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Sony buys Housemarque, maker of ‘combat’ game Returnal

returnal image
Image from Returnal

Sony has added to its already impressive lineup of in-house studios by acquiring Finnish game developer Housemarque on Tuesday.

Housemarque, the makers of April’s eighth-best selling game Returnal, a game described as having ‘near-infinite pleasure of movement and combat’, joins other significant studios such as Sucker Punch Productions, Naughty Dog and Guerrilla Games in teaming up with Sony.

“Housemarque’s recent release of Returnal proves the studio is one with incredible vision, capable of creating memorable new games that resonate with our community,” Head of PlayStation Studios Hermen Hulst announced in an official PlayStation blog.

“This addition enhances the creative force of PlayStation Studios, and I cannot wait to see what the future holds for Housemarque,” Hulst added.

Helsinki-based Housemarque has a 25 year history in game development, a particularly long stretch in a relatively young industry, rooted in the merger of gaming studios Bloodhouse and Terramarque in 1995.

Before Returnal, Housemarque has found critical success in its 2012 PS Vita release Super Stardust Delta, which scored an 82 per cent on review aggregator site Metacritic, and its 2017 release Nex Machina, itself scoring an impressive 88 per cent on Metacritic from a total of 47 reviews.

Co-founder and managing director of Housemarque Ilari Kuittinen has praised the acquisition, explaining that it has been brewing for quite some time now, ascribing its culmination in a fruitful relationship with Sony going back all the way to 2007’s game Super Stardust HD. Released on the PlayStation 3, Super Stardust HD went to garner critical acclaim on its way to selling a more than respectable 400,000 in its PlayStation 3 iteration.

“Today is a big day for Housemarque and it has been over 26 years in the making. Our strong partnership with Sony Interactive Entertainment started with Super Stardust HD on PS3 and since then we have made arcade inspired games for all of the PlayStation platforms,” Kuittinen said.

“With Returnal for PS5, our most recent release, our biggest foray into third-person action gaming solidified our voice and brand in the industry as delivering unique and quality player experiences,” he added.

The Housemarque co-founder explained that this will provide the game developer with stability and calmness as they continue to assess how they can push the medium forward with new methods of storytelling and gameplay.

“This gives our studio a clear future and a stable opportunity to continue delivering on gameplay centric approaches, while still experimenting with new methods of narrative delivery and pushing the boundaries of this modern artform,” Kuittinen explained.

“Locally here in Helsinki, this also means that we will officially expand the PlayStation family to a growing industry hub and secure the legacy of the oldest game studio in Finland,” Kuittinen added, noting how this move will help grow the local game development industry in Helsinki.

Kuittinen also explained that this will ultimately benefit both the studio and the fans, as it allows the studio to attempt bolder approaches without fearing for its survival and short-term objectives.

“With the backing of SIE (Sony Interactive Entertainment) and its family of studios supporting us, we can truly grow into our place in the industry and show what Housemarque can create with no limitations,” the Housemarque co-founder said.

“We can’t wait to show everyone what will be in store in the upcoming years, and we hope to usher in more lasting memories and exhilarating titles for the next quarter century and beyond,” he added.

Speaking to the British edition of GQ magazine, Kuittinen and Hulst revealed more details behind the acquisition.

“I think Sony is the partner that’s best positioned to help develop even further. Let’s face it, these are some of the best game developers in the world. So we’re really proud to be part of that group and hope to collaborate and learn from them.

“I think Sony is the partner that’s best positioned to help develop even further,” said Kuittinen.

“Let’s face it, these are some of the best game developers in the world, so we’re really proud to be part of that group and hope to collaborate and learn from them,” he added.

Meanwhile, in the same interview, the aforementioned Hermen Hulst refuted the notion that the gaming industry is in an ‘arms race’ of sorts, despite the number of acquisitions that have either been completed or are rumoured to be in the works.

“We’re very selective about the developers that we bring in. Our last new acquisition was Insomniac, which has worked out very well,” Hulst explained.

Insomniac, the makers of the critically and commercially successful Spider-Man and Spider-Man: Miles Morales were acquired for $229 million in 2019 and has already exhibited its tremendous worth to Sony.

Insomniac have developed two of the first major games for the next-gen PlayStation, the aforementioned Miles Morales game, as well as the eagerly anticipated Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, which has received praise for the way it was developed, eschewing some of the harshest and draining practices often seen in game development.

“I’m always looking for people that have a similar set of values, similar creative ambitions and work very well with our team that we can further invest in and help grow as creators. It’s not like we’re going around and just making random acquisitions” Hulst added, emphasizing that Sony is not on a frenetic spending spree for the sake of it.

Despite Hulst’s efforts to pour water on the arms race description, rumours of further studio acquisitions by Sony still persist.

A now deleted tweet by Sony Japan welcomed a different studio to the Sony family. Rather than Housemarque, the tweet contained an image with the logo of Bluepoint.

Bluepoint, the studio behind the successful Demon’s Souls remake and the Shadow of the Colossus have long been linked with Sony.

Indeed, the relationship between the two parties can be described as fruitful and harmonious, something which aligns with Hulst’s statements about them only choosing to acquire studios with ‘similar values’.

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