The colossal sales figures of, say, Black Ops are evidence enough that the videogame industry is a vast and potentially lucrative one. And yet, despite the huge sums of cash a big-selling title can haul in, the financial risk of creating a game has never been greater. And as some of the studio closures we’ve seen over the last 12 months prove, a few past successes are no protection from one or two poorly-received financial failures.
With the sad news that Bizarre Creations is set to close at the end of the week, we look back at their games, and a few other studios who’ve suffered a similar fate within the past year…
One of the most tragic closures on this list, Realtime Worlds was the studio responsible for the brilliantly entertaining sandbox adventure Crackdown, which proved to be one of the Xbox’s very best early releases in 2007.
The studio’s next game, APB, was widely expected to be even better. After all, Realtime Worlds’ founder, David Jones, was the co-creator of Grand Theft Auto at DMA, and APB was intended as an amalgam of that sandbox adventure and fully-featured MMO, a virtual playground of violence, character customisation and socialising.
In the planning stages since 2005, APB’s huge development time and soaring budget merely added to its mystique – could this be an online game to rival the mighty World Of Warcraft? The game that finally staggered onto the world’s stage last summer wasn’t what many were expecting. Bug-laden, modest in scale and surprisingly drab, APB certainly didn’t look like a game with a rumoured production cost of $100 million.
APB’s reviews were poor, and with a meagre subscription base of around 100,000 users, Realtime Worlds went into administration in August last year. The game itself was shut down shortly afterwards – a sad end for a game that had been worked on by a 250-strong studio for around five years.
Based in Australia, Krome Studios mostly dealt in the less glamorous (but nevertheless lucrative) sector of the videogame industry, diligently creating PS2 and Wii versions of games such as Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, or movie spin-offs such as Hellboy: The Science Of Evil.
It did occasionally create original titles, however, such the 2002 platformer, Ty The Tasmanian Tiger, and the anime-styled side-scroller Blade Kitten, last September.
One of Krome’s more high-profile commissions was to create the nostalgic virtual arcade of Microsoft’s Game Room, a bleeping front-end for a plethora of old coin-ops from yesteryear. The movie tie-in Legend Of The Guardians: The Owls Of Ga’Hoole, a kind of aerial owl combat simulator, was Krome’s parting shot, before cash-flow issues saw the studio shut down last October.
Californian studio Luxoflux initially made its name with the release of the anarchic vehicular combat simulator Vigilante 8 in the late 90s, before creating the sandbox crime simulators True Crime: Streets Of LA and True Crime: New York City. Between these, Luxoflux turned out licensed fare such as Pitfall 3D: Beyond The Jungle, and movie tie-ins Shrek 2 and Kung Fu Panda.
The studio’s final release proved to be Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen which was, like most videogames based on the fragile robots in disguise, rather sub-par. Luxoflux was one of the casualties of Activision’s far-reaching staff cuts announced earlier this month.
Another developer closed in Activision’s February music division cull, 7 Studios was known for its various movie tie-ins (Fantastic Four, Shrek The Third) before it was enlisted to support FreeStyleGames in the production of DJ Hero. When Activision scrapped the Guitar Hero brand this year, 7 Studios went with it, ending a concern that had been running since 1999.
Founded in 2005, the Canada-based studio released just two games before their closure in January this year. Their first, a reboot of the FPS series Turok, was greeted with mixed reviews.
An RPG based on the Pirates Of The Caribbean franchise was announced in 2009, but cancelled in October last year – exactly why the plug was pulled isn’t clear, since early impressions of this free-roaming adventure were extremely positive.
Movie tie-in Tron: Evolution proved to be Propaganda’s swan song. While not perfect, its mixture of acrobatics, combat and shiny graphics were competently wrought. Sadly, the game simply couldn’t compete with the annual Call Of Duty mania that strikes the industry every winter, and Evolution’s sales never took off. Their fate sealed, Propaganda was shut down by its owner, Disney Interactive Studios.
The recently announced closure of Bizarre Creations seems to have been due to bad luck rather than their inability to make decent games. While the UK-based developer originally started out in the 90s with the Amiga platformer, The Killing Game Show, Bizarre’s name soon became synonymous with great driving games, in particular Metropolis Street Racer on the Dreamcast and, better yet, the Project Gotham Racing series, which kicked off on the Xbox in 2001.
In 2005, Bizarre released the luminous, influential Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved on Xbox Live, a fast-paced shooter that spawned dozens of imitations. Thereafter, the company appeared to run out of luck. The Club, a third-person shooter that threw the speed and combo-based thrills of the racing genre into the mix, failed to sell in significant quantities. A sequel to Geometry Wars was a reliably popular hit in 2008, but the racing game Blur, a kind of adult Mario Kart, was something of a flop in spite of its hugely favourable reviews.
The release of James Bond 007: Blood Stone would be Bizarre’s last. By no means a bad game, its mixture of shooting and driving was widely overlooked by audiences, a situation not helped by Activision’s apparent reluctance to give the game the marketing push it needed.
With Blood Stone failing to worry the top of the videogame charts, rumours began to circulate that Bizarre would be sold or closed by its publisher last November. We now know that, as of Friday, 18 February, Bizarre will close its doors for good. An unfortunate end for one of the UK’s most talented studios.
This list provides only a tiny part of a much greater picture. Quite apart from all the smaller, independent studios that have closed over the last year, there are other developers that have been irrevocably changed by the business decisions of the publishers that own them.
As part of a harsh series of staff cuts across its portfolio, Activision’s decision to drop the Guitar Hero franchise saw off not only 7 Studio but around half of FreeStyleGames’ workforce as well. The sudden axing of True Crimes: Hong Kong will no doubt have similar long-term ramifications for the workers at its developer, United Front.
Such closures and cuts are now common in the current bullish industry climate, where the cost of developing games can frequently mean make-or-break for the studios that make them.
There is some good news to impart, however. In Dundee, a new developer, Outplay Entertainment, has been founded by the Scottish government, which will create 150 new industry jobs. It’s a valuable piece of state investment in the country’s games industry, which was dealt a terrible blow by the closure of Realtime Worlds last year.
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