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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

August 2, 2011 at 12:00 AM

Sony buys Bellevue’s Sucker Punch

It’s too soon to declare a trend, but another one of Seattle’s premier video game studios is being acquired.

Today, Sony Computer Entertainment is announcing that it’s buying Sucker Punch Productions, a Bellevue studio that has been developing games exclusively for Sony’s PlayStation consoles for the past 12 years.

The deal comes three weeks after Seattle’s PopCap Games was acquired by Electronic Arts in a deal worth up to $1.3 billion.

Sucker Punch isn’t as big as PopCap, but its action games have become key titles for Sony’s PlayStation platform, including the blockbuster “inFamous” superhero action franchise that debuted in 2009.

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A sequel launched in June, “inFamous 2,” became one of the top-selling games in the country, and Sony gave it top billing at the recent Electronic Entertainment Expo conference in Los Angeles.

Sucker Punch was started in 1997 by a group of four Microsoft veterans who met working on the company’s email products. They started building a game for Nintendo’s N64 console but had breakout success with its “Sly Cooper” cartoon action franchise for the PlayStation 2.

By acquiring the studio, Sony locks up the talent and a big, exclusive franchise it can extend indefinitely on its platform.

Sucker Punch, in turn, gets the resources to build bigger, more expansive versions of its action games that will require increasingly large investments in online features.

Being acquired also frees the studio management from concerns about business development, so it can focus just on building games.

“At some point you decide if we’re part of a bigger organization we can do what we do best,” said Brian Fleming, a Sucker Punch co-founder (pictured here).

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The 75-person studio will remain in downtown Bellevue and operate autonomously, probably similar to the way Sony runs the Zipper Interactive game studio in Redmond that it acquired in 2006.

Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, but Sucker Punch becomes the group’s 16th studio.

The acquisition “reiterates our dedication to developing world class gaming experiences that can only be found on the PlayStation platform,” Shuhei Yoshida, president of Sony Computer Entertainment, said in a release.

“Sucker Punch Productions is one of the most highly acclaimed development studios in the industry, and we have enjoyed a wonderful relationship with the company for over 12 years,” Yoshida said in the release.

In March another group at Sony closed a different Bellevue game studio as part of a broad layoff affecting 205 employees, but Fleming said he’s not worried about that happening to Sucker Punch.

“Having a good, proactive management team that is always looking to improve their business is a good thing,” he said.

Fleming wouldn’t talk about future products or confirm whether “inFamous 3” is being developed. But he said Sucker Punch intends to continue building one game at a time, so the entire team can work together on a single project.

“We’re really committed to this ‘one product’ stuff,” he said. “I think that’s part of why Sony appreciates us. Our culture is certainly unique, and they want us to be an independent studio and have our own voice and our own management style.”

The studio has had an independent streak since the very beginning.

When the founders were trying to figure out what to call their venture, they left a list of possible names on the kitchen table of co-founder Chris Zimmerman. His wife saw the list and crossed off one that she especially disliked — Sucker Punch — which sealed the deal.

She was a young mother at the time, and served as a reverse focus group.

“A 13-year-old boy would love that if his mom hates it,” Fleming explained.



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