What We Lost and Gained in 2018: Game Studios Shut and Merged, Employees Laid off and Moved, Games Closed and Acquired
All major events in the gaming industry in 2018: from Telltale Games shuting down to Cliff Bleszinski leaving the gaming industry
Every year new game developing studios are born and old are closed or absorbed, while dozens of employees are dismissed. In this feature, we will tell you about who we had to say goodbye to in 2018.
Hundreds of unemployed: game studios shutting down and employees dismissed in 2018
Most will probably remember the past year for Telltale Games going bankrupt or Cliffy B's departure from the gaming industry. However, there were quite a few other somewhat unnoticed but not less important events. First things first though.
One of the first to go was Mafia 3 developer, Hangar 13. In mid-February, the dismissal of a large number of employees leaked out, but the exact number is unknown. Despite the relative success of Mafia 3 (5 million copies sold at the beginning of 2017) quarterly revenues of its publisher, 2K, decreased by almost 100 million dollars, which could have been the reason for cuts.
The Bartlet Jones Supernatural Detective Agency
Another studio to collapse under financial difficulties was The Bartlet Jones Supernatural Detective Agency. Studio lead David Jaffe, previously one of the key developers of the first two God of War games, made an announcement about closing in late February. Jaffe's new studio released only one project, Drawn to Death — a multiplayer third-person shooter with graphics in a 'teenager's notebook drawings' style. Following the game's mixed reception and poor sales, the studio had to close in early 2018.
In March, Robot Entertainment, Orcs Must Die! developer, reported a reduction of more than 30 employees and merging of two internal studios into one. The decision was influenced by the commercial failure of two games released earlier, Orcs Must Die! Unchained (2017) and a mobile title Hero Academy 2 (2018).
Boss Key Productions
Cliff Bleszinski's studio Boss Key Productions was next to continue the sad spring trend in May. Bleszinksi, who earlier worked more than 20 years on Unreal, Unreal Tournament and Gears of War at Epic Games, declared financial insolvency of the studio's only project, BattleRoyale LawBreakers. Despite positive reviews from critics, LawBreakers could not fully compete with PUBG and Fortnite. Just two months after the release, there were only 10 people playing online, so in April 2018 it was decided to close the project, which was soon followed by the studio.
Wargaming Seattle (Gas Powered Games)
In May, it was the turn of Wargaming.net Seattle office to close. Earlier known as Gas Powered Games, the studio was founded by the gaming industry veteran Chris Taylor. Among the most famous releases of GPG are the first two Dungeon Siege games and the Supreme Commander series. After a series of financial setbacks, the studio was purchased by the Belarusian developer in 2013. With the studio closing down, 150 employees were either dismissed or moved to other departments of Wargaming.
Another division to shut down in 2018 was Capcom Vancouver, which was responsible for the Dead Rising series. The dissolution of the studio was accompanied by Capcom intensively hiring new employees in Japan and other regions for the 'development of world-class projects'. Experiencing financial difficulties and layoffs since 2017, Capcom Vancouver was cut by the publisher. More than 150 employees were fired, while Capcom lost over 40 million dollars after closing the Vancouver division.
One of the most significant events in the gaming industry last year was the announcement of Telltale Games laying off most of its employees in September. For many, this came out of the blue as Telltale Games regularly released adventure games in well-known settings: The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Wolf Among Us and others.
The studio shutting down put The Walking Dead series in a halting state. By that time, TG released three full seasons of Clementine's story and finished the half of the last one. The development of the rest two episodes was transferred to Skybound Games founded by The Walking Dead creator, Robert Kirkman.
In November, Prima Games, which made a name for itself as a publisher of guides, walkthroughs and detailed information about game worlds, announced its closure. The company will last until the spring of 2019, and then will be closed down.
Another major event was Blizzard Entertainment reducing its financial costs, which lasted through 2018 but was revealed only by the end of the year. This happened due to several reasons including the financially unsuccessful year Activision Blizzard experienced and the increased number of financiers in Blizzard management.
Over the year, Blizzard tried to find a way to cut non-gaming departments without damaging the image of the company. For instance, employees who took voluntary redundancy were offered an annual salary as compensation. And judging by the latest news, around 100 people from the Irish technical support office has agreed to get dismissed. Rumor has it that further reduction of 'non-essential' staff is planned for 2019.
