The Developer Graveyard
Unless you've shunned the internet for the last nine months, you'll be aware that a number of developers have been forced to close their doors since summer 2008. Indeed, recent reports suggest that almost 12 per cent of the US videogame industry have been laid off since July last year.
Of course, many of the lay offs and closures were probably going to happen anyway – the global recession being a handy scapegoat for companies eager to mask ineffective management. Nevertheless, the following list of casualties makes for alarming reading. If you know of any companies we've missed off this list, do let us know.
To all the devs who’ve fallen victim of these tough times, we’d like to wish the best of luck.
In a way, Free Radical is still with us, having been bought and renamed Crytek UK by German dev Crytek in February. The studio responsible for such classics as GoldenEye and TimeSplitters went into administration in December last year but kept 40 of its original 185 staff as a skeleton crew while seeking a buyer. Free Radical’s financial woes were apparently down to “a high burn rate of cash and the loss of two major contracts”, according to the ReSolve Partners who handled the dev’s administration.
This month the closure of 3D Realms has probably robbed us of ever seeing Duke Nukem Forever, a game with one of the most protracted development periods ever. It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise as the Texan developer’s last game, 2006’s unsuccessful Prey, endured six years of development hell. No wonder 3D Realms suffered from a lack of funding.
The closure of Ensemble was a shock to pretty much everyone, including the team itself. The studio’s games were successful, both critically and commercially, and the whole operation was under the wing of one of the biggest corporations in the world. Alas, rather than wider economic conditions, it seems it was entirely the whim of Microsoft that caused the studio to close. Ensemble shut down last September, with Microsoft citing cost-cutting measures.
UK publisher Empire Interactive had been around for 22 years before going into administration last month – the administrator looking to wind down the company. Empire’s recent IPs included FlatOut and Jackass, and back in the day it published the likes of Speedball and the Dragon’s Lair series in Europe. The company handling Empire’s administration cited “trading losses, development spend, and delays in recent new product arrival” for the closure.
Brash shut down in November last year after investors pulled funding, leaving the US publisher with a serious cash-flow problem. Brash’s closure left the developers of two of the games it published seriously out of pocket. 7 Studios and Zootfly are both awaiting payment for their work on Prison Break and Six Flags Fun Park, and intend to sue Brash to recoup the money.
Aces Game Studio
Microsoft’s internal developer Aces Game Studios was responsible for the enduring Microsoft Flight Simulator franchise which, at 25 years old, is among the longest-running game franchises of all time. According to a former employee of Aces, the closure was down to management issues and cost-cutting measures, and not the commercial performance of Flight Simulator X.
MMORPG Hellgate: London’s troubled launch and eventual cancellation led to the demise of its developer Flagship Studios in August 2008. The developer was formed in 2003 by several individuals who worked on Diablo.
Paradigm Entertainment, Mass Media, Locomotive Games, Sandblast Games
Paradigm, Locomotive, and Sandblast were all victims of THQ’s massive lay offs back in November 2008. Paradigm had only released one game under the THQ brand, Stuntman: Ignition, while Mass Media hadn’t even announced a game since it was acquired in 2007. Locomotive’s last game was the Wii-bound Destroy All Humans!: Big Willy Unleashed, while Sandblast helmed the heavily criticised Path Of The Furon.
Korean MMO publisher Nexon closed its Vancouver-based Humanature studio back in January, leaving 90 employees jobless. The studio was working on the Western version of Nexon’s Maple Story MMO. Humanature was named as one of 2008’s Best Companies To Work For by BC Business.
Eidos bought Manchester-based Rockpool games in February 2007, focusing the studio on mobile game development, before closing down operations in January this year. "As a company, we need to focus our efforts on high-quality titles that will deliver long-term franchise value, and in these incredibly challenging and competitive times we need to proactively manage our cost base," was the reason given by Eidos.
Oxygen Games hasn’t closed down as such, but the company has ceased all internal development and put its London office, Oxygen Studios, up for sale. Oxygen’s previous output consisted mainly of budget DS and Wii titles, such as PDC World Championship Darts and King Of Clubs.
NCsoft European Studio
NCsoft’s European development studio was shut down last September following the cancellation of an unannounced MMO thought to have been one of several titles under an exclusivity agreement with Sony, none of which have been announced since the deal was revealed in 2007. NCsoft’s European studio existed barely a year before its closure.
UK studio Venom Games was founded by ex-Rage employees back in 2003. The dev was acquired in 2004 by Take-Two, and handled the 360 port of 3D Realms’ Prey and developed Don King Prize Fighter. Take-Two closed Venom last September, following poor sales and reviews of Prize Fighter. Take-Two did not offer an official statement as to why.