Hey, it’s Joan with another roundup of labor news from the video game industry! I originally typed out “highlights” instead of “news,” but on second glance calling studio closures and layoffs “highlights” felt pretty bad! This month, we’re focusing on recent high-profile studio closures, with Tango Gameworks and Arkane Austin shuttered along with similar stories for Roll7 and Intercept Games.

As other GYGOs have mentioned, a quick reminder to support Palestine and Palestinian people however you can during this genocide. The team over at People Make Games, one of the only large voices in the games industry openly supporting Palestine, has a great video outlining why we can’t afford to be silent. If you’re in the United States, the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights has a great toolkit to help get you involved if you’re not sure where to start. Please do what you can.

Tango Gameworks, Arkane Austin Shuttered by Microsoft

In what is arguably the most shocking news to date from the downsizing AAA game industry, Microsoft announced early in May that three Bethesda studios were closing: Tango Gameworks, Arkane Austin, and Mighty Doom developer Alpha Dog Games. Roundhouse Studios, a team with a wild history in their own right, is also being absorbed into Elder Scrolls Online developer Zenimax Online Studios, a merger I would elect to call a fourth studio closure in terms of Roundhouse’s autonomy from their parent company.

The news of Tango and Arkane is the most surprising here: Tango’s recent game Hi-Fi Rush was a commercial and critical success as described by the Vice President of Xbox Games Marketing himself, and Dishonored and Prey developer Arkane Austin is an award-winning studio with years of commercial success (Redfall notwithstanding). Fans of Hi-Fi Rush in particular have gone out of their way to reverse review bomb the game, posting a slew of new, extremely positive reviews as a show of support for Tango Gameworks.

With more Microsoft cuts allegedly on the way, as reported by Bloomberg, I must ask: is any amount of success enough for video game executives? Is winning multiple awards for game design, audio design, and more, along with millions of sales, not enough to provide developers with a modicum of job security? In a town hall scheduled the day after the studio closure announcements, head of Xbox Game Studios Matt Booty remarked that they “need smaller games that give us prestige and awards.” Tango and Arkane, both prestigious, critically-acclaimed studios, were reportedly in the process of pitching projects when they were shuttered, making Booty’s statement ring hollow as cost-cutting initiatives continue industry-wide. And yet, Microsoft still had enough money for a $75 billion dollar buyout of Activision-Blizzard

Speaking of greedy cost cutting…

Roll7 and Intercept Games Shut Down as Part of Take-Two Layoffs

Depending on the circles you’re in, news of indie studio Roll7 and Kerbal Space Program 2 developer Intercept Games shutting down might hit harder than our last story. At the beginning of May, a Bloomberg report (as seen via PC Gamer) confirmed that both teams would cease operations as part of a 5% reduction of workforce at Take-Two, specifically affecting publisher Private Division whose focus is on publishing indie games from small to mid-sized studios. It’s worth noting that parent company Take-Two Interactive owns, among other properties, the Grand Theft Auto franchise, one of the most financially successful entertainment franchises ever, and yet is talking about needing to downsize to cut costs at this moment.

Roll7 might be best known for the 2D skateboarding OlliOlli games and most recently released 2023’s Rollerdrome, which just reached one million players in March! They’re an award-winning studio that had been around for 15 years as an independent developer—Roll7 was acquired by Private Division in 2021, but operated independently before that—whose acquisition allowed them to offer private healthcare and other benefits for their workers, and now they’ve all lost their jobs to cut costs. While Intercept Games is much famous by comparison, the team working on Kerbal Space Program 2 still consisted of 70 workers who have now lost their jobs, despite a May 1 tweet claiming the game is still being worked on. This marks the second time a studio has shut down while working on the Kerbal Space Program sequel, with Star Theory Games closing in 2020 after the project was reassigned… also by Take-Two.

Perhaps the most bizarre piece of this story is Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick’s recent claim that these studios haven’t been closed. To back up his original reporting, as Take Two denies claims that the downsizing is not a shutdown, Bloomberg reporter Jason Schreier delivered a perfect follow-up tweet showing that it seems this is a frequent strategy for 2K: it’s easier to weather the criticism if you just pretend closed studios still exist, right?

In other news…

In Montreal, video game workers have established a new union, Game Workers Unite Montreal, in partnership with Confédération des Syndicats Nationaux (CSN), aiming to unionize game workers across all of Quebec. This would typically be a big headline for GYGO Labor, but there isn’t much news beyond the union’s announcement early in May. Still, we’ll definitely be following this story as it (hopefully) develops.

Dawon Entertainment, a studio opened less than a year ago in August of 2023, has announced they’re shutting down this month. You might remember last month’s coverage of Prytania Media’s sudden closure of studios Possibility Space and Crop Circle Games in response to an alleged forthcoming Kotaku article… well, Dawon makes three of four studios owned by Prytania. In last month’s GYGO Labor, I neglected to highlight excellent reporting from Rock Paper Shotgun highlighting the allegations of sexism and mismanagement against Prytania founder Jeff Strain brought by Ethan Gach at Kotaku in 2022. Gach, who Strain named as the writer of the alleged Kotaku article, seems to be a convenient scapegoat for Prytania’s ongoing issues.

And, to leave you all with some good news, it seems that Warner Bros Games has returned control of the delisted Adult Swim games to the original developers and their pages have reappeared on Steam. I personally am extremely grateful to still have a world with Duck Game and Rain World in it (among other gems), even if the Adult Swim isn’t around as publisher anymore.

That’s all for this month! Time to crawl back into my Hades 2 hole. Isn’t it great what happens when a studio keeps lets its award-winning developers stick around? Imagine that.