Expansions, acquisitions and openings in 2018
2018 is remembered not only for closing studios but also for expanded and absorbed ones. Following a series of mass layoffs in February, the above-mentioned Czech developer Hangar 13 by mid-year opened a new studio in the UK to work on a new unannounced project.
In May, People Can Fly (Painkiller, Bulletstorm) opened two new studios: one in the UK and another in Poland. The studio has been engaged in the development of Epic Games' Fortnite, and apparently, they are doing pretty good
Another company to open a UK office was Wargaming.net.
Among major expansions that took place in 2018 was Electronic Arts purchasing mobile games developer Industrial Toys; Valve acquired its first new studio since 2013, Campo Santo (Firewatch), while a large German MMO publisher Gamigo got Trion Worlds (Rift).
Blast from the past: THQ Nordic acquisitions in 2018
In February 2018, Swedish company THQ Nordic (Nordic Games before 2016) completed the acquisition of German Koch Media and its affiliated publisher Deep Silver, which owns the rights for the Metro and Homefront series, not speaking of Gothic, Risen, Sacred, Trackmania and other games.
Once a comics and video games publisher in Sweden, THQ Nordic has been actively acquiring forgotten franchises and breathing new life into them. Only over 2018, THQ Nordic — besides Deep Silver licenses — purchased Act of War, Carmageddon and Alone in the Dark. It also published the sequel to Darksiders — one of the main series of the closed publisher THQ Inc.
In the pursuit of exclusives: Microsoft buying and creating new game studios
The current generation of consoles turned out to be a failure for both Microsoft and Xbox One, which was, among other things, influenced by the lack of AAA-exclusives. Gears of War 4 and Halo 5 can hardly compete with a long line of PlayStation 4 titles, but this might change soon. At E3 2018, Microsoft announced that it acquired five new studios: Playground Games (a long-term Xbox partner with the Forza series), Ninja Theory (Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice), Undead Labs (State of Decay), and Compulsion Games (We Happy Few). Moreover, former head of Crystal Dynamics (Tomb Raider, Rise of the Tomb Raider), Darrell Gallagher, founded a new studio, The Initiative.
Microsoft did not stop at five studios and in November two RPG-veterans, Obsidian Entertainment and inXile Entertainment, joined the company. Their heads come from Black Isle, which developed such legendary games as Fallout 1-2, Planescape: Torment, and Icewind Dale.
Besides, Black Isle provided substantial aid and support in the development of Baldur’s Gate. Following the closure of Black Isle, some of its developers founded Obsidian Entertainment. Obsidian developed Knights of the Old Republic 2, Neverwinter Nights 2, Fallout: New Vegas, and the Pillars of Eternity dilogy. A few weeks ago, the studio announced their new project — Outer Worlds.
The core of InXile Entertainment is also formed by former Black Isle developers. This studio is primarily known for a series of classic isometric RPGs: the Wasteland dilogy, Torment: Tides of Numenera and Bard’s Tale 4.
It is said that Microsoft is not going to stop and will continue to acquire more promising studios.
The freedom-loving French: Ubisoft avoiding acquisition
One of the biggest events of 2018 was French media giant Vivendi failing to purchase Ubisoft. These attempts started back in 2015 and received a negative reaction from Ubisoft management, who claimed that it was freedom and independence that ensured the studio's projects needed creativity. The next two years, Vivendi was activity purchasing the publisher's shares, which it tried to prevent by increasing their value. This is way, at E3 2017 the studio showed all the possible titles, from Assassin’s Creed: Origins and Far Cry 5 to one of the most long-term projects, Beyond Good & Evil 2.
This played well for Ubisoft since in 2017 Vivendi gave up plans to acquire Ubisoft, and in March 2018 the entertainment giant announced the sale of all Ubisoft shares to third-party companies, among which was Chinese giant Tencent. Now, Ubisoft can feel secure about its independence for some time.
To find out more about the remarkable moments of 2018, check out our Main Video Game Industry Facts and Figures of 2018 and The Best Game Trailers of 2018 stories.