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Why Crytek is dropping Homefront and doubling down on F2P

Crytek is going through some pretty drastic changes right about now. The company known for making the Crysis series and Ryse: Son of Rome reached a breaking point today after weeks of bankruptcy rumors and reported missed payments to employees. Crytek UK, the team that had been working on Homefront: The Revolution, is no more. Crytek USA is being scaled down from development studio to a small support team. Koch Media (which owns Deep Silver) has acquired the rights to the Homefront brand, and will continue work on The Revolution through its new in-house developer Dambuster Studios, which comprises ex-Crytek UK employees. Tough times for sure.

It's always a downer when a studio closes up shop, but Crytek UK's closure seems to point towards an even bigger shift than Homefront changing hands. There are two distinct trends happening here, and they both have everything to do with low-risk decisions.

Companies that make and license game engines seem to care less about competing in retail markets with their own games. And at the same time, when these companies do opt to make games on their own engines, they default to the inherently safe bet of the free-to-play model instead of big-scale budgets. Both strategies are about playing it safe and letting other companies take the risks.

Try this analogy on for size. Game engines are like licensed-out typewriters--once you've made one, your hard work is pretty much done. It's up to others to take what you've made and do something with it, and no matter if the book they write does well or not, you're still making a profit. And, if you do want to write something on your own typewriter, you don't have to go all-out and spend years of your life coming up with the perfect game-I-mean-book. You can just go small, and if your work does prove to be popular and generate a lot of microtransactions, so much the better. Listen, it's not the best analogy ever written, but I think you're picking up what I'm putting down.

Now stick with me on this one. Crytek is part of a trinity of companies with widely used, widely available high-end game engines. There's Epic Games with Unreal 4, Valve with Source, and Crytek with CryEngine. And all three of these game industry giants are putting their efforts into the free-to-play space. Crytek has the military shooter Warface, with two more F2P games on the way in Arena of Fate and Hunt: Horrors of a Gilded Age. Epic Games is similarly invested in free-to-play, with the model already announced for the upcoming Fortnite and new Unreal Tournament. And Valve would probably do just fine for itself if it stuck with the F2P Dota 2 and Team Fortress 2 for the foreseeable future. Portal 2 from 2011 is Valve's most recent retail release, and lord knows when we'll be getting… y'know… THAT game. With the dude in the glasses. Not Gabe Newell.

All three companies have a history of acquiring, and later letting go of, external game studios. After THQ disintegrated, Crytek bought up Vigil Games, makers of the Darksiders series, and converted it into Crytek USA. As of today, we know the unhappy ending to that story. Epic Games also picked up a piece from THQ's remains in the form of Big Huge Games (Kingdoms of Amalur, Rise of Nations) and renamed it Epic Baltimore. That studio was eventually renamed Impossible Studios (a prophetic pick, I'm afraid to say) and was shut down before it could release Infinity Blade: Dungeons. Valve bought up Turtle Rock Studios, renamed it Valve South, then gave it the boot after Left 4 Dead (with the exception of some L4D DLC later down the line). Are you seeing these parallels?! I'm like Jim Carrey in The Number 23.

These acquisitions suggest that at one time, all three companies were interested in developing ambitious games in the same vein as Darksiders 2 or Kingdoms of Amalur. But things change, particularly markets. Free-to-play seems to where all the money's at these days, and developing games on huge, triple-A-caliber budgets is riskier than ever. Crytek, Epic Games, and Valve have all opted to go a much safer route: develop free-to-play games on their own proprietary engines. That, in turn, gives those game engines a wider audience, and frees up resources for engine support with other developers, be they big-name or indie.

Crysis series composer Graeme Norgate, formerly of Crytek UK and now of Dambuster Studios, put out a tweet announcing his move that had a nice little dig: calling Crytek "Crytanic." And while Crytek may be going through some very significant changes at the moment, it doesn't seem to be as disastrous as the Titanic sinking. It's not that Crytek is going to implode and be whisked away to the game studio equivalent of an elephant graveyard. It's just that the Crytek you knew--a studio that tackles huge undertakings like Crysis 3 and Ryse: Son of Rome--is no more. Like Valve and Epic Games before it, Crytek is shifting away from big games towards smaller, safer games in the free-to-play market.

