A new report has highlighted the decisions Sony has made to close its AAA VR studio, Sony Manchester, five years after its inception.
According to a report published by Polygon, the closure of the studio back in 2020 was due to a restructuring in key positions in Sony’s hierarchy that triggered a review of the company’s portfolio. Following the appointment of Hermen Hulst as PlayStation’s new head of Worldwide Studios and Shuhei Yoshida’s transition to a new position as head of independent developer initiatives, Sony’s Manchester-based studio reportedly found itself more scrutinized to show progress in its work before it soon was closed afterwards.
Sony Manchester was founded almost five years earlier and started as a small development studio that was to create Sony’s next big entrance to the VR space. Despite the studio’s secret development processes and lack of published titles, sources for Polygon revealed that Sony Manchester had been working on a helicopter-based VR title called CSAR: Combat, Search and Rescue.
Within the game, players would fly around on a map and rescue people from the cockpit of their helicopter while knocking down enemies that posed a threat to their mission. Inside the cockpit, players would be joined by a co-pilot as they flew between different locations and a central base in the form of an aircraft carrier, which would double as a mission select hub.
Sony Manchester’s progress with the title was reportedly hampered by a number of aspects. Questions about the game ranged from concerns about its art style to gameplay factors based on how the title’s combat and rescue missions would actually work. Several former employees told Polygon that a number of the issues surrounding progress with the title were linked to senior people in the project.
The project was overseen by then-Vice President of Sony Worldwide Studios Eric Matthews (who was also a co-founder of Bitmap Brothers) and Sony Research Director Mark Green. The acting co-lead designers were based 200 miles away in London and would apparently visit the studio about once a week.
The former employees pointed to the couple’s apparent micro-management approach to the project, as some employees felt bottlenecks for its development. Matthews and Green are also said to have taken a “particularly practical” approach during their weekly visits to the studio, where they would allegedly change a number of factors on the project and encourage programmers to allow certain parts of the title to be subjected to further adjustments at a later date. , which slows development repeatedly.
A former employee spoke with Polygon about the issues they felt the studio was facing. “Communication was a problem,” the employee said. “Eric and Mark were not open to it at all. People tried to offer small ideas on how to perform the tasks they had on their plates, but [they] were often rejected unless it was done exactly as they wanted. […] We had a producer but she could not really do her job as they did not like any detailed plans. I’m sure this endless tweaking and iteration worked fine for Bitmap Brothers games in the ’80s, but it was a bit out of place here. New enemy types would take months – and we’re talking about blocked tanks. It was all just a pre-production concept. It was just a gray box for years. ”
After a series of staff changes within the VR studio, Matthews and Green moved their design team to London in hopes of trying to speed up the title. Despite the fact that the team had reportedly made some late progress with the title, Sony announced in February 2020 that it was closing Sony Manchester. Since then, a number of its members have moved on to work for other studies in the north-west of England.
In other Sony news, we recently reported that Epic Games offered Sony a fee of around $ 200 million to bring first-party PlayStation titles to PC. The documents, which were discovered in a legal battle between Epic Games and Apple, noted that the Fortnite developer’s offer was given to get Sony to put at least four first-party games on PC.
Jared Moore is a freelance writer for IGN. You can follow him further Twitter.