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Today, we found out that not one, but two of Sony’s key studios are closing shop, leaving Sony behind and moving into the wilds of mobile gaming. Yes, both LightBox Interactive and Nihilistic Software are officially moving forward with the current shifts in the unpredictable and ever-changing world of the gaming industry. 

LightBox Interactive

Known for its Warhawk and Starhawk titles, LightBox Interactive has been a staple first party developer for Sony. With the mediocre sales that followed Starhawk’s release, it’s no surprise that the developer isn’t staying exclusive to Sony, but its decision to move into the realm of mobile gaming is indeed surprising. When Dylan Jobe spoke to Game Informer about the matter, he had this to say: “…the industry is changing. We are moving away from traditional console development to self-fund the development of our next game on Apple’s iOS devices.”
LightBox is laying off 24 employees in its restructuring process to downsize to a smaller, self-sufficient iOS developer, but has informed all of their affected employees beforehand so that they can make their necessary preparations. It has even been able to send them off with a severance package in hand – something not always seen in these types of situations these days.  
With LightBox’s departure, Sony has vowed to continue support for both Starhawk and Warhawk and has handed the reigns over to Santa Monica Studios, so that their communities can continue to thrive online.

Nihilistic Software

Sony’s black sheep developer, Nihilistic Software, has not been treated nicely in comparison to other studios that develop for Sony on a first party basis. Both PlayStation Move Heroes (PS3) and Resistance: BurningSkies (PS Vita) showed great potential, but they were both (obviously) rushed to the market before they were properly polished, and the future for the company hasn’t been bright ever since.
Nihilistic is currently finishing up the Vita exclusive, Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified and after it’s finished, it is following LightBox’s tracks into the world of mobile gaming as well. On its website, Nihilistic posted a funny explanation for its departure which we’ll post here for you to read:

“There’s no bigger cliché in the videogame industry right now than to say that a studio is re-organizing itself away from retail game development and toward the new challenges of downloadable and mobile games.  Everyone knows retail sales are down, publishers are hurting, independent developers are suffering, blah blah blah.  With this in mind, Nihilistic is announcing today that (OMG!) we are re-organizing our company after 14 years of working with retail boxed game development, and re-forming as nStigate Games, a new company focused on downloadable, on-line, and mobile games.

So is this newsworthy?  Well, honestly it probably isn’t, except that we are making this transition without any planned layoffs or leaving any debts behind.  Nihilistic will fade into the sunset the way it started; a collaboration of talented folks dedicated to transparency and respect for employees.  Over the next couple months we’ll get leaner as some of our talent finds new homes, and emerge as a smaller and more focused company.

The future for nStigate is yet to be written, but the history of Nihilistic is coming to a close.  We thank all the people who have worked here over the last 14 years.  It’s been a privilege and a joy to serve our players for the past years.  We love what we do, and we love it when you guys like it.  Thank you for playing.”

With the departure of both of these talented developers from Sony’s platforms, we’ve gained a bit of insight that shows that the landscape of the gaming market is indeed shifting and retail game development is struggling to survive. While we’re saddened to see them go, there’s no doubt that we’ll continue to receive awesome games from both LightBox Interactive and nStigate going forward on mobile devices, and all of us here at Digitally Downloaded wish them very best of luck in their future endeavours. 

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  • I wonder what kinds of games these folks will develop without the Sony franchises to make use of.

    Of course, it would have been even more awesome if Sony kept hold of both and simply dedicated both to making mobile games for Sony, but that's a whole other can of worms for discussion.

  • Honestly, I can't wait to see what they've got now that they're free to do whatever they want. I'm especially hoping to see what nStigate (Nihilistic Studios) brings to the table now that they're no longer Sony's table scrap developer. I hope they take the mobile market by storm and give Sony a big, flying…. 🙂

  • Yeah, don't get your hopes up on that one – Starhawk is owned by Sony. But, I think it's highly likely they'll brings something familiar to the platform though, which will indeed be awesome.

  • It'll be awesome once a better control solution is introduced to that platform…c'mon SOMEONE has to do it…right?