27 comments

  • Outofmanyone - July 31, 2014 3:45 p.m.

    While I hope they can find something to generate income for the company.. I am not a fan of free-to-play. There is obviously money in it IF you are the one in 1000 to create something that the masses want to download and play but as for me, I actually uninstalled--and never finished--Plants vs Zombies 2 because of the frequent notifications of "Click here, New Stuff!" and as a fan of the art of Video Games, it saddens me that it seems like it's becoming a game(no pun intended) of milking the consumer. I wish them luck but I do hope they don't drop out of the "hardcore" space completely, we need more competition.
  • winner2 - July 31, 2014 12:22 p.m.

    Dark times are upon us.
  • Fran_Halen - July 31, 2014 11:33 a.m.

    Free to play = pay to win. I'm not interested...
  • Desann - July 31, 2014 9:32 a.m.

    I'm trying to keep from throwing up. Free-to-play is the worst thing to ever happen to games--I have better things to do with my money than pay to alleviate intentionally-bad game design, and better things to do with my time than slog through it. With all those companies churning out more and more free-to-play crap with no signs of stopping... if this is what gaming is turning into, then at some point, you can count me out. I hate seeing my favorite thing to do in this world essentially get cancer. I hate seeing the cancer spread unchecked. Normally, you make your game to be the best it can be, and in symbiotic fashion, you get a customer who is happy to buy a great game. Free-to-play, on the other hand, is a parasitic model wherein you make a flawed game on purpose, then offer expensive ways around those flaws. Like I said, I have better things to do with my time and money than put up with that antagonistic BS. By focusing on free-to-play, Crytek won't get anything from me, not even my attention.
  • David_Roberts - July 31, 2014 12:20 p.m.

    Free-to-play isn't all bad, it's just easily exploited. Hearthstone, Team Fortress 2, and Dota 2 both offer countless hours of entertainment, and you don't even have to pay a dime to play them and enjoy yourself. You can if you'd like to buy some extra cards (in Hearthstone's case) or some new cosmetic garb (in Dota and Team Fortress' case) but spending money is not vital to the experience. Yes, many developers are jumping on the bandwagon, trying to put in gem currency and timers where there shouldn't be any, and many free-to-play games would be infinitely better if they just let us spend a few bucks on the game to not have to deal with any of that garbage (I'm looking at you, Trials Frontiers), but ultimately, those games will fizzle and fade as their model cannot sustain their audience. The games that use free-to-play as a way to enhance an experience rather than use it as a way to bilk customers out of cash will stick around and thrive. Also, check out Path of Exile. It's a F2P action RPG, and Gamespot gave it their 2013 PC Game of the Year. Not too shabby.
  • Spetnazadventurer - August 3, 2014 8:30 p.m.

    Amen!
  • Cruddi - July 31, 2014 6:31 a.m.

    F2P is the worse thing to come out of the internet, it's worse then social networking!
  • SnakeinmyBoot - July 31, 2014 2:25 a.m.

    I think Valve doesn't bother with their games because they don't want Potal and LFD becoming stale, don't want to disappoint fans with a lackluster HF3 (like how Square wouldn't remake FF7 back when they had the money to risk), and are swimming in cash from Steam and Team Fortress. Epic and Crytek on the other hand probably are embracing F2P out of necessity. Now what happens when the F2P market becomes over saturated and devs can no longer break into it? What happens if it bursts? It probably won't burst but remember how there are so many iCrap and Android games out there that it's hard for people to choose which ones they want, so they go for the most popular ones that already made enough money to solve world hunger. Or remember the Atari days when there were so many games in stores with several high profile ones being pure garbage that people gave up buying Atari games altogether. I think AAA games can become profitable again. Someone out there has to be figuring out how to license assets like set pieces and character models or an engine to generate models for generic NPCs and environment for cheap. I'm not talking about literally playing as the same space marine going through the same level with slightly different touches here and there in every game. I mean being able to streamline the time consuming processes like making face models, basic scenery and basic vehicles while letting your level design guys make unique layouts and a small art team create major characters and costumes and add flare to the world to make the game still look original. If someone can make and sell that tool set at a reasonable price, many devs can avoid Crytek's route or worse. Even if it is done in house for a major publisher like Square Enix or Activsion to distribute to their devs studios, it would probably help. I wish I had the know how and some colleagues to start up a business around this concept, because it would be one of the few financial risks I'd be willing to take.
  • GOD - July 31, 2014 12:51 a.m.

