A Eurogamer report indicates that troubled developer Black Rock Studio is being shut down by parent company Disney Interactive.
Back in May, it was reported that the studio would conduct layoffs, and be left with a skeleton crew for work on another project. However, Disney confirmed to their employees in a company meeting yesterday (and also confirmed to Eurogamer) that they would be closing the studio due to their latest project not being green-lit. Disney has been making a sharp turn away from AAA title development and has instead stated that it will focus on developing social games for Facebook and mobile devices. One studio employee told Eurogamer that the company was badly mismanaged, with Disney outsourcing games development to outside developers while letting the company rot.
Eurogamer reports that the company gave rise to three new studios – Roundcube Entertainment, ShortRound Games, and BossAlien – that rose from the ashes of staff who worked on Black Rock games. The studio was known for developing racing games; their last two titles were Pure and Split/Second, both of which were well received but sold below expectations.
Analysis: Obviously, based on my earlier report in May as well as earlier reports of layoffs by Disney, this has been coming for some time. Disney Interactive seems to have decided almost overnight that they would put the brakes on all AAA development (where they’d been losing money) and would instead develop “casual” games for the “freemium” mark– ah, to hell with it. They’re developing piece of shit titles with Mickey Mouse as the front man. That’s their wont as a company, but let’s not beat around the bush: Disney has handled the whole affair terribly, as I’ve reported before. In fact, a large reason for Black Rock’s closure, and Disney’s turning away from making good– I mean, AAA titles is because of the poor sales of Split/Second. But as I’ve stated time and time again that the issues that led to both Split/Second and Blur selling poorly were avoidable. Three arcade style racers were released at almost the same exact time: those two games, and Sony’s Modnation Racers. Naturally, sales of all three weren’t that good, though Sony’s game has had lasting impact due to the fact that it relies heavily on user generated content. Two of those three developers ended up being closed down by their parent companies, with Bizarre Creations being shuttered by Activision in May. The parallels are striking: both developers made very good games, both developers’ games didn’t sell because of issues that weren’t their fault, and both developers fell victim to sloppy or even outright cut throat management by their owners. Activision’s tentacles even extend to the third developer in this saga; United Front Games was the company developing True Crime: Hong Kong before Activision killed that project.
In a way, it’s a good thing that these studios closed. Three companies have formed by Black Rock’s slow, yet inevitable death, and those companies won’t have the strings of ownership by a large, publicly owned, clumsy corporation that has investors actively questioning why they are even in the video games business in the first place. They can concentrate on making games, instead of worrying if some beancounter at Disney is going to cock up their next, critical release, or worrying that someone at Activision’s going to change his or her mind and just kill their game on a whim.