Rigging The System: The Omen Of Guerrilla Cambridge’s Closure

Last week news dropped that Sony was closing Guerrilla Cambridge with immediate effect. As is often the case, the annoucement came out of nowhere as the studio had only just released RIGS: Mechanized Combat League as a launch title for the PSVR, and were working on downloadable content for the game. Just a couple of weeks before the closure the studio had released a new arena, as well as APX versions of some rigs. The plan was to release APX versions of all the various rigs in the game, but due to the shut down, that will no longer happen, and it’s a move that is rather ominous for the future of PlayStation VR.

Guerrilla Cambridge started life as SCE Cambridge Studio with its first game Beast Wars: Transformers releasing in 1997 for the original PlayStation. The MediEvil series was born at the studio along with the Primal. Its later years saw fewer big titles with TV Superstars being the last game to release under that name. Then came the rebranding, with SCE Cambridge becoming Guerrilla Cambridge and inheriting a new focus.

Killzone Mercenary for the PS Vita was their first game under the Guerrilla name, and it’s by far the best first person shooter available on the handheld. It was a game that pushed the Vita to the limit, squeezing as much power out of the machine as it could. Whatever Guerrilla Cambridge did could only be considered as technical wizardry in the graphics and sound department, while also providing a good campaign and an excellent multiplayer. Alas, Killzone Mercenary wasn’t able help the Vita truly take off, and Sony’s first party support of the console dwindled into nothingness.

After that, Guerrilla Cambridge went silent for a couple of years, and no one outside of Sony or the studio knew what was being worked on. With swirling rumours of Project Morpheus dominating news at the time it wasn’t hard to imagine something for the platform was being created. The answer came at E3 2015 when Guerrilla Cambridge broke that silence and unveiled RIGS: Mechanized Combat League.

This was a game that made me sit up and really take notice of Sony’s venture into the VR space. Here was something that I’d dreamed of for years, and it was coming sooner than I expected. Once I picked up my PSVR, RIGS was one of the games I got first, and it is probably the game I have played most since getting my headset. Not only was there a decent single player against AI bots, but a very active community both in the game and out has flourished. RIGS has both a dedicated subreddit over at Reddit as well as a Discord channel where players and devs have communicated constantly, with feedback being given in real time. This community feedback was important and it was helping to shape the game.

Then the hammer came down and Sony shut the doors just three months after launch. RIGS may have not had the huge numbers Sony was expecting straight away, but that’s not the fault of Guerrilla Cambridge. Despite the PSVR still being almost completely sold out at the moment, we don’t know what the sales figures are, and you can’t sell games to people without something to play it on.

For all we know, supply has been artificially constrained to build hype around the headset, but there’s been very little in the way of creating awareness of the headset or its games. There should have been a lot more adverts on TV and YouTube showing games like Batman and RIGS in action to spark people’s interest or remind them what’s out there. Instead we have one of the console’s premier games being cut adrift without long term support.

This article could easily be dismissed as doom mongering, but the thing is that we’ve been here before with Sony. Back in 2012 the company released the PS Vita in the West with the first party launch titles including big titles like Wipeout 2048, Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Little Deviants, Modnation Racers: Road Trip, Everybody’s Golf, Unit 13, and Motorstorm RC.

Then, all of  asudden, Little Deviants developer BigBig Studios was closed down on January 10th 2012, Unit 13’s Zipper Interactive ceased to exist on March 30th 2012, and Wipeout 2048’s storied Studio Liverpool was shuttered August 22nd 2012. Three studios shut within less than a year of the Vita’s release, and one shut before the handheld even released in America and Europe. Not long after, it became painfully clear that Sony wasn’t doing enough to push the Vita, or to support first party work for the system. Today, the Vita is still going, but only thanks to a number of third party developers from Japan and the indie scene.

Last month I wrote the Ones To Watch VR article and stated that developers and publishers had to remain committed after the honeymoon period. With Sony, it already feels like that commitment is being tested. Currently Farpoint and Starblood Arena are the only first party titles announced for PSVR. Outside of those games the third parties are the ones providing the majority of experiences. By far the bigger, we have Resident Evil 7 at the end of this month, but it’s a timed PSVR exclusive and the vast majority will buy and play without the headset.

The closure of Guerrilla Cambridge should make other developers and consumers wary of Sony’s approach to PSVR. It’s not like there was a flood of first party games to begin with, and now there’s one less studio to develop a big first party title in future. Other studios could see that and decide to focus elsewhere, leading to another declining platform and Sony once again stating they’re dialling down first party support. If Sony is willing to shut down the studio that created one of the biggest and most complete launch titles for PSVR, how will it treat the others? If Sony decides Farpoint isn’t good enough will it cut ties with Impulse Gear, for example? There’s precedent for it.

PSX in December was notably light on PSVR announcements, and Sony need to try and reassure customers sooner rather than later that the platform has their full backing. It need to be kept in the spotlight consistently throughout the year, so that when a steady supply of headsets is available, it’s selling as best it can.

Listen up, Sony. The way the PS Vita sold wasn’t what you’d expected or hoped for, but if you ignore the lessons of that period then you’re going to repeat those same mistakes. Take stock and allow the risks and costs of supporting PSVR to play out, because they’ll more than likely pay out in the long run.

