Toki Tori Developer Lays Off Staff, Starts Company Again

By Graham Smith on January 9th, 2014 at 6:00 pm.

A point is all you can score.

This is a slightly odd thing. Two Tribes, creators of Toki Tori and publisher/port creator for puzzle game EDGE, are “rebooting”. In this case, “rebooting” means that all the old staff were let go last year and the development company has been closed down. In its place, a new company has been started, which will operate under the same publisher owned by the same people.

A blog post on the official site explains that 2013 was a difficult year for the company:

There was no programming, no designing, no fun to be had, just co-founders Martijn and Collin taking care of the business end of things. In this case the ‘business end’ can be taken quite literally. The old Two Tribes, founded in 2001, doesn’t exist anymore and we had to send everyone home.

This is attributed to the shift in 2009 from being a work-for-hire company to being an indie company, with the implication that the games simply didn’t sell enough. The two founders remain at the core of the company – the only part of the company, really – and the new company has the same name. The blog post continues:

We’ve got a ton of hindsight to work with and we’re going to be applying the lessons we learned to the new Two Tribes. Behind the scenes things will change quite a bit. We’ve decided to move away from creating custom technology and focus on what’s readily available. As a result we’ll be working with a much smaller team on our next game, a 2D side scrolling shooter, which will be re-using the existing Toki Tori 2+ engine.

This kind of thing happens fairly regularly in business. Closing down a company can be a way of wiping away debt and starting afresh without old burdens hanging around your neck. Unfortunately, it’s employees that tend to get wiped away with it. In this instance, “send everyone home” is a pleasant euphimism for making staff members redundant. We don’t know whether any old employees will be returning as part of the new “much smaller team”, but it has to feel weird, having been made unemployed, to see the small company you worked for continue anew with the same name.

I’ve reached out to Two Tribes with questions about the nature of the process, and I’ll update this story as soon as I hear back. If anyone who previously worked at Two Tribes would like to get in touch, drop me a mail and I’ll update this story accordingly.

Update:

Company co-founder Collin van Ginkel got in touch to answer a few of my questions about the closing of the company.

RPS: What’s the business advantage two closing down the old company and starting again?

We had no other option actually, we simply didn’t sell as many games as needed to pay all the wages. Our company went bankrupt and once that happened we lost control completely.

We debated whether we wanted to start a new company or not, but Martijn Reuvers (my co-founder) and I don’t really know what else we would do if we weren’t making games. So we looked into our options and what caused the problems in the first place and then we decided to take another shot at it.

RPS: Were the business issues a simple case of the games not selling well enough, or were there other factors? Do you plan to return to work-for-hire projects?

It’s always a combination of many things, but the main issue was Toki Tori 2+ taking too long and selling too few copies. Our plan is not to return to work-for-hire, but to be less reliant on tech and have more fun making games with a smaller team. It’s basically going back to our roots, when in 2001 we made Toki Tori 1 for Game Boy Color as students.

RPS: Were the old staff let go all at once, or was it a case of winding down over the course of 2013?

We tried to save the company and keep everyone employed up to the last moment. When we realized had no options left, and that is was simply a matter of time before the inevitable happened, we turned to our people and told them about it. A few weeks later the bankruptcy came into effect, we lost control, and they were told to go home.

RPS: Will any of the old employees be returning for the new smaller team?

The new plan is to be less reliant on building and maintaining tech and spend most time on the design of a game. For this we offered two of the old designers a new job and one ended up accepting it. So we’re a three man team now, working on our not yet officially announced 2D side-scrolling shooter.

A number of former employees also got in touch to talk about their experiences at the company during its closure.

Shan Poon, who worked in PR & marketing at Two Tribes, wrote to say that she “did notice that Toki Tori 2 wasn’t selling that well,” but she “didn’t expect that it would take down the company.” Poon is now working on publishing independent games from north Holland, and is enjoying the new challenges.

Another, who asked to be identified as Jay wrote that:

Working at Two Tribes has been a great ride. It was what you’d expect from an indie game studio: an informal, fun and creative atmosphere. Personally I enjoyed the variation of work I could do there, ranging from level design and art assets to scripting and game trailers.

Obviously the atmosphere changed as soon as we heard the company was bankrupt and couldn’t pay our wages anymore. Motivation went downhill and we could stay at home if we wanted to. Surprisingly, all of us stuck with Two Tribes until the end to wrap things up. After three weeks or so we weren’t allowed access to the office anymore because of legal reasons.

Jay also mirrored the comments from all the employees who contacted me by saying that, “I’m on speaking terms with Two Tribes and wish them the best of luck with the future of their company.” Jay is now setting up his own indie game studio.

We wish Two Tribes and everyone good luck in their future endeavors.

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39 Comments »

  1. Swanny says:

    Shit like this is why I discourage kids from getting into video game development.
    Develop software for something else, and just buy and play the games. At least do a little scouting into industry practices before getting into it.

    • solidsquid says:

      This isn’t just game development. There was a web development company I was working for which shut down after (iirc) 8 years with half a million in debt. Found out later that the guy who owned it had had 7 previous companies go bankrupt and that the one I’d worked at was much longer running than the others

      • gravity_spoon says:

        I can concur with the person above that the same happened to my company. It can happen in software development anywhere. Just that there might be high probability of it happening in game development. I don’t have numbers to back it up. Just personal experience.

