Pushing Buttons: When even PlayStation is cutting jobs, something is seriously wrong with games

I wrote last week about the decades-long console wars between Xbox and PlayStation – and how the Microsoft’s looser attitude to releasing games everywhere people play them, even on rival consoles, might be the beginning of an end to them. Now we have news that Sony is laying off 900 people across its studios all over the world. Why is the maker of the hugely successful PlayStation 5, which has outsold its main rival by three to one, doing something so drastic? It seems that the end of the console wars might come not by choice, but by necessity: the way that the games industry worked in the past is simply not how it works now.

The news that PlayStation would be laying off what amounts 8% of its workforce came via an all-company email from Jim Ryan, the company’s outgoing boss – who, less than a week ago, was pictured celebrating his Sony career at London Studios with many people who now no longer have jobs: the company is closing it entirely, along with cuts at Firesprite, and there will be “reductions in various functions” across the company in the UK. Guerilla Games (makers of the Horizon series), Naughty Dog (The Last of Us) and Insomniac (Marvel’s Spider-Man) are also seeing reductions. At the time of writing, Sony employees at US studios were still waiting to hear how they would be affected. “Please be kind to yourselves and to each other,” the email ends, with almost jaw-dropping irony.

Hermen Hulst, head of PlayStation Studios, gave some context on the decision in a PlayStation blog post. “Our industry has experienced continuing and fundamental change which affects how we all create, and play, games. Delivering the immersive, narrative-driven stories that PlayStation Studios is known for, at the quality bar that we aspire to, requires a re-evaluation of how we operate. Delivering and sustaining social, online experiences … requires a different approach and different resources. To take on these challenges, PlayStation Studios had to grow … But growth itself is not an ambition … We looked at our studios and our portfolio, evaluating projects in various stages of development, and have decided that some of those projects will not move forward.”

Reading between the lines here reveals a familiar story of over-investment during the 2020-21 boom years, during which the video game industry was supercharged by the pandemic and cheap cash, and flooded with money. Plenty of studios and publishers overextended, and found themselves vulnerable when investment dried up. Despite being a very profitable industry, 2023 and 2024 have seen sweeping layoffs and “cost reductions” almost everywhere in games, and barely a week has gone by without another studio closure. Right before Sony announced its layoffs, Danish studio Die Gute Fabrik (of Mutazione and Saltsea Chronicles) announced it was winding up operations.

But Die Gute Fabrik is a small-scale indie studio that failed to find investment. Sony is the market leader in home consoles. It seems absurd that even the market leader apparently cannot afford to fund large-scale game development in this era. We know that so-called AAA game budgets have ballooned out of control, and executives everywhere have insisted that studios work on ill-fated “live service” games that hope to continue extracting money from their players for years to offset the cost, with tragic results. But the PlayStation 5 recently sold its 50 millionth unit. Last year’s Marvel Spider-Man 2 was a huge hit (10m sales), and even that hasn’t protected its makers at Insomniac from cuts. This makes me incredibly worried about the sustainability of the console business: no amount of success appears to insulate the people who actually make the games we enjoy.

It also underlines a depressing fact about the modern games industry: it really is go big or go home. When blockbuster games cost $200m to produce, anything less than enormous success is as good as failure on the balance sheet. You can have two smash-hit games, but screw up the third one and you’re done. Big PlayStation games used to fund smaller ones: your God of Wars came alongside your Puppeteers, your Shadow of the Colossuses, and every now and again one of those mid-size games would be a really big hit, like LittleBigPlanet. But there seems to be no room for a mid-size game any more.

Indie studio Die Gute Fabrik, makers of Saltsea Chronicles, is halting production. Photograph: Die Gute Fabrik

Tekken director Katsuhiro Harada, who has worked on the venerable fighting-game series for 30 years, recently posted some reminiscences on the 19th anniversary of Tekken 5 on the PS2. “At that time, we were developing software by saying that we would put anything we could think of on a disk. We didn’t have a plan from the beginning, but rather developed software as we thought of it along the way,” he wrote. “Porting and development was going on at a much faster pace, with much lower labor costs than now. Now it is completely different. Everything has become huge, all costs have skyrocketed, and it takes a lot longer … There are more and more self-proclaimed game industry people and executives who are not creators, do not even have development experience … I’ve done a lot of things with an idea, and that’s why we have the foundation we have today, but I guess people who don’t have experience in making things don’t understand that.”

