Sony Manchester’s CSAR: Combat, Search, and Rescue was to be a VR helicopter action game harking back to the old days, but it never ended up materializing
On February 5, 2020, PlayStation head of Worldwide Studios Hermen Hulst visited Sony Manchester to tell employees the studio was closing. The news came as a shock to some inside the studio — a group made up of expats and locals, a few with decades of experience working at Sony. The studio had been advertising new positions at the time, and suddenly team members were looking for jobs, as Sony abandoned the project they had been working on for the last five years.
Mixed in with messages of solidarity and support from those within the industry were inevitable questions. People wanted to know what the studio had been working on, and what had led to its abrupt closure. Sony formed the Manchester studio to create games for PlayStation VR, but the team had never announced a project and kept its cards close to its chest during the five years it was open. The leadership at the studio, for instance, wouldn’t tell new hires anything about the project or its hierarchy until they joined — a huge leap of faith for those traveling from overseas.
At the time, a PlayStation representative told GamesIndustry.biz that the closure was “part of our efforts to improve efficiency and operational effectiveness.” But five individuals close to the studio and the project told us more about its development, speaking anonymously as they had signed NDAs regarding their work. They say that, despite being in development for roughly five years, the game they were making lingered in pre-production for much of that time, in part due to endless iteration and a lack of pressure from Sony leadership.
THE BIRTH OF A STUDIOSony Manchester opened in 2015, with the studio’s origins lying in Sony Interactive Entertainment Europe’s Creative Development Group — a small division of Sony responsible for user testing as well as research and development for future titles.
Sam Coates, the studio director at Sony Manchester, had previously been the senior manager of Sony’s Creative Development Group. He helped lay the foundation for the new Manchester studio throughout 2015, bringing onboard approximately 15 developers, many of whom had worked for other big developers. The ultimate goal was to establish a new AAA VR studio within the region. Above Coates were Eric Matthews, then vice president of Sony Worldwide Studios (and a former Bitmap Brothers co-founder), and Sony research director, Mark Green — both of whom were based in London.
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