Today Halfbrick let go two of its long time designers, Layton Hawkes and Ryan Langley. Two designers.
That may not seem like much but, according to some, it's part of an ongoing shift at Australia's most successful game studio. A move that's taking Halfbrick away from it's previous focus as a design-orientated games developer to something else entirely.
In short: Halfbrick has no designers left on staff. At all. Literally the role of 'designer' has been made redundant at Halfbrick. They have no designers and they won't be hiring new designers.
According to one source, who asked not to be named, it's the result of a shift in approach.
Halfbrick isn't what it used to be. But it hasn't yet become what it's going to be.
What it used to be: a family focused company that was all about taking creative risks. About taking that splattergun approach to design then refining it. It was that kind of approach that resulted in Fruit Ninja, one of the most successful video games Australia has produced. We've been told that Halfbrick is now focusing on consolidating that success.
"Money changes everything."
That's how one of our sources put it.
Halfbrick was a company that built employees from the ground up. Most new hires were juniors; juniors that were then trained in the "Halfbrick" method of development. Almost all of Halfbrick's successful video games were a result of that strategy. We've been informed that, in an attempt to grow the company and solidify its previous successes, many new employees have been brought in that don't embody Halfbrick's previous ethos. Halfbrick's infrastructure used to be completely flat, but that mentality is now a thing of the past. According to our source that has been a major source of frustration to creatives within Halfbrick's ranks.
Luke Muscat, the ex-Creative Director at Halfbrick, was largely thought of as the creator behind the studio's most successful titles — Fruit Ninja and Jetpack Joyride — but he recently left to create a new studio, Prettygreat, with two other ex-Halfbrick staffers. Our sources noted that as an area of concern. First that someone of Luke's stature within the company would want to leave, and that Halfbrick would so willingly let someone of Luke's talent leave.
But it's all part of what Halfbrick are attempting to become. According to one source: "creative risk taking is a thing of the past."
The family atmosphere that was all pervasive at Halfbrick is apparently all but gone. At this stage, with no designers, sources are unsure whether or not Halfbrick will actually make new video games, or work almost like a publisher, maximising the profits of its existing properties. According to one source, Halfbrick is starting to second guess itself. It can be difficult, we were told, to replicate the kind of success that a game like Fruit Ninja brings to a company
This is a common trajectory. Once a developer has hit the iOS lotto it's difficult to replicate that success. Many studios focus on that one title. According to those we spoke to, that is most likely the direction Halfbrick is headed towards.
It is difficult, after all, to make video games when you don't have any designers.
But according to Halfbrick CEO Shainiel Deo, having no designers doesn't necessarily means that design work won't occur at Halfbrick.
"Halfbrick remains a design focused company," he told Kotaku, "and this change will empower everyone in our teams to contribute to design rather than concentrate design control in the hands of a few. Great ideas can come from anywhere and we want to create an environment that fosters this notion."
As for the suggestion that Halfbrick won't make new games, Shaniel refutes that. According to him, Halfbrick will continue to make new video games despite having no designers on staff.
"Halfbrick will continue to develop mobile games that are fun and innovative while remaining relevant by creating experiences that resonate with what mobile gamers expect today. There are new games and exciting partnerships on the horizon and we will be sharing these with you very soon."