PlayStation announced another partnership with a new studio headed by veteran developers, with the confirmation that PlayStation will publish a new, original game from Deviation Games. Founded by Call of Duty: Black Ops veterans Dave Anthony and Jason Blundell, Deviation seeks to foster a creative team of “Deviators” to produce an ambitious new game, under the exclusive publishing of PlayStation Studios (which presumably means it will be a PS5 game, though details of its release remain unconfirmed).
Details on what form that game will actually be remain slim for now, too, but Anthony, Blundell, and Head of PlayStation Worldwide Studios Hermen Hulst spoke with me about the partnership, including why PlayStation was such an obvious choice for Deviation, how Hulst and his team approach these various partnerships, and more.
Finding the Right Partner in PlayStation
Anthony and Blundell have a storied history at Activision’s Treyarch, with Anthony having written and directed Black Ops 1 and 2, and Blundell having co-created the ubiquitous Zombies mode. But the duo, who have known each other for most of their lives, wanted to act on a dream they’d had since the start of their friendship.
“When you work in those [big] franchises, you’re always working within established constraints in these long-term established IPs. Jason and I, we actually love working within constraints. But we thought to ourselves, what if we actually established the constraints ourselves on something brand new? And that is the most exciting opportunity we have had in our entire careers,” Anthony said.
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That opportunity is Deviation Games, which the duo has found complete financial security with thanks to private funding.
“So then it’s all about … how do we find the right partner whose singular focus, like ours, is going to be about the quality of the game, innovation in the game, and that is the first and foremost priority,” he continued. “We started speaking to Herman and Sony and it was very clear very quickly that we share the same values. And…once we got to understand Sony’s process and how they work with mutual and fearless transparency, there was kind of no decision to make. Sony just had to be our partner.”
As for what that process actually was, Blundell described it quite succinctly:
“It’s about trust,” Blundell said. “When you speak to Sony, you’re speaking to a kindred spirit. You’re speaking to someone who sees the world the same way as we do as developers. But you need that trust when you’re lighting the torch and stepping out into the darkness, looking for innovation, looking for the new, looking for the creative. Creativity is an adventure. As you’re stepping out, you don’t know if the floor is going to come and meet your foot. And so you need a trusted partner.
“[That partnership] emboldens us, it invigorates us because of that trust and that investment. And that’s why it’s been a no-brainer.”
How PlayStation Values Its Partnerships
Anthony and Blundell spoke highly of the trust and processes PlayStation offers that made them such an ideal partner, and for their part, PlayStation has been doubling down on its emphasis in highlighting these partnerships. Whether it was the flagship showcases of games like Death Stranding on PS4, or more recent PS5 outings like Returnal, Hulst has previously said he sees no real difference between fostering the games PlayStation publishes by external partners and internal studios.
But what does that practically mean for studios outside the first-party-owned portfolio? Well, as Hulst explained it, it’s about working with partners who share the same passion and dedication to innovate with these new IP.
“I pair them up with very seasoned production management folks on our end to ensure this highly innovative experience that is their creative vision actually stands a really good chance of being brought to life. I know that from experience… when you do something that is as big as what these guys have worked on in the past, you know that worst case scenario [their new game] is going to be quite good. You hope that it’s amazing,” Hulst said.
“With the new IP, there are many more variables. So nurturing that through process [is what we offer],” he continued. “Jason talked about full transparency. My team is rigorous, but they ask for more. When it’s not fun, they want to hear it. When it’s not pretty, they want to hear it. And so having that level of trust that starts with people that speak the same language, that do not hold back, that appreciate the difficulty of creating an innovative new experience and trying to do something fresh.”
That drills down to making “all of [PlayStation’s] development services available to them,” Hulst explained. And whether or not the team chooses to use them, as they do remain independent, he wants to ensure those resources are there to help elevate their work.
“I treat Deviation Games just like I treat first party, wholly-owned studios within the PlayStation Studios family,” Hulst said.
Hulst and I previously spoke about PlayStation’s commitment to its partners with the announcement of the company’s plans to exclusively publish a new multiplayer game from Firewalk Studios. Deviation, Firewalk, and the previously announced commitment to Jade Raymond’s studio Haven are some of the many partnerships that show PlayStation’s commitment to new teams led by veteran developers. An excitement for new, ambitious gaming ideas seems to be a clear undercurrent of these partnerships, especially given new IP makes up half of PlayStation’s upcoming portfolio.
“The appeal [in partnerships] for us is finding some of the best creatives in the industry that bring a ton of experience,” Hulst said. “Dave and Jason and their team, a very intelligent team, the bench of talent is quite phenomenal.
“But…what are we going to do together with a blank slate? The new IPs are incredibly exciting. Even for guys of this caliber, it’s really, really hard to create a new IP from scratch,” he continued, noting that’s why PlayStation hopes it can help these teams succeed with their first new games.
Developers as Deviators
Studio culture can often define the work a team is producing, and this was something another Sony partner, Firewalk, emphasized in our chat about that studio’s PlayStation collaboration. Similarly, Anthony and Blundell, as lifelong friends, believe in fostering a particular focus for their studio as well, and that ethos can be found in its name.
“Dave and I have personally interviewed every single member of Deviation. As Dave likes to say, we don’t have employees, we have Deviators,” Blundell said. “Each Deviator we talk to, we’re not just looking at their experience and their track record, of which we have many industry veterans at Deviation, it’s actually about how they fit into the larger group.
“That’s what the last year of Deviation was. It was about crafting that culture, crafting passionate Renaissance people. People who not only love their discipline, but the other’s discipline.”
And finding that fit in the larger development team is important to the duo, because they’re also invested in not just bringing in game development veterans, like World of Warcraft’s Dave Kosak, BioShock’s Jamie McNulty, and more. But they also seek newcomers in whom they see the same spark and desire to create something innovative.
“The blend is really important to Jason and me, to nurture new talent [alongside storied developers] because some of the real magic comes from that blend,” Anthony said. “It’s the blend of leadership that you can rely on and trust and an ability to nurture and grow a really diverse, unique set of Deviators where all they’re thinking about is, “Why is this going to be the best work of my career?’”