Why PlayStation bought Playroom and Persistence developer Firesprite

The Playroom
(Image credit: Sony)

Sony's been on a bit of a buying spree of late, from Nixxes to Housemarque. The latest developer to be added to the PlayStation Studios family is Firesprite – a Liverpool-based studio founded by former SIE's Studio Liverpool developers, known best for creating The PlayRoom and The PlayRoom VR, along with its own IP The Persistence. Ahead of the acquisition announcement, we had the chance to sit down with Hermen Hulst, head of PlayStation Studios, and Firesprite's managing director Graeme Ankers to talk about what the new partnership entails, and how it fits into its new space as part of the PlayStation Studios and PS5 family. 

Firesprite logo

(Image credit: Firesprite)

GamesRadar+: First one for you Graeme, how does it feel to be part of the SIE family?

Graeme Ankers: It feels amazing, to be honest with you. It's such a privilege. You know, we do have an intertwined history – I know Hermen personally, as do all my founding team at Firesprite… it's a sort of decades-long relationship that we've had. We're just hugely excited to share with the world this news for Firesprite and what it means, and the opportunities, really, for the whole UK game sector as well. It's such a huge thing. 

I mean, I can talk for a very long time about my view of the North West and the North of England being a kind of birthplace of the UK games industry, really, and its legacy of incredible creators, you know, going back to Psygnosis, all the way through the golden age, and leading right up to now. That kind of language and that kind of DNA has been at the very core of what Firesprite is. We're always looking to innovate and bring something new to everything that we touch, and you can see in the public face of our journey and our releases. We've always had that manifest in every game that we've released, and, I think now the opportunity to join the PlayStation family is just huge.

GamesRadar+: What is it for you, Hermen, that was so interesting about Firesprite and made you guys and everyone at Sony want to work with them further and in a more permanent partnership?

Hermen Hulst: I know Firesprite really, really well. All of the senior group I've personally worked with, so I have that privileged knowledge of the quality, the sheer quality, that's there. I also know that Firesprite has been really successful in building out that team since they started – I think they're up to 250 people. They are a really talented team. So it's a combination of the knowledge that they're really good and experienced, and the knowledge that there's a lot of new and a lot of fresh talent out there. 

I love the fact that we have another English team – we were maybe a little bit underrepresented in Europe, compared to the US, so I'm really glad about that. Also, we've been collaborating on a few projects with Firesprite in recent years and that's gone really, really well. It is, I think, the quality of a team that is very entrepreneurial, that's very interested in experimenting with doing new things. That just matches us very well. There's that drive to grow, to try new things, and now we get an opportunity to work on some really interesting games, exclusive games within PlayStation Studios, that I can't talk about today in detail, but I'm very, very excited about it.

Graeme Ankers, Firesprite MD

Graeme Ankers, Firesprite MD (Image credit: Provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment)

GamesRadar+: Firesprite has a history of finding unique ways to bring out the PlayStation hardware features. Is that something that you both, now as a partnership, want to continue?

Ankers: Yeah, absolutely. And that's, as Hermen said, our shared vision for the future. Our mission statement at Firesprite is to always strive to bring something new to a genre, you know, whether that's a creative feature or a technology. It's really important when looking at something like this [acquisition] that you have that shared vision, that mission statement, and the values of what we stand for as a company.

We have been on that journey together over the years with the Playroom. Even The Persistence, our own IP, which we're very proud of driving forward ourselves, but PlayStation gave us that opportunity and the creative freedom to sort of drive that forward as well.

GamesRadar+: In the announcement, you say that Firesprite "will play a critical role in strengthening the SIE exclusive games catalog in genres outside of the core PlayStation Studios offering."  Hermen, why do you think it's so important to diversify the portfolio that you have now?

Hurst: It's just really important to me to have a diverse slate of games coming out of PlayStation Studios. And, it's important that we offer a different and a good variety of games for our community. I also like it when a team like Firesprite, with a strong culture, makes games that are really close to their heart, and that really feel right for them. 

I always talk about that – we strengthen the culture and we support the culture. We allow for studios to strengthen that, even after they've been acquired by us and become part of PlayStation Studios. We let a studio like Firesprite carry on that culture. Graeme talked about tinkering with a platform, creating showcases for a platform – that's what I absolutely love, and they give it their own flavor. I let that exist, and I will celebrate it. And that's, I think, what makes PlayStation Studios very strong.

Hermen Hulst, Head of PlayStation Studios

Hermen Hulst, head of PlayStation Studios (Image credit: Provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment)

GamesRadar+: I think it's quite interesting that PlayStation Studios has acquired some slightly more unexpected studios of late. How do you identify the studios that you want to go after and how they can complement what you already have?

