The closure of Evolution might leave Sony light on their exclusives in a few years time;
It has been on the cards for a while but the closure of Evolution Studios still smarts like a freshly ripped off band-aid. Sources claim that the DRIVECLUB, MotorStorm and World Rally Championship developers had been running at a reduced capacity for months and Sony, as part of a recent review, decided that enough was enough.
Cutting through the Press Release fluff, the decision to shutter Evolution is a business savvy one and from a corporate stand point, it’s probably the right call. The studio had been offering diminishing returns for the past decade. The MotorStorm series declined in sales with each iteration which corresponded with the series’ falling Metacritic scores. This was followed by the much delayed and fairly disastrous launch of DRIVECLUB. After Evolution spent the better part of last year transforming DRIVECLUB from a pretty but malfunctioning game into the best arcade racer on current-gen consoles, the probability is that the studio was haemorrhaging money and there wasn’t any active development projects there that Sony wanted to pursue. There is only one real choice in these situations – closure.
Of course, none of this changes the fact that Evolution had some really passionate fans (myself included) and they created many racing games that millions of people have enjoyed. The studio took the official licence for the FIA World Rally Championship and managed to dethrone the established Colin McRae games as the best rally games on the market. Then they helped define the early days of the PlayStation 3 with MotorStorm. Remember the first time you saw the tyre tracks in the mud of the Monument Valley? Wow. And DRIVECLUB? Even a year and a half after release, the arcade-social-simu-racer is still one of the best looking and most detailed games on the PS4. It’s a history that everyone that worked at Evolution should be proud of.
To the point, then. Evolution has created some well loved PlayStation franchises during its 15 year history and its closure leaves a hole in Sony’s first person studio portfolio. Specifically, a racing game shaped hole.
A quick glance through a list of Sony’s first party studios paints a disappointing picture for fans of driving games. Naughty Dog are obviously busy with Uncharted 4 and, if you believe the rumours, The Last of Us 2. Guerilla games are hard at work on Horizon: Zero Dawn and PSVR game RIGS. Sucker Punch were recruiting for another open-world AAA adventure. Foster City studio is primarily responsible for overseeing the development of first party games by external developers. Sony Bend are reportedly close to revealing a new survival horror game. The new North West Studio is dedicate to VR games. Media Molecule have their plate full with Dreams. London Studios, Santa Monica and Japan studios all have multiple projects on the go and none of them are racing games.
This leaves Gran Turismo developers Polyphony Digital. Sony’s saving grace for driving fanatics and the masters of their craft. Unfortunately, Polyphony Digital are infamous for their long development cycles – granted, quality takes time but in the 10 year’s since the PlayStation 3 released, the Japanese developers have released only 2 games. The first, Gran Turismo 5, released in 2010 which was 4 years after the launch of the console. Gran Turismo 6 released 3 and a half years later in 2013.
Thankfully, we shouldn’t have to wait too much longer for our first lap of Gran Turismo on PS4 as Gran Turismo Sport (a lite version of GT similar to the previous Prologue games) is scheduled to release in 2016 with Gran Turismo 7 to follow in late 2016/2017.
But what happens next? Based on Polyphony Digital’s previous track record, it could be 4 years until we see another Gran Turismo game after the 7th instalment. That would take us to 2021 and presumably into the twilight years of the PlayStation 4’s shelf life. That’s a long period for a console to go without any 1st party and exclusive driving games.
In comparison, Turn-10 and Playground Games (with some help from Sumo Digital) have been churning out new Xbox exclusive Forza games at the speed of a Bugatti Veyron. They’ve launched a new game each year for the past 5 years and show no signs of slowing down. For driving game fans, there is one console that is most definitely out performing the others.
This is where the closure of Evolution may haunt Sony in a few years time. The Cheshire based studio might not have been as celebrated as their Japanese cousins but they have a history of creating off-beat and creative racing games that could have adequately filled the void between Polyphony Digital’s releases. Having 2 studios capable of creating AAA and sucsessful racing games working in tandem means racing fans wouldn’t have to wait half a decade for the next exclusive – something Sony might like to avoid given the frequency and quality of the competition’s releases.
There are other options for Sony of course. The staff that are retained from Evolution could fold into one of the Japanese tech-giants bigger studios in order to keep their experience and utilise them to continue working on driving games. Sony could take a leaf out of Microsoft’s playbook and commission a third-party studio to create an exclusive entry in an already established franchise. An exclusive Test Drive, Need for Speed or “Riiiiiidge Raaaaacer”. Alternatively, they could sign marketing deals with as many of the third-party publishers as they can, hoping to detract attention away from their competitors as they did in 2015 with Call of Duty: Black Ops III and Star Wars Battlefront.
Regardless of what steps Sony take next, the loss of Evolution is a painful one for the fans of the developer. Ex-Evolution gaffer Paul Rustchynsky put it best;
— Paul Rustchynsky (@Rushy33) 22 March 2016