As for me? I’m going to put on my headset, get in my Rig, and try to win some championships.

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From the heady days of the Mega Drive up until the modern day gaming has been my main hobby. I'll give almost any game a go.

13 Comments

  1. And I just got my VR yesterday. Great timing haha.

    It is sad to see so few games on the horizon, especially when the kit is so damn impressive. Completely blown away by what they have done already with it and this is still early days. Fingers crossed they push it a bit harder in the coming months.

  2. It’s heartbreaking to see people losing their jobs, especially as the studio had been open for so long. I was made redundant summer last year after 10 years of service and so can empathise.

    A few problems with a game like RIGS – Firstly, it can only be played using PSVR, which drastically reduces the potential market (though we don’t know how big a user base this is). Secondly, even if I did have a PSVR unit, I wouldn’t be interested in the game due its American sport sim nature – I just find the hype in the commentator’s voice over to be too much for my rather more reserved British taste.

  3. I think they jumped into VR too early. Kaz Hirai recently acknowledged issues/limitations of the current PSVR hardware and i think that they will plod quietly along with PSVR for the time being before introducing PSVR2, which should include a more precise controller solution to match that of the Rift and Vive.

  4. VR is well documented as being for a niche market and this time around it’s trying its best to broaden the appeal. Sadly, it still means that the majority of people are simply not interested – either at all or at least not right now. That means momentum is going to be tricky to say the least.

    Hell, there’s a reason why it’s never caught on in the past. I’m just a bit surprised (read: stunned) that people think it might go any other way. With that in mind, I’d treat it as a side project and then let it gather pace under its own steam and crack on making the majority of a company’s turnover from more reliable ventures (like non-VR gaming).

    • Wishful thinking is human nature. I know it won’t be mainstream but man do I want it to be and will still be massively disappointed when it doesn’t hit the dizzy heights of triple A games.

      We really are an odd species, don’t you think!?

      • I guess, fella. No wait. We ARE odd, agreed! :D

        However, wishful thinking – in a business environment – is a dangerous thing if not coupled with common sense. So many business decisions I see where I’m frankly staggered by their brazen disregard for thinking things through, continues to amaze me.

      • PSVR can be a side project for Sony, absolutely, but the thing is that even a side project needs to have games and it needs to have first party support. We saw with the PS Vita that after two years on the market, there were basically no more first party games for it, and the main reason for that was because Sony had closed so many of their studios that could have been working on a second wave of handheld games.

        That’s even hurt the PSVR, as the studios that do remain have focussed on PS4 with long dev cycles across the board, and there’s not the same depth to handle a second platform. Guerrilla Cambridge were basically the only first party studio at launch, they delivered Sony’s only real “AAA” game, and now they’re gone. In two year’s time, who is going to be developing a PSVR game within SIE Worldwide Studios?

        That’s a business decision that raises real concerns for the longevity of the platform, especially given Sony’s song and dance about how good it is over the last two years.

  5. It always seems pretty nasty to shut down a studio when they’ve just completed a project. No wonder games get delayed so much, they’re probably worrying they’ll be shut down once the game is done.

  6. Hit the nail on the head. I won’t be surprised if PS VR sinks even quicker than Vita. Such a shame, cos both systems had/have fantastic potential – but as usual, Sony squanders that with it’s short-sightedness.

  7. It is sad that they have had to make Guerrilla Cambridge redundant, but we don’t know what Sony’s strategy is for the business (or PSVR). Admittedly this is part of the problem, they need to be more transparent, but I am keeping optimistic and can only hope that many of the employees will be redeployed within Sony and Share there VR knowledge to other first party teams.

    I love my PSVR and have faith in the technology. There is nothing quite like it and everyone I’ve demoed it to has been blown away by it. I can’t believe that this will be another Vita because it just feels like it’s the way of the future and Sony knows they’re in pole position to lead this revolution.

  8. Had mine for a few weeks, loved it, but after a while considering I follow gaming news closely, I realised I should get my money back quickly.

    If Sony “drop” it I’ll be a very wise man, if they make some decent games i can always come back.

    Maybe VR came a little too early in terms of needing a higher resolution screen and the power to run it….

  9. This has nothing to do with the future of psvr, Sony have said it is doing well. This purely a business decision lots are staff from Cambridge are moving to the newly formed studio Manchester and they only do vr content.

  10. I enjoyed this article, but I wouldn’t compare the VR to the Vita, I’d compare it to the Move.

    I seriously think Sony has two internal hardware categories.
    Category A: Products they hope owners will be using in 2 years (i.e. PS4, Vita).
    Category B: Products they hope will increase sales of Category A, but have no plans to support after launch (PS Move, PSVR).

    If Sony is already dissolving companies that made the PSVR launch titles, it’s because they have decided VR isn’t going to take off… and they probably knew that before they even launched. I couldn’t understand why Sony would launch PS4 Pro in the same timeframe as the PSVR. Why divide gamers’ available funds? Now it makes sense: Only one of these products is in Category A. Why should Sony make more PSVRs available when they can sell a PS4 Pro? A VR sale may not cost Sony money, but a PS4 console prints money.

    In short, PSVR in Sony’s eyes is just a big old R.O.B. the Robot. It’s out there to help sell more consoles, not itself.

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