The games industry moves pretty fast, and there's a tendency for all involved to look constantly to what's next without so much worrying about what came before. That said, even an industry so entrenched in the now can learn from its past. So to refresh our collective memory and perhaps offer some perspective on our field's history, GamesIndustry.biz runs this monthly feature highlighting happenings in gaming from exactly a decade ago.
Life finds a way... sort of
Regular readers of this column will know we make a point of calling out acquisitions and following up on what happened to those studios with their new owners. Entirely too often, the answer is that they didn't make it another 10 years and were shut down. Sometimes the answer is bit messier though, as is the case with this month's acquisition anniversaries.
Ten years ago, Take-Two Interactive acquired Illusion Softworks, the studio behind Mafia, Hidden & Dangerous, and Vietcong. Are they still around? Kind of. In 2014, the publisher shut down the Prague studio of 2K Czech, consolidating the team in Brno and reportedly transferring 10 developers to California to work at 2K's Novato headquarters. Novato also happens to be home to Hangar 13 Games, which was revealed later that year and became lead developer on Mafia III, for which 2K Czech did support work. However, last year the studio's Twitter account confirmed that 2K Czech was actually merged entirely into Hangar 13.
Turtle Rock's acquisition by Valve was another odd one. The acquisition itself made enough sense, as the California studio's Left 4 Dead was going to launch later that year and the cooperative online shooter was shaping up to be something special. Slightly more odd in hindsight are the quotes in the story from Valve's Gabe Newell and Doug Lombardi about how the move "gives us a base from which to expand our development activities in the Los Angeles area" and how Left 4 Dead "will also help Valve's expansion into the console market."
Clearly, things have changed since then. Valve doesn't develop games much these days outside of Dota 2, and its last appearance on consoles was Counter-Strike: Global Offensive more than five years ago. It also no longer owns Turtle Rock. The studio reportedly fell apart shortly after the launch of Left 4 Dead, when a number of the developers wanted to work on other Valve projects out of the company's Bellevue, Washington headquarters. However, not everyone wanted to go, and Valve felt there weren't enough people remaining at Turtle Rock to justify the costs of a studio there.
In the end, Valve effectively closed Turtle Rock, but the holdouts went on to re-form Turtle Rock Studios, the current incarnation of which has produced the asymmetrical multiplayer shooter Evolve, as well as a number of VR experiences including Face Your Fears, The Well, and Blade Runner 2049: Replicant Pursuit.
"Are Illusion Softworks, Turtle Rock Studios, and Big Huge Games still around? Kind of? It depends on what you think counts as 'still around'"
We saved the messiest one for last, as January 2008 also saw THQ acquire Big Huge Games, the Rise of Nations developer which was working on a Ken Rolston-led RPG at the time. The honeymoon didn't last long, as THQ hit the skids financially and needed to sell the studio just over a year later. 38 Studios swept in as the buyer, and Big Huge re-worked its project to fit with the IP of 38 Studios' long-in-development MMO project. Big Huge Games' project, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, would launch in 2012, just before 38 Studios itself filed for bankruptcy.
That seemed to put a big huge period on the Big Huge Games story, but in 2013 Big Huge co-founder Brian Reynolds started a new studio that he would re-name Big Huge Games the following year. And as if things weren't confusing enough, Nexon acquired the new Big Huge in 2016, so this column can recap this whole saga again in eight more years (which history suggests is just enough time for it to be acquired three more times).
So are Illusion Softworks, Turtle Rock Studios, and Big Huge Games still around? Kind of? It depends on what you think counts as "still around."
Victory in HD Day
A decade ago was an interesting and unique time in the history of the console wars, as essentially every platform on the market would go down in history as a success. The Wii, the Xbox 360, the PlayStation 3, and the PSP all sold at least 80 million systems over their lifetimes. The DS nearly doubled that.
But not every war was so free from casualties. One of the biggest struggles of the time was over the successor to the DVD format, and it was one that came to a merciful end almost exactly a decade ago. For years leading up to that point, there had been a struggle between tech coalitions led by Sony and Toshiba over whether their respective Blu-ray or HD DVD formats would be the next industry standard for physical media.
Predictably, the battle was a mess for consumers. Each side secured exclusive rights from major movie studios, and from the 2006 commercial debut of HD DVD and Blu-ray players, consumers who wanted to watch movies in high-def were having to choose between which bizarrely curated library of movies they preferred. Do you want to pay $700 for a Blu-ray player that lets you watch Hitch, Lord of War, and Underworld: Evolution to your heart's content, or would you prefer $500 for HD DVD and The Last Samurai, Apollo 13, and Swordfish?
Do you want to pay $700 for a Blu-ray player that lets you watch Hitch and Lord of War to your heart's content, or would you prefer $500 for HD DVD and The Last Samurai and Swordfish?
Sony's decision to build the PS3 around Blu-ray gave the format a huge leg up, building an installed base for a tech that wouldn't have sold on its own at that time. And even though Microsoft dismissed Blu-ray and released an HD DVD add-on for the DVD-based Xbox 360 (which reportedly accounted for one-third of all HD-DVD drives sold), it could only postpone the inevitable. After months where it felt like the writing was on the wall for HD DVD, January of 2008 was a succession of brutal defeats for the format that sealed its fate.
Warner Bros. rang in the New Year by announcing that it would be dropping HD-DVD support and moving exclusively to Blu-ray, saying, "The window of opportunity for high-definition DVD could be missed if format confusion continues to linger." The news clearly rattled the HD DVD camp, prompting them to cancel their Consumer Electronics Show press conference at the last minute. A wounded Toshiba released a statement saying it was "quite surprised by Warner Bros' decision to abandon HD DVD in favour of Blu-ray, despite the fact that there are various contracts in place between our companies concerning the support of HD DVD." Just a few days later, HBO and New Line Home Entertainment would follow WB out the door.
In a last-ditch attempt to gain traction (or move stock while anyone could conceivably be interested in buying it) Toshiba responded to the defections by slashing the price of its HD DVD players by as much as half, saying, "While price is one of the consideration elements for the early adopter, it is a deal-breaker for the mainstream consumer."
The bad news kept rolling when retailer Woolworths said it would no longer carry HD DVD in its stores after seeing the format outsold by Blu-ray 10-to-1 over the holiday season.
"Sales figures clearly show that the market is moving towards one format of high definition DVD," a Woolworths DVD buyer said. "The main reason is the success of Sony's PlayStation 3 machine. Because it plays Blu-ray discs, there are over three quarters of a million homes in the UK that can view the new high definition format... There is nowhere near that number of HD-DVD players around."
Toshiba responded to the snub the way many doomed combatants might, with optimism bordering on delusion.
"While we're disappointed by Woolworths' decision, it is extremely early to spot which format will eventually win," a representative said.
It may have been "extremely early" on January 28 when that story ran, but Toshiba had finally seen all it needed to see when it discontinued the HD DVD format on February 19.
- The soon-to-be-merged Activision Blizzard triumphantly announces that Guitar Hero has become a billion-dollar franchise in just over two years, while World of Warcraft has surpassed 10 million subscribers worldwide.
- EA smartly enters the games-as-a-service business with the free-to-play Battlefield Heroes.
- EA questionably exits the Marvel games business just months before Iron Man launches the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
- Playtek erroneously claims it's bringing back the ill-fated Gizmondo handheld.
- 2K Sports fortuitously decides to bury its College Hoops series just a year before rival EA Sports is beset by lawsuits over its own collegiate efforts which lead to a $60 million settlement with amateur athletes.