Update, 7:40 p.m.: Sony Interactive Entertainment has confirmed to IGN that Sony Interactive Entertainment Japan Studio will be reorganized on April 1.
The company provided the following statement:
In an effort to further strengthen business operations, Sony Interactive Entertainment can confirm PlayStation Studios JAPAN Studio will be reorganized into a new organization on April 1. JAPAN Studio will be re-centered to Team ASOBI, the creative team behind Astro’s Playroom, allowing the team to focus on a single vision and build on the popularity of Astro’s Playroom.
In addition, the roles of external production, software localization, and IP management of JAPAN Studio titles will be concentrated within the global functions of PlayStation Studios.
Original Story, 3:17 p.m.: The majority of Sony Interactive Entertainment Japan Studio staff have been let go after their annual contracts were not renewed ahead of the next business year, which begins April 1, according to a VGC report citing multiple sources.
Localization and business staff, as well as Astro Bot series developer ASOBI Team, will reportedly remain in place, and some Sony Interactive Entertainment Japan Studio staff will join ASOBI Team.
One source suggested the studio’s External Development Department, which is responsible for collaborations such as the 2020-released Demon’s Souls remake, will continue to operate.
The sources claimed that Sony Interactive Entertainment Japan Studio simply has not been profitable enough in recent years. While it wanted to create games that appealed to the Japanese market first with hopes of global appeal, the larger organization wanted it to create the kind of global hits other PlayStation Studios produce.
Sony Interactive Entertainment president and CEO Jim Ryan hinted at this strategy in an interview back in November 2019, stating, “The nature of AAA PlayStation 4 and certainly PlayStation 5 development… We’re obviously not going to have Worldwide Studios make a game for one specific European country. That might have been the case back in the PSP times with Invizimals [which was popular in Spain]. I think this will be where Shuhei Yoshida’s new task [of working with indies] will come in. If we are nimble, flexible, and global, we can work with smaller developers to allow those countries’ specific needs to be met.”
One source suggested Sony Interactive Entertainment Japan Studio’s fate was sealed after Astro’s Playroom and Astro Bot Rescue Mission director Nicolas Doucet was promoted to studio director following the departure of long-time president Allan Becker. Another said this was part of Sony Interactive Entertainment shifting its headquarters from Japan to the United States.
In an interview earlier this week, Jim Ryan was unable to comment on any new titles that may be in development at Sony Interactive Entertainment Japan Studio, but hinted that we may see more from ASOBI Team in the future. He also commented, “Sony Interactive Entertainment has strong ties with Japanese licensees, so going forward we would like to continue to strengthen that cooperation and develop titles made in Japan for PlayStation fans around the world.”
The downsizing report corroborates a Bloomberg report from November 2020, which cited former employees in claiming, “Japan-based developer support teams have been reduced by as much as a third from their peak, and the rolling contracts of a number of game creators at PlayStation’s Japan Studio, one of the unit’s oldest in-house software ateliers, haven’t been renewed.”
The downsizing report comes following the departure of Masaaki Yamagiwa earlier today, who was a producer on Bloodborne, Deracine, and Tokyo Jungle. Video manager Ryo Sogabe and the studio’s Brendan Pritchard also recently announced their departure.
Prior to today, Teruyuki Toriyama, who was also a producer on Bloodborne, as well as the Demon’s Souls remake, Soul Sacrifice, and others, left Sony Interactive Entertainment Japan Studio back in December. And Silent Hill, Siren, and Gravity Rush creator Keiichiro Toyama left alongside colleagues Kazunobu Sato and Junya Okura left earlier that month to form the independent Bokeh Game Studio.
Sony Interactive Entertainment Japan Studio is Sony Interactive Entertainment’s oldest first-party studio. It was established in November 1993 and has produced over 300 games.
A Sony Interactive Entertainment representative did not respond to our request for comment in time for publishing.