The video game industry has a growing infatuation with consolidation. That's front of mind today as Sony Interactive Entertainment announces its third acquisition of 2021, bringing the talented team behind The Persistence and Playroom into PlayStation Studios group. Much like Housemarque and Nixxes before it, Firesprite appears to be a targeted acquisition; designed to deliver long-term growth and innovation within the broader portfolio, rather than an immediate return on investment.
That's counter to our perception of what Microsoft has been doing over the past few years. Xbox Game Studios added nine studios to its portfolio between 2018 and '19, acquiring seven and founding two, and then sent shockwaves through the industry with its purchase of the ZeniMax – a further eight development studios huddle beneath the Bethesda umbrella. Microsoft's $2.5 billion dollar acquisition of Mojang in 2014 seems insignificant in the face of the $7.5 billion put forward for Bethesda in 2021.
Xbox head Phil Spencer, I'd wager, would argue that that's money well spent. These acquisitions have not only expanded the permanent fixtures of the Game Pass library, a service that SIE is yet to find a way to suitably counter, but immediately bolstered the pipeline of core first-party platform exclusives too. Xbox appears to be honing in around its 'core' genres – traditionally seen as shooters, RPGs, and racing games. PlayStation Studios head Hermen Hulst, on the other hand, has spoken about his desire to expand the PS5 portfolio, pushing into new genres and delivering a wider variety of experiences. It's acquisitions like Firesprite that could make this dream a reality.
Hulst has been pushing SIE to strategically strengthen long-term partnerships and expand its first-party catalog in genres outside of the offering that has become synonymous with PlayStation. When you think PS4, you probably think of powerhouse third-person action-adventure games like God of War, Ghost of Tsushima, Spider-Man, The Last of Us, and Uncharted. I get the impression that he wants that to change in the PS5 era. "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," Hulst tells GamesRadar+.
You're starting to see that ethos reflected in the way Sony is doing business. Firesprite, like Housemarque before it, is a long-term partner with a history of collaborating with Sony. Returnal was undoubtedly Housemarque's most ambitious, and weirdest, project to date; assisted through development by Sony and marketed as a major PS5 exclusive, the partnership felt natural. Firesprite was formed in 2012 by Psygnosis alumni and the studio has contributed to several PS4 exclusives since, with a particular focus on experimentation in the virtual reality space. Sony is yet to properly detail PSVR for PS5, but it's likely that Firesprite will become a formative part of its plan.
GamesRadar+ speaks to head of Playstation Studios Hermen Hulst and Firesprite managing director Graeme Ankers to learn why PlayStation bought the Playroom and Persistence developer.
These acquisitions are typically the result of lengthy partnerships. What's been interesting to see is that Sony is still taking steps to create new partnerships, even as groups like Microsoft, Epic Games, and Embracer go all-in on acquisitions. This year, PlayStation announced that it had invested in Jade Raymond's Haven Entertainment and that it will publish the debut games out of Firewalk Studios and Deviation Games – if you're looking for Sony first-person shooters it's probably worth keeping a close eye on these two. Each of these teams is staffed with the talent behind the biggest franchises of the last decade – Assassin's Creed, Call of Duty, Destiny – and Sony is putting its weight behind them early, supporting development and sharing internal resources to help bring them to market. Sony did the same with the newly formed Kojima Productions, lending Guerrilla Games' proprietary Decima engine out to help bring Death Stranding to life.
Microsoft is no stranger to building up these long-term partnerships. It had worked with Playground Games and Undead Labs for years before acquiring them, and Ninja Theory cut its teeth on an Xbox exclusive back in 2003. But it's difficult to look past the perception that Xbox Game Studios' approach to improving its first-party offering has been a little scattershot. Meanwhile, PlayStation has always had this culture of collaboration to it – that's evident whenever you sit down with personnel from across the core studios – and it's good to see that reflected in its acquisitions.
With Firesprite, just like Housemarque before, it isn't immediately clear what the team will bring to the table. But Hulst is confident that there's a culture fit here, that years of collaboration have proven that Firesprite will bring something new to the entire PlayStation Studios portfolio. After years of Sony's first-party offering being dominated by Naughty Dog, Sucker Punch, and Sony Santa Monica, it's exciting to know that the platform holder is making a concerted effort to diversify its portfolio and, ultimately, give us a wider variety of games to play on PS5 in the future.