  • Surely if Sony writes a check they can secure their support again, even if just on a project to project basis.
    On the question of what they might develop, I am less worried about not having a franchise to tie yourself too and more worried about the kinds of games mobile development economics seem to encourage :p

  • Oh, they're already starting to get there. Just this past week, we saw the release of True Skate, which is a skateboarding game that's right there with EA's very own Skate, in my opinion. It's a bit more of a tech demo in its current form, but when they get a full release, it'll be amazing. I think I'll slap a review together for it this weekend for early next week for you guys.

    There's also games like Dragon Fantasy, which uses a floating D-Pad perfectly in a RPG format and Real Racing, which nails the hardcore racing simulation with gyro controls.

    There's developers out there that are making great games for mobile devices, but you've got to pay for them and take a little risk in finding them.

  • I wouldn't worry too much. When either of these companies release a new title on iOS, they'll get a ton of media coverage. Also, them having the freedom to develop what they want, when they want and how they want will be great for both of these companies – especially nStigate.

  • Maybe more developers are realising the potential of smartphones and tablets as "freelance" gaming devices. I kid you not when I say those devices do have the potential for even retail-quality games, graphics- and power-wise (some newer ones even produce better graphics than a Vita!), but the iOS platform seems to be an oftly abused platform (shovelware etc.).
    More developers just need to tap into the potential of combined touchscreen/motion controls with original, innovative creations; not trying to mimic console experiences on these devices. And with the iPad Mini allegedly on the way, I think we need to see a greater chance for this kind of transformation.

  • Couldn't agree with you more Farida.

    I'm eagerly awaiting Apple's upcoming conference that'll hopefully unveil the iPad Mini. If it's true, I'll be racing to Best Buy to secure my preorder ASAP. I think it's just the device that's needed to really move iOS gaming itself into the "gaming market." At the moment, the iPad is too big to try and play games like Real Racing (which is likely why it isn't compatible) and Riptide GP, but shrink the design down a bit and keep the horsepower and you've got a perfect design to play these games on.

    This same argument affects the platformers on iOS as well. Trying to use a virtual D-pad on the iPad is nearly laughable, but you shrink the design down and it'll fit your hands more comfortably. League of Evil 2 on iPad looks great, but good night is it had to navigate a D-pad that wide! Haha

    I already hear the, "but you can play these games on you iPhone!" rebuttals coming. Yes. I do indeed play all of these on my iPhone, but the screen is small and it somewhat inhibits the fun-factor. Put those same games on the iPad Mini and they'll be awesome! 😉

  • Yeah, I agree that what clever developers can accomplish with motion+touch can equate to a very nice gaming experience. I am not surprised an iphone lends itself quite well to racing games, slower-paced games like an RPG or turn-by-turn and absolutely kicks the doors down with menu based (adventure, board) games.
    That said, when it comes to controlling some on screen avatar like in an action game for example, I think the market is hinting heavily that there is a demand for a traditional precision control device. We can see this already just in the 3rd party peripherals and similar projects that have been released (not to mention how several Android devices like the Wikipad try to differentiate themselves) the problem with these is that it is unlikely they can garner majority developer support without a huge marketing push and/or the blessing of Apple as the "standard" auxiliary control setup.
    Actually, I've been hoping Apple would just cough out a decent controller themselves (i.e. One Bluetooth Pad To Rule Them All) but maybe I am banging my head against a wall here.

  • I have wondered for a very long time why Apple doesn't release its own controller.

    My only thought is that to Apple games are still not the focus of its investments, and a company like Apple would not going in half-hearted, it would spend big on R & D to ensure a very ergonomic controller.

    You are completely correct – the third-party controllers all suffer from a lack of support. I have the 60beat controller, and it's a great device for the three games I actually like on my iPad that support it. Three games doesn't justify buying a controller. If Apple were to release an official one you can bet the entire development community would scramble over itself to support it.

    I still have a gut feeling that in the not-to-distant future, when the explosive growth of iDevices does start to slow and Apple does need to find a new market opportunity it will jump into the games space. It has the platform and the third party support, it just lacks the internal capabilities right now.

    Which is why I think Apple is going to make a big acquisition of a gaming hardware manufacturer. Either it waits for Sony to start actively shopping for a buyer (a distinct possibility, and the synergies between Apple and Sony in terms of design philosophy are exciting as an acquisition opportunity), or if the Wii U and 3DS successor underperform Apple may just find Nintendo's shareholders begging for a takeover.

    Either way would be to the win of consumers.

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