As the video game industry has grown over the past twenty years to become one of the biggest entertainment markets in the world, there has been a rise in the number of developers working to create games for customers. Many have become household names for incredible titles they have developed, such as with Bungie for Halo and Rockstar with Grand Theft Auto.
However, it is not all plain sailing for these studios. A variety of events can lead to them going out of business or simply fading from prominence even after releasing some of the best games of all time. They might go into financial problems due to a title not performing as well as expected, be acquired and then shut by a publisher or suffer from some other unseen obstacle that they simply can’t overcome – whatever the case though, many developers have effectively died in recent times.
7. Bizarre Creations
This Liverpool based studio was initially founded in 1988 as Raising Hell Software before it changed its name to Bizarre Creation in 1994. They were signed up by Sony to work on the 1996 Formula 1 game, with its success leading to various other projects. Arguable their biggest release came in 2001 when Microsoft tasked them with creating a new racing series for their own console. This led to the creation of the well known Project Gotham series which went on to receive critical acclaim. Later they also worked on developer new IP through The Club, Boom Boom Rocket and Blur, as well as working on the James Bond license with 007: Blood Stone. Perhaps their most iconic creation other than project Gotham Racing was Geometry Wars, the top-down shooter that began life as a mini game.
After exploring several options to keep the developer open in 2010, Activision could not find further funding or a buyer for the studio. They then decided to close down Bizarre Creations rather than keep it open amidst low sales of its latest releases.
6. Pandemic Studios
Founded in 1998 by some ex-Activision employees, Pandemic Studios went on to create a large collection of critically acclaimed and popular games across a range of genres. This included hit titles such as Full Spectrum Warrior, Star Wars: Battlefront and Destroy All Humans. They also worked on franchises such as Mercenaries, The Saboteur and Dark Reign before they were closed in 2009 along with several other studios after a round of extensive layoffs by EA.
Pandemic was acquired by EA after the owners of the developer and BioWare sold their shares to the publisher. Reasons for the closure amounted to the fact that recent titles had not been as successful as had been hoped. Luckily, many of the staff found jobs very quickly after the closure at places such as 343 Industries, Infinity Ward and Respawn Entertainment.
5. Free Radical Design
Technically, Free Radical Design still existed in the form of Crytek UK up until 2014 but the truth of the matter is that the legendary developer has long been dead. With its headquarters in Nottingham, UK, Free Radical Design was set up by a group of employees who had previously worked at Rare on games such as GoldenEye 007 and Perfect Dark. They went on to create the hit TimeSplitters series as well as Second Sight
The developer went into financial difficulty in 2008 due to a combination of the poor performance of the much hyped Haze and the cancellation of Star Wars: Battlefront III, which had been in development for almost three years. Most of the original employees left the company before it was bought by Crytek and transformed into Crytek UK.
Psygnosis was a developer that grew in the 19080s and 1990s and became something of a stalwart in the gaming industry in the UK. They were approached by Sony to developer games for their upcoming PlayStation console , and released popular titles such as WipeOut, Destruction Derby and Colony Wars.
It later evolved into SCE Studio Liverpool as Sony looked to further integrate the developer into its own structure following its success in creating titles for its platforms. The studio went on to create a number of well-received games in this guise, including Wipeout Fusion, Wipeout HD and Formula 1: 2001. However, following a consultation process Sony decided to close down the developer and move its project to other studios.
3. Ensemble Studios
Ensemble Studios may not be well known amongst console gamers but the studio was much admired by PC players who loved strategy games. They worked on hit games such as Age of Empires and Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds, with its properties going on to gross more than $500 million with at least 20 million units sold.
In 2009, the studio released a much anticipated RTS based on the Halo franchise. It was built from the ground-up for the Xbox 360 rather than PC and featured many elements to make it easier to control without the traditional keyboard and mouse combination associated with the genre. Unfortunately, Microsoft decided to close the studio immediately after the game had launched.
Many of the staff went on to form Robot Entertainment, contributing to Halo Wars post-launch and working on new Age of Empire games. Others ended up at Bonfire Studios but were again laid off when the studio was bought and then shuttered by Zynga.
Rare were arguably one of the best known and most respected developers in the world. They were responsible for creating hugely successful games across a range of platforms, but were particularly noted for creating games for Nintendo systems. They were responsible for titles such as Battletoads, Donkey Kong Country, Banjo-Kazooie, perfect Dark, Conker’s Bad Fur Day and GoldenEye 007. In recent times though, the studio has fallen from grace and no longer creates AAA titles.
Since their acquisition by Microsoft they have released a variety of titles but they have generally failed to capture the same success as their previous releases. From 2010, the studio has been exclusively working on games for the Kinect motion sensor with the exception of Killer instinct for the Xbox One in 2013.
Although LucasArts has operated as a publisher throughout its existence, guiding and funding titles based on their franchises such as Star Wars and Indiana Jones, they were also a significant developer in their own right. Famed for their adventure games, they created games such as The Secret of Monkey Island, Maniac Mansion, Full Throttle, Grim Fandango and Sam & Max. The studio also went on to create a number of highly praised games from other genres that included the likes of Star Wars: Dark Forces and Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast.
From 2000 though, LucasArts began to focus more on publishing rather than developing due to a shifting focus that resulted in layoffs. The biggest change came after Disney acquired LucasFilm and the Star Wars franchise. Afterwards, Disney laid off most of the staff at LucasArts and left it operating simply as a way to manage licensing of its franchises to third-party developers.