PlayStation has acquired UK-based Firesprite for its third acquisition of the summer.
The Liverpool-based game developer isn’t a household name — it’s best known for its work with PSVR, horror shooter The Persistence, and support for Sony’s Playroom titles — but it’s a substantial studio with more than 250 employees. That’s bigger than PlayStation’s other two major UK teams — London Studio and Media Molecule — combined.
It is also notable that Firesprite was founded by employees of Sony’s Liverpool studio — the studio that was with PlayStation from the beginning and created Wipeout before it was closed in 2012. Among the old-school UK industry followers, this is a momentous occasion.
PlayStation Studios head Hermen Hulst says, “It feels great.”. I worked directly with them on Killzone 2. The legacy of Studio Liverpool with Formula 1… It’s great to have them back in the family.”.
What I really appreciate is how Firesprite has grown so much. As an independent team, they have established an entrepreneurial attitude. Their approach to game development is very experimental. We can collaborate on a few great exclusive games we are working on together.”
Firesprite’s managing director Graeme Ankers says it’s almost historic. I see it that way. I believe the UK games industry was born in the North West. It’s a boring story, but the truth must be told. We have built the city around that region and all we have done for decades. The roots of Fireesprite can be traced back to that golden age of gaming.
All through our history [PlayStation and Firesprite], we have been intertwined. I, Hermen, and many senior studio employees can trace our roots back to those days. We are all rooted in creating, innovative products. That’s what we do.”
The Playroom games for PlayStation 4 were developed by Firesprite with Team Asobi previously. According to Hulst, the company will begin working on its own projects in the near future.
It’s the perfect time for them to join us and help us with the projects we’re doing together. We want to strengthen the relationship and give them a proper seat at the table where we exchange knowledge with other studios. Although they already have some strong relationships with certain first-party studios, I want to be clear that we want them to lead the development of several games rather than help other teams out, even if they have to collaborate with us in the past.
“Firesprite has evolved and grown, and we believe it is now ready to take on this new role, which is developing exclusive games for PlayStation Studios.”
Neither Hulst nor Ankers can confirm how many titles Firesprite is working on, but both can confirm that they are outside of PlayStation Studios’ core offerings. The titles of these books could not be disclosed.
According to Hulst, PlayStation Studios should produce strong and diverse games.
“Ideally, [the games] should reflect the team’s culture. Firesprite is a team that enjoys playing with platforms. Experimenting, taking something and playing with it is what they enjoy.
This is similar to Team Asobi, not in the sense that they will make the same game, but in their own way. They are a flexible group, open to working on any platform.
“PlayStation Studios teams are culturally very diverse.”. There will always be overlap, there will always be a commitment to quality, there will always be collaboration… However, the experiences you can expect [from Firesprite] will be quite different from those you are used to from PlayStation Studios. That’s good for me. Our audience, our community, deserves very rich and very different experiences. In the end, that’s what makes us stronger.”
“I’d love to be able to talk about [our games] at some point soon. They will be amazing universes that players will enjoy for years to come, but we can’t speak specifically about what they are or what genre.
Every release we do looks at a different aspect, whether it’s an innovation that will change a genre up, and hopefully, you can see that in our previous releases. This philosophy and desire to bring something new to the genre, and maximize whatever the experience is, will always guide us… It doesn’t matter whether it’s on a technology platform or not. It’s about creating the best possible experience.”
With its recent release of The Persistence Enhanced, Firesprite utilized Sony’s DualSense controller, while the developer has worked across consoles, PCs, mobiles, and VR during the company’s relatively short eight-year history.
Considering the company’s numerous VR releases, it seems well suited to develop titles for PlayStation’s new VR headset. And when I first heard the news, I immediately assumed this was the reasoning behind the purchase.
“Not necessarily,” Hulst replies. “Clearly, the expertise that Firesprite has acquired from The Persistence and The Playroom is something they bring to the table. We can’t yet talk about what specific platforms or experiences we’re going to develop with Firesprite. However, that experience is very valuable.
Ankers again: “The philosophy that we have is to innovate and create on any platform.”. Whether it’s VR or not. Virtual reality is amazing. It really changes the paradigm of design and immerses you in the world. We don’t really care what hardware we use; we’ll maximise, create, and innovate for that particular hardware.
“We have experience on a lot of VR and non-VR projects throughout our history. It’s about being brave and creating those experiences that really demonstrate what any platform feature can do, and of course the best experience for the game.”
Ankers contends that Firesprite’s innovation is not necessarily related to hardware functionality, but rather to doing new things within genres. A few of the concepts found in The Persistence are highlighted, such as its rouge-like elements or the ability to include additional players in the single-player experience through mobile devices.
Ankers tells us that he and his team are ambitious and entrepreneurial. We have set out to be a global leader right here in the UK. We’re driven to create something of cultural significance that will touch millions of people and tell a story that reflects where we’re from.
Our studio is based on values of inclusivity, entrepreneurship, bravery, and professionalism… Hermen and the team have access to all of that information. This is why it feels so good and right. Shared values are essential. You must share the same vision. A large part of that is the intertwined history. Even as we move forward, we know how both of us work and think. We are excited to join the group and hope we can continue to do what we’re doing while bringing new innovations to drive the group forward. It’s those shared values and visions. PlayStation is the perfect solution for us going forward.”
Despite the decades-long legacy and friendship, Hulst was keen to remind us that Firesprite is still a relatively young studio. And that part of the excitement around the acquisition is the ability to nurture this team into becoming one of PlayStation’s major studios, sitting side-by-side with the likes of Naughty Dog, Santa Monica, and Guerrilla Games.
“The team is improving and maturing very quickly,” Hulst says. “The ambition level of the projects that we have started, I think that really benefits from us working together very closely and nurturing Firesprite into one of the great PlayStation Studios outfits. It is a really good time for us, now that we know exactly what we’re making together, and now that Graeme has found lots of top talent, to really cross-leverage a lot of learnings from other teams, to share knowledge on game development, storytelling and all these elements that are close to our heart.
“The idea of nurturing a new studio to just an amazing PlayStation Studio is something that is really exciting to me.
We mentioned at the head of the article that this is the third studio to join the PlayStation family this summer, following the acquisitions of Housemarque and Nixxes. It’s a competitive time, with headlines around studio buy-outs taking place almost daily. Sony isn’t immune to what’s going on in the marketplace, but its acquisition strategy is targeted, and all three of its recent investments are with developers it was already closely connected to. “PlayStation Studios is definitely growing, but we are also highly selective in the kind of teams that we speak with,” Hulst concludes. “The teams that we are interested in sharing our values. They like to innovate, they like to grow into world-class creators.
“We are not growing just to grow. I want to be very selective. In that sense, we measure our growth. Our growth is based on quality and shared values.
Graeme’s team is known for its quality on the one hand. I know the senior leadership team there personally. On the other, he has been able with the strong studio culture to attract such phenomenal talent of people who I don’t personally know, but I’m very excited to work with and to collaborate on these new, ambitious projects that we set out a while ago.
“It’s the organic growth of people where together we can become better creators. That’s a really exciting thing: to nurture projects, talent and studios to the level that we all aspire to.”