a high-level background document, but with a lot of latitude and scope. And the team came up with loads and We got inspiration on the process by talking to our colleagues at Guerrilla Games, and we were fascinated with how they transitioned from Killzone to Horizon: Zero Dawn, and it is exactly the process they followed.

“So the team came up with a bunch of ideas over a period of months, and we honed and honed them, until we came to a very small shortlist. Then we went out and talked at PlayStation management, we’ve spoken to other PlayStation Studios… We’ve spoken, very importantly, to our team about who they’re most passionate about, and this concept has performed very well in all of those areas. surveyed hundreds of gamers in the UK and US, through an anonymous poll, with some of the shortlisted ideas… This was the one that came out on top.”

Co-Studio directs Stuart Whyte and Tara Saunders

It may not be a VR title, but Whyte says the game uses some of the tools from its VR days.

“Our Soho Engine, our internal game engine, is at the heart of what we do here,” he says. “This is an engine that was designed from the ground up for this generation of hardware and the needs of the game we’re creating. It’s designed to take full advantage of the PS5. But it’s fair to say that some of the tools we use goes back to the VR Worlds and Blood & Truth technologies we had on PS4, because at the end of the day, VR games have to have super-efficient pipelines and engines.

London Studio is one of several PlayStation teams currently working on a live service product. This was a key strategic move for Sony, with over ten online multiplayer titles in the works. So has there been a lot of collaboration with other teams working on similar concepts?

“There was always a good community at the studio head level, where we all met a few times a year,” says Whyte. “But with the advent of video conferencing, we’re seeing that there’s connectivity between many people at all levels. It’s really great to see how this has taken leaps and bounds through hybrid working.”

“Guerrilla Games [inspired us]. We were fascinated by how they transitioned from Killzone to Horizon”

Stuart Whyte, London studio

Saunders adds: “There is a great development community in PlayStation Studios on many levels. Stu explained how Guerrilla made this transition as a studio and how we looked to learn from it. It happens all the time. now.”

London Studio turns 20 this year. Saunders has been in the studio this whole time. In fact, she joined the company 22 years ago as part of Team Soho, before she partnered with Psygnosis to become the developer we know today.

By comparison, Whyte is a relative beginner. But since the two took over the studio, they’ve led the team to transform, and not just in terms of the game they make.

“We’ve come a bit of a journey, both product-wise but also culturally,” Saunders says. “It’s been a positive journey of change. We’ve done a lot of work to establish who we are and which studio we want to move forward.”

The employees seem to have reacted well. London Studio was one of the top winners of the GamesIndustry.biz Best Places To Work Awards and received a glowing report from its team.

London Studio is winner of the Best Places To Work Awards 2022

“When Tara and I took over as co-directors of the studio, we both basically agreed that for the future of the studio, we had to make sure that the human and cultural side was so good,” Whyte adds. “It’s truer than ever that great games are made by great teams, made up of great people. It’s about taking care of people. And the Best Places To Work Awards really help shine a light on the progress we’re making. have achieved. overall.”

The company has achieved great results for its management team (Saunders was even shortlisted for the top boss award). But one of the biggest improvements has been its diversity and inclusiveness rating.

“We push on the diversity front in so many ways,” continues Whyte. “And that goes through our hiring pipelines – we make sure we have gender-neutral job postings – to make sure we’re inclusive with the game we’re making. And we also have ties and partnerships with organizations like Coding Black Females and Urban Synergy We also have a new internship program.

“One thing we’re really proud of is that we made it mandatory for everyone on the team to have a diversity goal. It meant that as a group we were all tackling it. It could be from going to an all-girls school to talk about working in games or attending an accessibility conference… There are so many different sides to it.”

Saunders adds, “The key thing with this diversity goal is to empower everyone. And I think that’s been achieved. It takes a long time to make a key change in this area, but the seeds that have been sown over the past few years and we are starting to see results. It was really great to see in the Best Places To Work Awards survey that these are our biggest areas for growth.

“The key thing with this diversity goal is to empower everyone”

Tara Saunders, London studio

Whyte says that at first there was some push back on certain roles the studio was filling.

“We were told that there was no point in looking for diverse candidates, because there are very few who would fill this role,” he explains. “But we spent that time and found we had found some great candidates that we wouldn’t have found otherwise. It was totally worth it.”

Saunders continues, “It leads to finding better creative content with more thoughtful ideas when you have a team that’s diverse enough to challenge themselves on a thinking level.”

Of course, one of the biggest changes has been brought about by COVID. London Studio is now a fully hybrid team and employees can decide for themselves where they want to work. It’s a move that may seem to contradict the developer’s “teamwork” value, and both Whyte and Saunders acknowledge that it was a concern.

“We were pretty proud of our culture going into COVID, and we were really worried about how we can maintain that with the hybrid model,” Whyte said. “We do things like monthly lunches where we invite people in. We don’t enforce any rules. We don’t require people to come for a certain number of days.”

Instead, it’s about “the moments that matter.” This includes the final creative days of the studio, where the team has tools in place to work on whatever creative project they choose. This resulted in everything from decorating cakes to soldering. And it’s through things like this that London Studio hopes to maintain and grow that team spirit.

“As a nation, and not just as game developers, we’ve focused on how they want to work,” Saunders concludes. “And it’s up to us as the management team to set the cultural rhythms that bring the team together. To make sure we keep a healthy pulse and the team doesn’t just work with each other on a transactional basis. They need to come back for those moments that matter.”

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