When a developer closes, what we usually get is a sterile press release from the owning publisher talking about resource assessments or blaming the economy. We almost never get to hear what actually happened, the events that occurred in the lead-up. While contracts mean the real stories will remain permanently unclear, we occasionally get the likes of Steve Ellis, co-founder of Free Radical and part of the team at Rare that brought us GoldenEye, who step forward to tell us their tale.
Speaking with GamesIndustry International, Ellis starts off with the pros and cons of working for different publishers and the effect their management styles have on games development. Eidos, for instance, published the first two TimeSplitters games. Ellis says Eidos was very hands-off and didn't ask them for milestones — periodic builds of the game publishers use to gauge the developer's progress and whether or not they get paid.
This freedom, he says, allowed Free Radical to get the games done the way it wanted. It was only when QA required builds for testing that Eidos had a proper look. It sounds gung-ho, but the relationship worked for the studio and publisher. In the interview, Ellis elaborates on the benefits:
"From a developer's point of view that's a great way of working because you're not constrained by having to jump through hoops in order to get paid, those hoops that internally-developed games don't have to jump through."
Working on Haze with Ubisoft, on the other hand, was not as cheerful. Ellis points out that while creating a new engine from scratch wasn't the best idea, wrestling with Ubisoft over IP ownership and dealing with constant interference had a deleterious effect on development of the PS3 exclusive title:
As we started working with Ubisoft on Haze that wasn't the situation anymore, they were very much involved in the day-to-day running of things and the decisions that were made, in a really weird and indirect way."
Ellis mentions that the game was originally announced for Xbox 360 and PC, but Ubisoft made "a deal behind the scenes that [the studio] saw no part of", which made getting the game done within its established time frames "unachievable".
The GamesIndusty interview is very extensive; if you have any interest in learning how the wheels can fall off a successful studio and the exact role publishers play in the development process — both good and bad — it's well worth a read.
The Collapse of Free Radical Design [GamesIndustry International]