Hermen Hulst, co-founder of Guerrilla Games and for seventeen months in charge of PlayStation Studios, confessed to the microphones of the official PlayStation Podcast, revealing many aspects of his way of understanding Sony’s vision for the future. A very interesting chat full of ideas, which suggests a lot about the strategies implemented today and tomorrow by the Japanese multinational (starting with the controversial announcement of God of War and Gran Turismo 7 as cross-gen titles).
The essence of the PlayStation brand
Per Hulst, titles with a traditional single player campaign represent the DNA of PlayStation. “We have created some of the most memorable narrative experiences – we love making them, and we will continue to do so as long as players enjoy them.”, explained the former Guerrilla. However, the commitment remains to outline a certain one variety of experiences for all audiences. Expect historical franchises, new IPs, AAA blockbusters, smaller and more experimental titles, solo adventures but also multiplayer games for the years to come. In short, an approach characterized by the greatest possible heterogeneity.
Hulst also dwelt on partnerships with new studios created by veterans, such as Jade Raymond’s Haven Studios, which have been called “exciting “. According to the head of PlayStation Studios, a distinction could be made between internal and external teams, but in his view the matter is different. For him it is a question of find the best studios in the world, and then help them to realize their creative visions with passion as if they were one big family. That’s why PlayStation partners have access to the same set of tools available to internal teams: from technological knowledge to facilities dedicated to audio and sound design, through to marketing support. An approach that leads them to cooperate with other firms, starting a virtuous circle.
For the PlayStation Studios manager it must ideally become “a place where great creatives can indulge themselves, giving life to the best results of their careers”. Sony is incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to work with talented studios
immeasurable, yet it has always said that it is willing to welcome new opportunities under its wing. “We are constantly exploring new options, we are constantly talking with different realities, no matter whether they are established teams or studios created from scratch “, argued Hulst. Sometimes those speeches remain of concept, other times they materialize instead in real partnerships, with acquisitions such as that of Insomniac Games which took place in 2019. The PlayStation Studios ecosystem must be, according to his vision, an environment open to dialogue and comparison: it is in fact based on the feedback of the developers that the PlayStation 5 hardware has become what we see today.
The importance of taking risks
During the interview Hulst reconfirmed i more than 25 titles in development: almost half are new IPs, while the other franchises are already known that the community has proven to appreciate over the years. The new IPs were defined as “incredibly important”, literally “the lifeblood of gaming”. According to the former President of Guerrilla Games they are intended as part of a strategy “fiercely bold” made up of risks and securities that have the courage to go beyond the limits: productions that probably would not have been made anywhere else. An attitude that involves not only brand new games such as Concrete Genie, Dreams or Death Stranding, but also already established icons such as God of War, which has changed in its DNA thanks to this type of approach.
Perhaps also to deny the not encouraging news revealed in recent weeks by a report by Jason Schreirer, Hulst explained that Sony Bend is working on something really exciting and particular. A game that starts from what has been learned with the Days Gone open world system to propose a result that is thrilling the American team a lot. Reassurances also regarding Japanese and Asian stocks in general, which will remain a concrete goal for PlayStation as they are deeply linked to the history of the brand itself. A tradition that will also be respected in the future, both through studios such as Polyphony or Team Asobi – of which a new Astro adventure has in fact been confirmed – and through partnerships in the Bloodborne style.
As for COVID: the virus has had very different impacts depending on the teams and projects, but for Hulst, quality must never be questioned. The ultimate goal is to offer memorable experiences, and that’s why Sony has not compromised: better to take a few extra months and then get to an impeccable result, than to maintain a release date at all costs, but to come up with a product that is not quite up to par. In particular, the performance capture sessions encountered logistical difficulties due to the pandemic, because it is not easy to organize filming with a cast of actors in soundstages set up for the occasion.
Two great narrative productions such as Horizon Forbidden West and the upcoming God of War have been affected more than others by this problem: The development of Aloy’s adventure according to Hulst is however proceeding according to plan, and the publication by the end of the year should still be guaranteed. In any case, a postponement to 2022 cannot be 100% avoided, even if Sony is working “as hard as possible to confirm that date as soon as possible”.
Sony Santa Monica has instead started work on the next God of War, which according to Hulst will have a depth and a scale comparable to those of Horizon, a few months later than Guerrilla, and therefore the publication for next year was a more natural passage. This is because, for the head of PlayStation Studios, there are two unshakable pillars: the quality of the final product and the health of the developers, which must always be put in the best possible conditions.
Not just PlayStation 5: from PS4 to PC
Hulst also spoke about the centrality of PS4 in Sony’s future, despite the great feedback obtained from PS5. “You can’t build a community of over 110 million users and then suddenly leave it”, explained the manager. Adding that “That would be bad news for the fans, and frankly also a bad business move”. This is why Horizon Forbidden West, God of War and GT7 will be cross-generational experiences, not to cut anyone off while still giving a certain type of audience a way to enjoy the best of those PS5 version games. Not to mention of course the exclusives aimed only and only at the next-gen, which will continue to exist on the path of Returnal or Rift Apart, defined “a taste of what PS5 can do”.
Space also for some in-depth analysis on the PC issue, a territory that Sony has decided to explore for some time. “We’re still in the early stages on PC, and the huge success of Horizon Zero Dawn has shown that there is a hunger for those games even beyond the PlayStation ecosystems. However, I want to emphasize that PlayStation consoles will remain the best place to enjoy those titles at launch: we still give importance to PC players, and we will continue to look for the right moment to offer our content on personal computers “.
In this regard, the two years that have passed since the original publication of Days Gone on consoles have been mentioned (by the way, here is a special on Days Gone in PC format), making it clear that for the Japanese giant the PC represents an opportunity, but not something that must create competition or worse still, damage to the console universe. Hermen Hulst’s vision would therefore seem clear and well defined: we will discover in the months and years to come if the approach given by the Dutch creative will bring the hoped-for results, to the benefit of PlayStation fans and the entire video game industry in general.