Sony believes it has a promising new video-game franchise in the “Infamous” series, developed by Bellevue-based Sucker Punch Productions. So the PlayStation maker is snatching up the company, which has roots in Microsoft.
Sony on Monday announced it has acquired Sucker Punch for an undisclosed amount of money. The studio of about 75 people is located across from Microsoft’s building at City Center Plaza in downtown Bellevue, and is now Sony’s second internal game studio in the Seattle area.
But Sucker Punch and Sony Computer Entertainment America, the U.S. gaming arm of the Japanese electronics giant, have been working closely together for more than a decade. Not since a Nintendo 64 title in the 1990s has Sucker Punch developed a video game for a platform other than PlayStation, said Brian Fleming, a manager partner at the studio.
“This in a strange way feels like it’s your longtime girlfriend you’re getting hitched to – not a lot is going to change,” he said. “It’s the same people that we’ve been working with for 10 years.”
Sucker Punch developed the hit “Sly Cooper” franchise for PlayStation 2. In 2009, it launched “Infamous” for PS3. In the hit game, the player controls protagonist Cole MacGrath, a former bike messenger who gets electrically charged superpowers after getting caught in an explosion.
The crime-fighter returned in “Infamous 2,” which launched in June. The PS3-exclusive title was the third-highest selling game that month behind “L.A. Noire” (PS3 and Xbox 360) and “Duke Nukem Forever” (PS3, Xbox 360, PC), according to NPD Group.
“They have produced some very key franchises for us,” Scott Rohde, senior vice president of product development at Sony’s Worldwide Studios America, said of Sucker Punch. “We have a very close relationship with them.”
Sucker Punch was founded in 1997 by three former Microsoft employees. Fleming said he and co-founders Bruce Oberg and Chris Zimmerman met while working on email technology in Redmond. The three were interested in video games and decided to open their own studio.
Today, about half of the company’s employees previously worked in the gaming industry – some from the Microsoft/Bungie world, Fleming said. The rest came from other industries or fresh out of school. About 30 percent are programmers and 60 percent are game artists.
“It’s kind of unusual, it seems, for studios to start independently instead of spinning off from a studio,” Fleming said. “But for a little while we were our own little Galapagos isle with our own unique culture.”
Sucker Punch now joins Redmond-based Zipper Interactive as a local Sony gaming studio. Among other titles, Zipper develops the popular “SOCOM” military games for PlayStation.
Sony’s other U.S. internal gaming studios include Naughty Dog (“Crash Bandicoot,” “Jak and Daxter,” “Uncharted&rdquo
, LightBox Interactive (“Starhawk&rdquo
and Sony Computer Entertainment studios in Santa Monica, Calif. (“God of War,” “Warhawk&rdquo
; San Diego (“MLB: The Show,” “NBA: The Inside&rdquo
; Bend, Ore. (“Syphon Filter&rdquo
; and Foster City, Calif. (largely supporting other studio titles). European branches have developed hits such as “Wipeout,” “Killzone” and “LittleBigPlanet,” and Japan-based studios have released titles like “Gran Turismo,” “Siren” and “Shadow of the Colossus.”
Rohde said it is only indirectly significant to have studios in the backyard of Microsoft, maker of the Xbox 360 platform. But it doesn’t matter much where Sony’s gaming studios are located – it’s the skill of the teams that matters, he said.
As noted on this blog before, Redmond-based Microsoft – and Bungie and others, in this case – has helped develop a sizable local talent pool of software and technology workers. Seattle has been attracting not only hot start-ups like PopCap Games and Zillow, but branch offices for companies like Facebook and Zynga.
Rohde said the transition from independent company to Sony studio will “feel pretty seamless.” Sony doesn’t plan to send any executives or reorganize Sucker Punch.
“I think Sony does a good job of allowing, even after an acquisition, all the studios operate like their own companies,” Fleming said. “We don’t want to lose a lot of that value that makes us unique. Because uniqueness is important in the entertainment world.”