Sony Interactive Entertainment has launched PlayStation Productions, a production studio that will mine the company's extensive catalog of video game titles for film and television. The new enterprise, headed by Asad Qizilbash and overseen by chairman of Worldwide Studios at SIE, Shawn Layden, is already in production on its first slate of projects and has set up shop on the Sony Pictures lot in Culver City.
"We’ve got 25 years of game development experience and that’s created 25 years of great games, franchises and stories," Layden tells The Hollywood Reporter. "We feel that now is a good time to look at other media opportunities across streaming or film or television to give our worlds life in another spectrum."
With a library of more than 100 original properties ranging from adventure to sci-fi to action to mystery to horror, PlayStation Productions has a wide breadth of content ripe for adaptation. "Instead of licensing our IP out to studios, we felt the better approach was for us to develop and produce for ourselves," says Qizilbash. "One, because we’re more familiar, but also because we know what the PlayStation community loves."
While other video game studios, including Ubisoft and Activision Blizzard, have opened film and television arms to adapt their games for a different audience, PlayStation Productions differs both in its deep catalog of content and also in its approach to production. Sony Pictures, a sister company, will help with distribution, but production of projects will be handled by PlayStation Productions firsthand, not licensed out as is the case with similar enterprises at other game companies.
"For the last year and half, two years, we’ve spent time trying to understand the industry, talking to writers, directors, producers," says Qizilbash. "We talked to [film producer] Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Kevin Feige to really get an understanding of the industry."
"We looked at what Marvel has done in taking the world of comic books and making it into the biggest thing in the film world," says Layden. "It would be a lofty goal to say we’re following in their footsteps, but certainly we’re taking inspiration from that."
He adds that the landscape in Hollywood has changed in recent years, making this the opportune moment for the launch of the new studio. What was a hard sell 20 years ago to directors and producers has now become much easier, thanks in large part to filmmakers being gamers themselves.
Video game film adaptations have traditionally been fraught in the past. Big budget efforts like 2016's Assassin's Creed or Warcraft bombed at the box office and earned weak reviews.
"You can see just by watching older video game adaptations that the screenwriter or director didn’t understand that world or the gaming thing," Layden says. "The real challenge is, how do you take 80 hours of gameplay and make it into a movie? The answer is, you don’t. What you do is you take that ethos you write from there specifically for the film audience. You don’t try to retell the game in a movie."
PlayStation titles such as Tomb Raider, Crash Bandicoot, Spyro the Dragon, Metal Gear Solid, Uncharted, God of War, The Last of Us, Ratchet & Clank and many others have grossed billions worldwide and sold millions of copies. Layden and Qizilbash see the diversity of PlayStation Productions' library as one of its major selling points.
"We want to create an opportunity for fans of our games to have more touch points with our franchises," says Layden. "When fans beat a 40-50 hour game and have to wait three-four years for a sequel, we want to give them places they can go and still have more of that experience and see the characters they love evolve in different ways."
As to whether they're focusing on film or television, Qizilbash says it depends on the title. “Ultimately, the story will determine the format. We want to bring our IP to the medium that best honors the property,” he says. Layden stresses that quality is key, as it is for the company's games division. "It has to stand up as a great movie or TV show," he says. "That’s really the only standard that we’d measure it against. In that medium, is it going to be best in class?"
Through its partnership with Sony Pictures, PlayStation Productions will be afforded the time to make film and television projects that live up to the quality of their video game source material. "We don’t have to rush to market. We don’t have a list of ‘X number of titles must be done in this year.’ None of that," says Layden. "The company has been very accommodating to our ambition around this, to grow this in a measured, thoughtful way."
Having creative control over their IP also was instrumental for Qizilbash and Layden. "We created this entity to manage and control the process of getting the right director, the right actors, the right screenwriter," says Qizilbash.
"This is a passion project for me," says Layden. "To be the first gaming entity to do something lasting and meaningful in a completely different medium is something I’d like to see us achieve here at PlayStation Productions."
Layden will speak about the continuing evolution of PlayStation’s Worldwide Studios at the Collision Conference in Toronto, Canada on Tuesday.