Activision has done a fantastic job killing studios throughout this entire generation, closing around ten development houses after either one of their games fails at retail, or because they simply don’t need them anymore -- usually after franchise saturation. It almost seems like intentionally put themselves in competition with the just-as-excellent EA, who’s also gained this reputation -- among many others. The latest casualty from Activision came this week, with Canadian developer Radical Entertainment. The developer previously handled games like Scarface: The World is Yours, The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, The Simpsons: Hit & Run, Crash: Mind over Mutant, and Prototype. All of those games were received well by critics and fans and sold pretty well, but it appears the recent release of Prototype 2 was what did them in.
The studio probably expected this, too, after saying they wanted to sell four million copies of the game worldwide. That’s a ridiculous sales expectation, but it’s quickly becoming the norm for many games in development. For Activision’s standards: if it’s not a franchise that can sell millions of copies every year, it’s not worth keeping around. It’s the reason why they decided to drop their publishing duties from numerous games after merging with Vivendi Entertainment and Blizzard back in 2008. The yearly sequel strategy works great for some games (sports games, and especially the Call of Duty titles), but not others (Guitar Hero, the last batch of Tony Hawk games). They couldn’t find a way to do this for an open-world type game like Prototype 2, so that franchise had to go…along with the whole studio.
A minimal amount Radical’s staff will remain under a “support” capacity. They’ve yet to elaborate on what that means, but most are (probably correctly) guessing they’ll be working on CoD and Spyro: Skylanders games. That’s probably not so hard to believe, considering the publisher is in the midst of readying their studios for the next generation of consoles -- a time where development costs and workload will be higher. For reference, Activision currently has twelve studios, with around half of those working on CoD-related material.
It doesn’t help that this is another in a recent, steady line of Canadian developer casualties. The ever-troubled Silicon Knights may have gotten themselves into an unfortunate situation by not developing any good games, but the scope of their problems increased exponentially when they lost their case against Epic Games for troubles with the Unreal Engine 3 graphics engine. They ended up owing millions, and had to shed a sizable portion of their staff as a result. Also, the success of Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City didn’t help Slant Six, who had to lay off a number of their staff earlier this month. They’re hoping to rehire them, but that’s not an assurance.
But as far as Radical’s situation is concerned: did it really have to come to this? They could have at least been given the chance to work on a licensed property, particularly one involving a superhero, something they’ve proven with their previous works. For instance, Activision could let them handle a Spider-Man game one year, in lieu of forcing Beenox Software to make one a year after the previous installment, resulting in a rushed product. The potential they had makes this come off as a knee-jerk move.
And this is sadly going to be far from the last closure of a good studio in the near future, as so many big publishers refuse to change course from the business model that requires shelling out massive budgets. You can bet that there are going to be plenty of studios that won’t survive the push towards more “AAA” experiences, while the prevalence of B-tier titles reduces in prevalence, especially once systems with even higher graphics capabilities arrive. It’s going to be a rocky ride for nearly everyone involved.