It is hard not to feel nostalgia for this era of game development, as a player and as someone who’s been professionally involved with this industry for a couple of decades, seeing up close the effects that these “business decisions” have on developers. Andrew Fray, a lead programmer at UK studio Roll7, makers of OlliOlli World and Rollerdrome, shared what they called the PS2 manifesto on social media earlier this month: “7-13 hours of content. Combine a few old ideas in a new way, or have one big new idea. No complicated character upgrade trees. Limited online, little post-launch support. 2 ish years, 30 game devs. Thanks for your money, on to the next one.” This attitude gave us so many weird classics 20 years ago, games that are difficult to imagine existing now, from Ico to Gitaroo Man. None of them were multimillion sellers but, crucially, they didn’t have to be.

This is so far from how most modern games are developed, and yet I can’t help but question whether it must actually be this way – whether it literally is impossible to make games sustainably, without constant layoffs – or whether the hungry engines of late-stage capitalism are simply making it so, and the growth-at-all-costs model that has long infected the tech industry has irreversibly infiltrated video games as well. A Warner Bros studio like Rocksteady can’t make a game like Batman: Arkham Asylum any more: instead executives will decree that it has to be a live-service multiplayer game instead, and you end up with Suicide Squad, a game that the studio, by all accounts, did not particularly want to make, and that audiences did not respond to well.

In his statement, Hulst says: “Our philosophy has always been to allow creative experimentation … PlayStation Studios will continue to be a creator-led organization driven by evolving our beloved franchises and bringing new gameplay experiences of the highest quality to our fans.” PlayStation is the market leader, has decades of experience, and consistently lauds the creators that make its consoles beloved, making a show of the fact that it appreciates its own history. You would hope for better than this for its people.

What to play

Balatro. Photograph: LocalThunk/Playstack

You know what, talking about blockbuster games is stressful, so I’m going to recommend two different card games this week. Digital card games, but still. The first is Balatro, a roguelike poker game that totally took over my weekend: it’s kind of poker, but trippy and weird, and you’re only playing against yourself, and you’re supposed to cheat outrageously, and you’re not in danger of losing any money.

The other is Regency Solitaire 2, a much more chill vibe and the sequel to a game I very much enjoyed a few years ago. You click your way soothingly around a pack of cards in an Austen-era England, enjoying some light high-society drama along the way. Give one of them a go and let a few hours disappear. Or, as one Guardian commenter kindly suggested on my article about Balatro: “Take up Bridge. Proper testing game. And you don’t need any stupid multipliers or bonus cards.”

Available on: PC
Estimated playtime:
From 30 minutes to, um, an entire weekend

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What to read

Lady Gaga at the 2022 Baftas. Photograph: Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images
  • Neil Long at has been talking to developers who are sounding the alarm about Apple Arcade, the excellent iPad/iPhone game subscription service that liberates you from free to play app store garbage. Developers are saying that payouts are decreasing, fewer games are being commissioned and there’s less interest in the diversity of games that has made the service great until now.

  • A new Pokémon game has been announced: Legends Z-A. The trailer is set inside a Tron-like cyberspace, except it’s also Paris. Moreover, we got a look at Pokémon Trading Card Game Pocket, which brings the ever-popular card game to smartphones and looks invitingly beautiful.

  • It’s been a while since I’ve seen an interview with Dark Souls mastermind and now FromSoftware president Hidetaka Miyazaki. IGN spoke to him about Elden Ring’s forthcoming expansion, and about stepping back from directing FromSoft’s future Souls games.

  • Lady Gaga is coming to Fortnite. I repeat: Lady Gaga is coming to Fortnite. Fiveyears after her notorious “what’s fortnight” tweet, she is now headlining season two of the game’s Festival mode.

What to click

Question Block

It’s a bumper edition today so we’ll spare you a Question Block, but please, as ever, send in your questions to and I will answer them – or, if I can’t, I’ll get in touch with someone who can.

If I get enough of ‘em, I’ll do a bumper Q&A edition of Pushing Buttons in the next few weeks, so if you’ve been hanging onto a question, now’s the time.


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