LittleBigPlanet Vita developer Double Eleven has split from Sony's XDev services, as it continues to push into publishing on the PSN platform.
The decision has not been made lightly, with the company having to strip down from a team of 50 to a slimmer 37 members of staff this year. During that time the studio has published Mode 7's Frozen Synapse: Tactics and Playdead's acclaimed Limbo on PlayStation Vita, with similar deals to be announced imminently.
"When those next projects didn't fit with what we wanted to be doing as a studio, and you add in our need for more autonomy, we realised it was time to change the nature of our relationship with Sony"Mark South
"Working with XDev was a massive positive experience for us, it helped us not only release one of the highest rated games on Vita but also established our studio, and set the stage for what we are now doing," Mark South, chief operating officer of Double Eleven told GamesIndustry International.
"It was always our ambition to work on or have full control of our own projects alongside the principal work for hire we have done as a studio. Similarly, there are some really talented people in Sony who handled all of our outsourcing, localisation, and a large portion of QA. These were all resources we wanted the production capacity to manage ourselves."
XDev is Sony Europe's external development relations team, which helps fund, produce and project manage games with independent developers. It has in the past helped get award-wining titles from teams such as Relentless, Sumo Digital and Evolution Studios to market.
But having worked on the technical side of LittleBigPlanet Vita, Double Eleven didn't want to become stuck in a technical role, and was uncomfortable scaling up the business too quickly without its own creative freedom.
"Given that LBP was a technically complex project we built the team to match," said South. "This had the effect of narrowing our options for future projects we could accept. At the time we were gearing up for the long term and building our creative team, but our focus had to remain on making LBP a stellar product.
"We grew to almost 50 people to be able to give the fans the game that they deserved. Potential future projects that we could undertake meant scaling up even further to accommodate even bigger collaborative projects. At the end of that next project we would have needed to find an even bigger boat to keep us sailing," he added. "Most people would say that's a good problem to have; but fundamentally that meant generating more revenue from more staff at more desks, which is not how we wanted to grow our business."
"When those next projects didn't fit with what we wanted to be doing as a studio, and you add in our need for more autonomy, we realised it was time to change the nature of our relationship with Sony."
While financially independent, Double 11's hardest period was after the release of LittleBigPlanet, where tough decisions were made to trim the team in order to sustain a viable business.
"If there is such a thing as a drawback to having a steady stream of work coming to you, it's ironically inherent in the down stream nature of the flow itself," added South. "The projects that were offered to us were for various reasons not suitable for our studio."
"It became increasing clear that we could not sustain the size of the studio that made LBP," he continued. "We realised that moving forward meant making some redundancies to trim down the size of the team to what we felt was a more agile size.
"A positive culture is a massive plus point for working with us, and we dealt it a blow with this change. People lost friends and colleagues that they have battled through projects with, and it was not an easy time for the team. Undoubtedly we are stronger today."
"People lost friends and colleagues that they have battled through projects with, and it was not an easy time for the team. Undoubtedly we are stronger today"Mark South
Now self-financing all its own work, Double 11 has better control over its output and is chasing commercial opportunities the team is personally interested in. Although all current output is on Sony platforms, the founders of the team have significant experience on iOS platforms having worked at Rockstar on the iPhone versions of Grand Theft Auto.
"As we continue work with SCEE, albeit with a different team we are making our own games and they trust us to just get on with it. No one has more to lose from making something less than outstanding than us, both from a commercial and financial perspective - and we wouldn't want that any other way," said South.
"Our game engine is cross platform, and PSN will always be part of what we do when it's right for the title. Lee (Hutchinson) and Matt (Shepcar), the founders of the company, have had a tremendous amount of iOS experience as well as others in the company. "Combine this with our desire to choose our own mix of games, catered to the audiences that play them, and you can expect to see us on mobile and PC formats in the very near future," he added.