    At least it's nice to see that Koch Media is not only buying the right to Homefront but also hiring (at least some of) the people who just got laid from their work on it. I get that studios have to be closed when the finances aren't there, but it really rubs me the wrong way when a company will buy a licence, set up a studio, announce a game for that studio, and then can the whole studio before the game can even come out. Sounds to me like some execs who don't know what they're doing. If you greenlit a game for production and even went to the trouble of having it be announced, you should probably be pretty damn sure you want that game to be made. Now if you have done all that, then you better have a damn good reason besides "shifting the companies business model" to suddenly throw away that studio and all their work halfway through. Either don't let it get super deep into production and stop it early if you need to, or goddamn commit once it's already deep into production and let the studio finish their project. If you couldn't afford to let the studio continue on and finish their game then either you shouldn't have put them on such a big project in the first place because your budget wasn't equipped for it, or you made some bad financial decisions elsewhere and you're making this studio pay for it because you lack accountability.
  • GOD - July 31, 2014 12:58 a.m.

    *(first paragraph) the people who just got laid off from their work on it. That edit button will be here any day now...
  • Cruddi - July 31, 2014 6:56 a.m.

    I think it's because of the last gen of gaming, the PS3 and 360 help the gaming market grow in it's hayday most games could be released and see a good profit but now people have gorged them selves to bursting point on s**t games and businesses being greedy that gamers are now starting to be careful of what they are buying because of the hype train being abused. Watch dogs is a prime example (don't get me wrong I love the game I really do) the game was marketed constantly one of the biggest marketing schemes I ever seen and it sold like hot cakes although the game it self wasn't perfect. I've seen worse games do well because of marketing also.
  • alllifeinfate - July 30, 2014 9:05 p.m.

    I hope it will turn for the better, hoping for the best games to come out of these studios...
  • brickman409 - July 30, 2014 8:28 p.m.

    well, there goes Homefront. We hardly knew ye
  • GOD - July 31, 2014 12:56 a.m.

    Not neccessarily. Koch bought Homefront, plans to continue the game, and set up a new studio made up of the employees who just got laid off from making Homefront for Crytek. Koch now owns Deep Silver and Dead Island and also published Metro: Last Light and Catherine so I feel like they're definitely moving up in the industry while other publishers slowly try to back away towards F2P.
  • brickman409 - July 31, 2014 2:44 p.m.

    Yeah that's true. Maybe Koch will handle it better than Crytek would have.
  • Sinsational - July 30, 2014 7:33 p.m.

    .... The new Homefront game had real potential and was a real chance to breathe life back into the developer.... I hate Crytek now.
  • nick-stancato - July 30, 2014 6:35 p.m.

    And another good developer will be ruined by the crappy freemium model. This is really sad to see
  • pl4y4h - July 30, 2014 6:16 p.m.

    I know one crytek hater that will love this news. HO! PACHTER!
  • _--_ - July 30, 2014 5:49 p.m.

    --when a former hardcore AAA developer --starts doin F2P --its a sign of the 'gaming' times --companies get in a financial bind --they hire corporate minds to 'come in' --and then --the company loses its 'heart' --from then on --its just --focus on the income --focus on 'maximizing' money 'opportunities' --if you own a gaming company --and youre reading this --first off --youre VERY smart(and focused on success) --second off --instead of focusing on 'making money' --MAKE A GODDAMNED GAME --make the game you want to make --make the game YOU think is 10/10 --if you are "just in it for the money" --why the hell did you get into gaming? --you should have been an investor
  • mothbanquet - July 31, 2014 2:09 a.m.

    Unfortunately, you pretty much have it spot-on. The sad fact is the majority of devs and the people who work for them aren't actually gamers. The lower-downs see it as a job and the higher-ups, as you say, only watch the bottom line. Of course there are exceptions but that's pretty much the state of play at the moment. Big publishers are losing money fast and the more they lose, the tighter they squeeze their devs. I have it on good authority that many F2P devs are looking for ways to break completely from overbearing publishers, so maybe in the future we'll see a mass return to artistically driven, ambitious and inventive gaming but for now, we'll have to endure the F2P scourge.

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