Hulst: Well, with the teams we've acquired recently, I happen to know the people very well, so I know what they're capable of - and I actually also know what they're working on. That privileged relationship that I have gives me a lot of confidence in the games coming out of these teams being really strong, being very PlayStation Studios, in terms of the quality that we're after always – we're always striving for better games – but also the uniqueness of the experiences. And that is, again, in line with the culture of the team and the values of the team that Graeme just spoke to. 

It's all about the quality and the uniqueness of the gaming experiences. The fact that they're surprising... yes, maybe to the outside world, but maybe not to the people that have been working in it. That have seen Firesprite grow, and seen them add talent, and seen them being able to attract the best talent in the industry, which speaks to a really strong and very inclusive and very welcoming culture. So Graeme and his team have done an incredible job in establishing that not-so-small studio anymore – they were quite small a few years ago, but have grown quickly and have tried out many things, and have been able to innovate. So now's the right time to bring them to the family and double down on some of the incredible opportunities that we can collaborate on.

Ankers: It feels like a really good evolution of our journey together, really. We've always had that kind of innovation – just trying to get a new angle, or a new approach, whether it's creative or technology. We push very hard at that, creating experiences that are often a little bit unexpected, or trying to bring something new to a genre, and that's kind of our mantra – bringing something new to the table.

From Firesprite's perspective, we're continuing to do what we do, but now with the support of Hermen and the PlayStation Studios group. At Firesprite, we're very proud of our heritage and our roots, but we're also not afraid to push forward and move into new areas. The goal is that we can create something culturally significant again – something that could only come from where we're from in the North West [of England]. Those kinds of visions and values and innovation that we've pushed into it and, and joining PlayStation Studios, that's the opportunity really. That really gives us that stage to move forward.

The Persistence

Firesprite's The Persistence (Image credit: Firesprite)

GamesRadar+: Firesprite has worked on a couple of VR experiences now. Is that something that you see yourself doing more of in the future?

Ankers: I always have a bit of a kind of joking mantra with the teams about this – it's almost like the hardware doesn't matter for us. It is almost like, you know, if somebody was gonna make a gaming toaster, we would make an experience that would showcase that gaming toaster. So, you know, it's really all about maximizing the experience that really pulls something out on any particular platform. So, you know, VR is an amazing immersive world and certainly we've got a lot of experience [in VR] and we're very, very proud [of that]. 

But the majority of our developments aren't focused on one particular platform or another. We're always excited about new platforms, new languages, because they also help each other as well. When you're developing for something in virtual reality, you may learn something that really applies very uniquely, you know, like a tactile experience, or something that you can pull across onto a non-VR game. So for me, it's not really primarily driven by the hardware. We'll always try and showcase whatever the hardware does on any particular platform. But it's having that language of that innovation – where you're prepared to go into that individual, mechanical, technology – and really maximize it for whatever it is that you're working on. And, that's really at the core of what we do at Firesprite.

GamesRadar+: Hermen, you would say that VR is still a crucial part of this PS5 journey that we're going on, right?

Hulst: Absolutely. But what's important for me is that Firesprite will lead the creation of certain exclusive games for us, and I can't speak to what they are, what genre, or what platform today. But they have grown, they're going to borrow from that experience – and Graeme just talked a little bit about the philosophy behind creating those VR experiences. Everything we do will clearly stand on the shoulders of their experiences, but what exactly it is, just allow me a little time to talk to you about that when we're ready.

Ankers: I cannot wait to share with everybody in the world what it is that we're going to be doing next. But I would say it's absolutely right in the heart of what we do at Firesprite. It's bringing new experiences that are going to innovate and maximize platforms, and create magical experiences and universes that players are going to enjoy for years to come. I cannot wait to be sharing more news about that soon.

Answers have been edited for length and clarity. 

Sam Loveridge
Global Editor-in-Chief, GamesRadar+

Sam Loveridge is the Global Editor-in-Chief of GamesRadar, and joined the team in August 2017. Sam came to GamesRadar after working at TrustedReviews, Digital Spy, and Fandom, following the completion of an MA in Journalism. In her time, she's also had appearances on The Guardian, BBC, and more. Her experience has seen her cover console and PC games, along with gaming hardware, for a decade, and for GamesRadar, she's in charge of the site's overall direction, managing the team, and making sure it's the best it can be. Her gaming passions lie with weird simulation games, big open-world RPGs, and beautifully crafted indies. She plays across all platforms, and specializes in titles like Pokemon, Assassin's Creed, The Sims, and more. Basically, she loves all games that aren't sports or fighting titles! In her spare time, Sam likes to live like Stardew Valley by cooking and baking, growing vegetables, and enjoying life in the countryside.