Saints Row And Red Faction Studio Shut Down After 30 Years

Volition, the studio behind Red Faction, Saints Row, and countless other games, is closing its doors after 30 years. The decision was made by parent company Embracer after the sprawling conglomerate announced cuts earlier this year following the loss of $2 billion in funding that was reportedly supposed to come from the controversial Saudi Arabia Public Invesetment Fund.

“This past June, Embracer Group announced a restructuring program to strength Embracer and maintain its position as a leader in the video game industry,” Volition announced on August 31 in a statement on LinkedIn. “As part of that program, they evaluated strategic and operational goals and made the difficult decidion to close Volition effective immediately.”

The news was coincidentally shared shortly after reviews for Bethesda’s spacefaring RPG Starfield went live, and Embracer declined to comment to Kotaku on why the decision was made or how many developers will be laid off as a result. “Naturally, It is a challenging time for everyone impacted and we are working with those team members with compassion, respect, and integrity,” a spokesperson for Embracer wrote in an email.

A screenshot shows Volition's closure announcement.

Screenshot: Volition / Kotaku

Volition began its journey in 1993 as Parallax Software with the sci-fi first-person shooter Descent. The company was renamed after a split in 1996, and went on to survive the collapse of publisher THQ in 2012 before eventually becoming part of Koch Media (now Plaion), itself later purchased by Nordic Games (now Embracer). Over three decades it created the space combat sim FreeSpace, the shooter series Red Faction, the fantasy RPG Summoner, and the hit open-world parody of Grand Theft Auto, Saints Row.

A reboot of the Saints Row series that released last year was its most recent game. It launched with lots of bugs and received mixed reviews, and reportedly didn’t meet sales expectations despite continual updates and plenty of fans. It was one of a number of big blockbusters whose less-than-stellar reception forced Embracer to begin slashing projects and development teams across its massive organization after years of snatching up studios in an unprecedented third-party acquisition spree.

The publisher’s financial health took a particularly hard hit early this year when CEO Lars Wingefors revealed that a $2 billion deal the company had planned on suddenly fell through at the last minute. Axios later reported that the partner in question was Savvy Games Group, the gaming investment vehicle for the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund. The fund had already invested $1 billion in Embracer, and maintains investments in Electronic Arts, Nintendo, and many other large gaming companies while also being criticized for the country’s terrible track record on human rights abuses.

“The Volition team has proudly created world-class entertainment for fans around the globe for 30 years,” the studio wrote in its announcement today. “We’ve been driven by a passion for our community and always worked to deliver joy, surprise, and delight.” Embracer said it’s trying to provide job assistance for those affected to “smooth the transition.” Franchises like Saints Row and Red Faction stay owned by Plaion, the company confirmed.


Studio Behind EA’s Magical FPS Has Layoffs After Low Sales

On August 22, Immortals of Aveum was released on Xbox, PlayStation, and PC. Three and a half weeks later, around half of the staff who worked on the game have reportedly been laid off after it failed to sell enough copies to satisfy its publisher. It’s yet another round of layoffs to hit the game industry this year.

Developed by Ascendant Studios and published by EA as an “EA Original,” Immortals of Aveum was billed as an AAA FPS that ditched guns for wild-looking magic attacks. Originally scheduled to launch in July, the game was delayed until late August, putting its release date near the launches of Starfield and Armored Core VI. Some worried that this might lead to Immortals of Aveum getting overlooked as players flocked to the bigger, more hyped releases from Bethesda and FromSoftware. It didn’t help that when Immortals did launch on August 22, the game suffered from performance woes on PC as players with even powerful rigs struggled to play it.

Now it seems the game failed to meet sales expectations, and Ascendant Studios is laying off staff to cut costs.

As first reported by Polygon, on Thursday around 40 people were laid off at Ascendant Studios. The layoffs were announced in a meeting by studio CEO Bret Robbins. Three employees at the studio told Polygon that around 80 to 100 people worked at the company before the layoffs. Another former employee told the outlet that the poor sales of Immortals of Aveum were cited as the reason for the layoffs. Employees at the studio were reportedly told the layoffs were necessary to keep the company running.

Kotaku contacted EA for comment and was pointed toward a statement from Ascendant Studios’ CEO posted on Twitter on September 14, which confirmed that the layoffs affected about 45 percent of the studio’s staff and which called the decision “painfully difficult, but necessary.”

