Sony Interactive Entertainment announced its latest studio acquisition on Tuesday, but the company it is set to acquire, Audiokinetic, is a different kind of “development” studio. Instead of making games, Audiokinetic makes Wwise, arguably the gaming industry’s most popular multi-platform audio middleware toolset.
Anybody who has played a video game in the past five years has a hint of how big of an acquisition this is, as those gamers have likely seen the “Wwise” logo in at least one game’s opening or closing credits. That logo indicates that Audiokinetic’s proprietary tools have been used to help developers more easily arrange sound effects, dialogue, and music in their games.
The acquisition will allow Audiokinetic to continue operating as an independent developer and licensor of tools like Wwise, the Montreal studio says, while letting Sony “tap into Audiokinetic’s vast audio engineering expertise.”
Estimating exactly how many games and game studios employ the Wwise toolset to deliver in-game audio is tough, if only because Audiokinetic has never put out a definitive list. And if it did, the list might never end. Audiokinetic’s official site mentions its relationship with studios like Konami, Ubisoft, Capcom, Bandai Namco, Insomniac, 2K Games, CD Projekt Red, and Codemasters, while a cursory glance at Wikipedia’s massive list suggests that all three major console publishers have used Wwise in their first-party fare. And again, it doesn’t sound like those agreements with outside studios will change, at least based on the announcement’s language.
Audiokinetic only goes so far as to say that “over 500 games per year” use the company’s audio tools, and the toolset’s compatibility with every modern gaming engine lines up with the studio’s promise that these games appear on every platform imaginable, from PC to console to smartphone. Since its tools appeared in the company’s “500th” game in 2013, it’s our estimation that the toolset has cleared the 1,000-game mark, if not thousands.
“This acquisition will allow us to further grow the PlayStation platform and contribute to the broader gaming industry,” SIE President and CEO John Kodera said in Audiokinetic’s press release. “It’s our goal to support Audiokinetic’s efforts to advance its audio technology while maintaining independence and platform neutrality.”
That’s all well and good, but what is Sony’s angle in acquiring a sound-tool studio that will continue to provide tools to outside studios (and possibly its console-producing competitors Microsoft and Nintendo)? The answer may be the sheer financial boon of selling these tools to every studio known to man. Or it could come in the form of developing new proprietary audio technologies for future Sony products. Ars Technica’s inside-source birdies frequently mention audio-systems development as a priority at various hardware companies, particularly those with designs on next-generation virtual reality systems. And those suspicions only grew at this year’s Oculus Connect, where that company’s engineering leaders (Michael Abrash, John Carmack) spoke openly about efforts such as positional audio research.
Audiokinetic has not been a slouch on spatial and 3D audio technologies, particularly thanks to tools that account for video games’ 3D architecture and materials to have sounds adjust on the fly. Whether Sony has greater plans for these kinds of tools remains to be seen.