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Bizarre Creations – The Non-Hysterical Reaction

Bizarre Creations – The Non-Hysterical Reaction

Bizarre Creations is at a cross-roads. That’s probably the most accurate way to illustrate the news that Activision is “exploring options” as regards the future of Blur and Blood Stone developer Bizarre and given its staff a 90 day redundancy notice. That gives Activision three months to find a satisfactory solution before it needs to think about closing it up for good. For my part, I’d be sorry to see it go.

For a start the deal that saw Bizarre Creations bought by Activision seemed to have been done with the best of intentions. Back in late 2007 (around the same time that Bungie announced its independence from Microsoft) the deal was met with a great deal of optimism from all sides.

“Bizarre have always been successful and stable… we’re not in financial trouble,” Ben Ward, Bizarre’s then Community and Web lead told me back in 2007. “In fact we’ve never even needed a loan or overdraft! The move to join Activision is one that we’ve made to guarantee our future as a successful and industry-leading developer, not one that we’ve made out of necessity. It enables us to make better games, which is the most important thing at the end of the day.”

“Bizarre Creations is the leading independent developer with a proven track record in developing highly successful and influential original properties, especially in the racing field,” was Bobby Kotick’s reaction to the deal at the time. “They are one of the most innovative and creative studios in the industry, and we are very excited to welcome this talented creative team to Activision.”

Now Activision had this to say, “Over the past three years since our purchase of Bizarre Creations, the fundamentals of the racing genre have changed significantly. Although we made a substantial investment in creating a new IP, Blur, it did not find a commercial audience. Bizarre is a very talented team of developers, however, because of the broader economic factors impacting the market, we are exploring our options regarding the future of the studio, including a potential sale of the business.”

A lot has changed in three years. That much should be evident to us all. A lot of good studios have gone in that time, some of them independent, some of them owned by publishers. The supposedly recession proof games industry has been anything but. Blur by all accounts struggled in sales by any measure. I actually thought that it must have broken 1 million, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. It was released around the same time as Split/Second (a game that needed very little by way of explanation compared to Blur) and ModNation Racers (Play, Create,  Share hitting its stride). Neither of those lit up the sales charts either.

But, all three were good games that received a positive critical reception. Reviews and sales don’t seem to have much relation these days, but surely good reviews means a certain amount of good will should a sequel come around. New IP is hard and it takes a lot for a game to capture the imagination on its first attempt. Having launched Prototype and Singularity Activision should be well aware of this. Cutting its losses strikes me as premature, and that feeling may well explain much of the uproar around the internet, but clearly we don’t have all the facts and figures.

For Bizarre the obvious question would be does it regret coming in under Activision’s wing and I would think the answer is still no. Everyone who works there is going to be a little nervous, some may jump ship rather than wait to be pushed, but it still Activision gave it the money and the freedom to develop a really interesting an engaging new title in Blur that did things we’d never seen before. That may have been harder to do across formats as an independent studio.

As for its future, I like many others hope that someone will come in the acquire the studio intact. Going independent right now seems unlikely, but you never know. Whatever the outcome, this period of uncertainty and the sword that seems to be hanging over the studio seems unfair and undeserving of such a fine team.

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