“We are supporting those affected in every way we can,” wrote Robbins in his statement, “including comprehensive severance packages and job placement assistance, as well as support services for those who remain.”

I am so proud of what our independent development team has accomplished with Immortals of Aveum. Together we’ve created a new AAA studio, a new IP, on new technology, during an era of our industry when that is exceedingly rare. We’ve poured our passion into Immortals, while wearing our hearts on our sleeves. The studio will continue to work that way as we support the development of this game and our Immortals IP moving forward with future updates and offers.

According to the report from Polygon, a former employee of the studio explained that Immortals of Aveum is probably one of Electronic Arts’ worst-selling Originals and it was claimed that, before this larger round of departures, several other people were laid off shortly after the game’s launch.

This latest round of layoffs is sadly not the first of 2023. Since the beginning of this year, Firaxis, CD Projekt Red, Unity, Kabam Games, Ubisoft, Take-Two, Riot Games, Meta, and other companies have announced rounds of layoffs. Back in March, EA itself announced that 800 people had lost their jobs. We also saw the recent closure of Volition, the studio behind Saints Row, after 30 years of developing games. It’s a tough time to be a game developer, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any easier.

Correction 09/14/2023 16:35 p.m. ET: This story’s original headline suggested that EA made the layoff decision. It’s been reworded to make clear that Ascendant studio management made that choice.

Sega Cancels Hyenas Before Launch, Studio Faces Layoffs

Sega has canceled the yet-to-be-released Hyenas, an extraction shooter set in space that was in development at Total War and Alien Isolation studio Creative Assembly. The publisher also canceled several other, unannounced games as part of “structural reforms” across its European operations.

Announced in June 2022, Hyenas was described as a “sci-fi space piracy multiplayer FPS” pitting teams of players against each other and NPCs as they fought to steal valuable items and pieces of pop culture, like Sonic statues and Rubik’s cubes. On September 11, the game wrapped up its most recent beta. 17 days later, Sega and the developers behind Hyenas confirmed it was canceled.

The news broke Thursday via a post on Twitter from the official Hyena’s account confirming that it had ended development on the shooter, and saying that the decision to cancel the game wasn’t “made lightly.”

“We knew our plans were ambitious,” said Creative Assembly, “And we knew we were diving headfirst into competition with some of the greats. But we believed in the journey and we’re proud to have taken every step along the way. We hope you’ll join us in remembering the action-packed, zero-G chaos and the diehard community of players who helped us make it special.”

Following reports from IGN that Creative Assembly may face layoffs, the studio tweeted its own separate statement after confirming the cancellation of Hyenas. In it, the dev team explained that it had begun the “difficult” process of “redundancy consultation.”

“This may, unfortunately, result in job losses,” said Creative Assembly. “While we must go through this incredibly difficult process, we will prioritize supporting our people at every step. For those whose jobs are at risk, we will work to re-allocate them into other available roles within [Creative Assembly] wherever possible, and ultimately minimize any job losses.”

Creative Assembly sent over this statement to Kotaku:

Creative Assembly, part of SEGA Europe, has announced the beginning of a redundancy consultation process, alongside ending development of HYENAS. This decision affects areas of its UK operations, which may result in job losses.

We understand that this has a significant impact on our people, whether they are directly at-risk of redundancy or not. Our people-first approach remains foundational to how we operate; the priority is to work with those whose jobs are at-risk and re-allocate them to other available opportunities at CA wherever possible.

We are absolutely committed to delivering more exciting game experiences long into the future, which will delight both current and potential players all over the world.

Why Hyenas was canceled

These possible layoffs and the canceled game are part of a larger situation at Sega, which owns Creative Assembly.

In a press release posted Thursday on SegaSammy’s official website, the company blamed its lower profits in the UK on less demand for games due to fewer people being stuck at home after the lifting of covid-19 lockdowns and an “economic downturn due to inflation” in Europe. To “adapt to these changes” and “improve” profits in the region, Sega is implementing “structural reforms” after reviewing in-development games.

“In response to the lower profitability of the European region,” said Sega, “We have reviewed the title portfolio of each development base in Europe and the resulting action will be to cancel ‘HYENAS’ and some unannounced titles under development. Accordingly, we will implement a write-down of work-in-progress for titles under development.”

