Naughty Dog co-founder sold studio to Sony to secure its future

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Worth their weight in gold, Insomniac Studios is arguably one of the most important developers to Sony and the success PlayStation enjoys. No matter the cost of a game they produce, between the volume they ship and the awards they bring home, Naughty Dog is the studio that delivers. During the late 90s when working on the Crash Bandicoot series, ND was not yet a party of Sony and functioned like Insomniac Games by creating exclusive games for PlayStation and operating independently. As Jason Dunning writes for PlayStation LifeStyle, all of that would change, thanks to the success of the series and a conversation between co-founder Jason Rubin and then Sony executive Kelly Flock:

 In 2001, Rubin and Gavin decided to sell the studio to Sony following the success of Crash Bandicoot. After admitting that they definitely agonized over the decision, Rubin recalled a moment where former Sony executive Kelly Flock said Naughty Dog was at the top of the world before the sale and Crash was the #1 franchise out there – ahead of Tomb Raider and Gran Turismo in terms of dollar amount and units sold – and the company would never be bigger than the biggest in the world, so they should think about safe harbor. 

As I mentioned, ND is a studio that rightfully gets what it wants – from elaborate motion capture equipment to early access to hardware and why wouldn’t they? Creating games like Uncharted and The Last of Us requires pushing everything – from the studio’s own creative boundaries to the hardware that they’re developing for. Jason Rubin, who now leads the Head of Content at Oculus, also realized this:

 Sony has been incredible to Naughty Dog, always giving them the assets that they need to compete. Most people don’t realize but quite often a game is won because a game got more budget. It’s bigger, it’s badder, it’s cooler because it got more budget… So, had it not been for that happening at any given time, Naughty Dog could have cratered, but Sony has been incredibly good to Naughty Dog. 

Could you imagine a world where ND was creating games for both Sony and Microsoft or worse, became an Xbox exclusive studio?

 So Andy and I started talking… and it made sense. Our relationship with Sony was already so intertwined and magical and amazing that certainty for both parties made a lot of sense, and I think – my personal life story aside – it was the right decision for Naughty Dog. Look where Naughty Dog is today. As an independent, I don’t think Naughty Dog could have done that. I don’t think you’d have these games. 

Outside of the Halo series and perhaps Gears of War, neither which remotely share the prestige of Uncharted, Microsoft hasn’t been able to, or perhaps hasn’t wanted to, invest in their own studios in the same way Sony has. Between Naughty Dog, Santa Monica Studios, and now Guerrilla Games, Sony’s first party studios are firing on all cylinders and interviews like the above give us a little glimmer as to why.

I don’t know about you but I find stories like this to be absolutely fascinating and often not discussed enough. The game industry from an outsider’s perspective can often seem like a blackhole. Where in film, there are plenty of articles, books, documentaries, and TV specials on the people and studios that make the industry go round, it’s hard to get much of a back story on any given studio, let alone specifics on a games development. Hell, unlike film where film budgets and earnings are officially reported and tracked daily, it’s still hard to even figure out a given game’s budget, let alone how much it’s made over any period of time.

Am I alone on this or do you guys find behind-the-scenes info on games and studios fascinating as well?

  • EPGuest

    I read Insomiac Games and got excited. They should be a Sony studio, though…

    Good read, btw.

  • Yea, IG seems one of those studios that slipped away since they had for so long been associated with PlayStation.