In the past few weeks we’ve heard of publishers facing bankruptcy, studios shutting down, developers being laid off, and even one publisher becoming defunct. It’s been a tumultuous time in the videogame industry, yet amidst the chaos and sadness we’ve also seen a few heart-warming stories too. This is one of them.
Most of you will know that THQ ran into financial trouble in the last few years, after trying to keep their head above water the publisher was forced to file for bankruptcy in December 2012. On January 23rd of this year an auction was held and various publishers bought studios, publishing rights and titles that formed part of the THQ portfolio. You can read more about the results of this auction here.
The Darksiders franchise and its creator developer Vigil Games received no bids at the auction. As a result THQ shut the studio down on January 25th and the development team was laid off. It was an event that surprised many, and the consequences of which I believe will continue to cause ripples within the industry for some time. You can read details about the studio’s demise here.
It reminded me of something that Gandalf said to Frodo in Lord of the Rings. Frodo was lamenting that he wished the ring had never come to him and that none of this had happened. To which Gandalf responded, “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
This seemed to sum up the reaction that we saw in the aftermath of the THQ auction. People had lost their jobs, they had lost the opportunity to continue work on their passion, yet amidst the uncertainty the videogame industry rose up to support its own, and developers began to find new homes.
For the staff at Vigil Games this must have been a dark time indeed. But it soon turned into something incredible, the chance to begin a new journey. Vigil Games was shut down on January 25th, Crytek USA was formed on January 28th, with former Vigil Games lead David Adam heading up the new studio as CEO and the core members of his team all on board too.
The tale of how Crytek hired the ex-Vigil Games team and formed a new studio in less than three days is an intriguing one. Even more so when you learn that it was done based on just one meeting.
GamesBeat chatted to Crytek CEO Cevat Yerli and Crytek’s newly appointed CEO David Adams to find out exactly what happened during the course of these three days.
According to Yerli, Crytek was “surprised when nobody bid on Vigil,” they “would have liked to have bid, but there were too many unknowns.” At that stage Crytek was focused on acquiring the rights to the Homefront franchise, an obvious concern since Homefront 2 is currently in development at its UK studio. Crytek did “reconsider bidding” but ultimately didn’t because the projects Vigil was working on “weren’t strategically fit” for them.
Yerli, however, “really liked David on the phone.” He noted that “He made a very good impression on me as someone who really cared, someone who is really passionate about what he does, and someone who is passionate about the team he works with.”
Yerli planned to travel to Austin to meet with Adams and visit the studio during the week of January 28th. Crytek already had plans to form a studio in the US and Yerli believed the Vigil team may be a good fit. As the events unfolded, however, Vigil Games was closed and everyone was laid off before Yerli left.
“We had chosen Austin as the destination for [our U.S. branch], and we needed a lean and core team of experts to run the studio,” said Yerli. “At the same time, we didn’t want to continue with Darksiders 3, since that doesn’t fit with our strategy. So when I heard that [THQ laid off everyone at Vigil], I decided on Saturday morning to fly out to meet with them to see if the team would be interested to join our mission, which is significantly different than what this team has done before.”
Yerli attributes his quick action to his conversations with Adams and the time he had spent with the Darksiders games. At this point he hadn’t seen any resumes or held any interviews, and was still unsure if the ex-Vigil team would be a good fit for Crytek USA.
On the other hand Adams wasn’t sure that anything would come of his conversations with Yerli. “It was an interesting time, I was telling everyone that [Friday] was their last day. I was pretty busy trying to help people find jobs. Sure, Crytek was gonna come out the following week, and that was cool. It sounded like a good opportunity, but my mind was really focused on finding people a place to land.”
That Friday Vigil Games shut down for good. Yerlic arrived in Austin the next day, met with Adams and “the day after [they] were pulling a new studio together called Crytek USA.”
When news of the new studio formation broke, many people were surprised at how quickly it had happened. It seems Yerli was just as surprised, “This is probably the fastest establishment ever [for a new studio]. I don’t think you could establish a studio faster than this. Only a few people within Crytek even knew this was happening because we didn’t have time to update people. So it was a surprise for a lot of people within Crytek.”
Yerli was confident of the ex-Vigil Games technical and creative abilities, he noted “I saw a history of games that spoke to the team’s capabilities. I saw, from a corporate-culture perspective, a very fit core team, and I saw a strong leader in front of me.”
At that stage Yerli had only met with Adams and a few lead developers, he hadn’t interviewed the rest of the team. “I was thinking that if the [whole] team showed up to the Sunday meeting in full number, as David said they would, it would show implicitly the trust and respect the team has for David. And when they all showed up and expressed that they really wanted to work together — that team integrity and the fact that they really didn’t want to split up was enough for me to say this goes beyond an interview.”
The team’s commitment and work on Darksiders was enough to land them the job, without any formal interviews. Adams is facing the challenge head-on, saying “We’re a team that likes to prove ourselves. We relish the opportunity to be put in a situation where we can prove our worth, and we’re all so dedicated to show Cevat that his initial instincts about us were not incorrect.”
So where to from here? Crytek USA isn’t pursuing the property rights to Darksiders. They’re working on a new game concept and all we know is that it will use Crytek’s CryEngine and it will be “awesome.”