For those worried, Sega confirmed its “Pachinko Machines Business” continues to “perform well.”

Layoffs and cancellations have been an unfortunate industry trend in 2023, as every week seems to bring another wave of firings across countless video game studios and publishers like EA, Unity, and Riot.


Even The PS5 Studio Behind The Last Of Us Is Cutting Costs

The video game industry is currently facing a big wave of layoffs, and even contract developers at PlayStation first-party studio Naughty Dog aren’t immune. Kotaku has learned that the maker of hits like Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End and The Last of Us Part II has begun cutting contracts short for dozens of workers.

Layoffs were communicated internally at the Santa Monica, California-based studio last week, according to two sources familiar with the situation. Departments ranging from art to production were impacted, but the majority of those laid off worked in quality assurance testing. The sources said at least 25 developers were part of the downsizing. Full-time staff do not appear to have been part of the cuts. Naughty Dog’s headcount was over 400 as of July.

Sources tell Kotaku that no severance is being offered for those currently laid off, and that impacted developers as well as remaining employees are being pressured to keep the news quiet. Their contracts won’t be officially terminated until the end of October and they’ll be expected to work through the rest of the month. Sony did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Despite hit ratings for the recent HBO adaptation of The Last Of Us, a multiplayer spin-off for the zombie shooter based on the first game’s Factions mode has struggled in development. Bloomberg reported in June that Sony had diverted resources away from the project following a negative internal review by Bungie, the recently acquired live-service powerhouse behind Destiny 2. One source now tells Kotaku that the multiplayer game, while not completely canceled, is basically on ice at this point.

The layoffs also come just a few months after studio co-president Evan Wells announced his retirement at the end of 2023 after working at Naughty Dog for 19 years. Neil Druckmann, creative director and lead co-writer on both the most recent Uncharted and The Last of Us games, as well as a contributor to the HBO show, revealed a restructuring of the studio leadership around the same time.

Naughty Dog isn’t the only major first-party studio to face layoffs this year. The Xbox studio currently in charge of Halo, 343 Industries, was hit hard by mass layoffs at Microsoft back in January. Major gaming companies like Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, Epic Games, and Embracer have all added to the tally in recent weeks and months, with many developers increasingly unnerved by the constant influx of more bad news from colleagues and peers.

Back in April, Sony announced that it plans to sell a record-breaking 25 million PS5s in the current fiscal year.


Destiny 2 Maker Bungie Latest PlayStation Studio To Cut Staff

Destiny's main characters stand above The Traveller.

Image: Bungie

Bungie is the latest PlayStation studio to face layoffs. While the scale of the cuts wasn’t immediately apparent, multiple, now-former staff members began posting on social media on October 30 that they’d been let go by the beloved Destiny 2 maker.

“My heart is breaking for all affected…I am now looking for opportunities,” tweeted Destiny 2 community manager Liana Ruppert. “It’s a strange feeling to wake up in the morning excited for the week ahead, only for your day to begin learning that you’ve been hit with a Reduction in Force and are now on the job hunt,” wrote recruiting lead Amanda R. on LinkedIn.

The scale of the cuts and which teams or departments are most impacted isn’t yet clear. They come the same month that fellow PlayStation studio, Naughty Dog, cut dozens of contractors across art, production, quality assurance, and other disciplines. The downsizing comes in a year that’s seen publishers like Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, Take-Two, and Embracer all lay off hundreds, consolidated teams, or closed entire studios. PlayStation rival Microsoft has imposed severe cuts at current first-party Halo studio 343 Industries near the beginning of 2023.

Sony acquired Bungie for $3.6 billion just last year amid an acquisition frenzy across the video game industry. In addition to the popular sci-fi MMO shooter Destiny 2, Bungie is also working on the extraction shooter Marathon as well as another original IP. Bloomberg also previously reported that the studio was involved in an internal evaluation of Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us 2 multiplayer spin-off that stopped the project in its tracks. Kotaku reported earlier this month that the game, while not fully cancelled, had effectively been put on ice.

Sony and Bungie did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Update 10/30/2023: Bungie CEO Pete Parsons called today a “sad day” on Twitter. “What these exceptional individuals have contributed to our games and Bungie culture has been enormous and will continue to be a part of Bungie long into the future,” he wrote.