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.