        This thing happened to my last company. The owner(s) ran it into the ground. Me and my Lead Dev were the only ones who had any previous coding experience and the owner(s) and my manager had none whatsoever. After repeatedly ignoring the dev team’s warnings, things got to a point where their overspending and mismanagement drove the company into so much debt that they could not pay us salaries anymore. I worked 4 months without pay just to ship the product and make some money in return. The deal never got through with the client because of callous, tardy and apathetic nature of the higher-ups and I quit my job mid December. Spent the new year alone in my apartment with no electricity or water because I wasn’t able to pay the bills. A friend dropped by and she loaned me some money so I would not die in cold and dark. Been freelancing since.

        The point I am trying to make is that it can happen to anyone, anytime. Software business is like that.

        • Swanny says:

          I understand that things like this happen everywhere, and are not limited to game design. There’s nothing wrong with working on video games, is just that I hear a lot from people who expect to get a job at EA or Valve, and that they won’t have to pull 80 hour weeks at crunch time. The reality is that so many people want to make games, that companies can afford to treat people this way.

          This is the internet, and anecdotal, so of course nothing i say is relevant or to be listened to, but seeing people treated like this irritates me. I work with a guy who is about to graduate uni and he wants to go into video game design, and has absolutely no idea of what it’s like. Maybe i’m just cynical now, but I’d hate to see him go through what happened in the article at his first job.

          • Shuck says:

            It is a lot more common in the game industry for various reasons. It’s quite common that smaller developers will budget such that they’ve run out of money (and have to lay people off) at the end of the development cycle, and it’s increasingly common that larger companies will lay workers off at the end of a development cycle and rehire them a few months later for the new project. All of my colleagues who have been in the business a while have had the experience of working for a company that ran out of money and failed to inform employees until after paychecks started bouncing (and then telling them that new funding was on its way when it wasn’t), trying to keep them in the office working for as long as possible in the hopes of shipping the game. The sentiment of the industry has long been that employees should feel lucky to work there, even if they’re not being paid.

    • JamesTheNumberless says:

      What absolute twaddle.

      If making games was their ambition I would never discourage a youngster from making games just because it isn’t a careers adviser’s safe ticket. If money and job security was their ambition then instead I’d pity them for being such dull kids. Children are supposed to have passions and dreams, not 5-year plans.

      When I was 4 or 5 and designing my own games on paper, I imagined being a games programmer would be a high paid and secure job with fame and fortune and I’d be able to fill my house with arcade machine cabinets and drive around in the car from Outrun. But I also knew that games programmers make games and that was my real motivation. Being a doctor or a lawyer was far less attractive because those things were less exciting to me in comparison. When I grew up a bit and learned the realities of the industry, I was not one bit disappointed, because all that matters to me is that I get to make games.

  2. SkittleDiddler says:

    Weren’t they trying to get away with charging $40 for Toki Tori 2? Pretty exorbitant for a generic indie platformer, and it would make sense that it had something to do with their shutdown.

    • KDR_11k says:

      No, it was 15$ at its most expensive times.

      • SkittleDiddler says:

        Yep, you’re right; my mistake. Still, I remember the original selling for half that on its release – that’s a noticeable price discrepancy, and I can imagine quite a few people were put off by that (myself included).

        • Jason Moyer says:

          The original was also a port of the iOS version of a Wii remake of an old Gameboy Color game that was based on an MSX 2 game from 1994.

          • noizy says:

            The original was like 50 cents on Steam over xmas. I was tempted until I remembered I had two dozen 2d puzzley platformers I have barely touched.

    • internisus says:

      It’s neither a platformer nor generic if you actually look at what playing it involves.

      • SkittleDiddler says:

        It’s a platform sidescrolling puzzle game. Generic? That’s subjective, but I found the first Toki Tori to be just that, and the second doesn’t deviate far from the first as far as I can tell from gameplay examples.

    • RiffRaff says:

      Toki tori 2 launched on steam with something like a 25% discount, and two tribes sent out coupons to anyone who bought one of their other games which stacked with the in store sale price. Its true that its their most expensive game but I got it for about six quid at launch.

      Anyway this is sad news, rush, toki tori (1 and 2) and edge are all excellent games that deserved to find a bigger audience.

    • botonjim says:

      It was a puzzle based almost open world metroid style game, the closest thing I can think of would be Fez or Full Bore, I have finished thae thing and believe me it doesn’t get a lot more un-generic than Toki Tori 2+. It also was NOTHING like the first. It also was never more expensive than 15$ (on Steam at least).

      So that’s 0/3 I guess.

      • SkittleDiddler says:

        Personal experience and all that. You’re welcome to buy me a copy of Toki Tori 2 so I can experience how “un-generic” it truly is. For now, I’ll stand by my opinion based on the few playthroughs and screenshots I’ve seen of it.

  3. Redcoat-Mic says:

    They can also issue new contracts with smaller wages and shitter terms and conditions for the staff, like a more extreme version of dismissal and re-engagement.

    • Moraven says:

      Some companies do that with temporary hours cut or temp wages cut. This happens because executives respect their employees and their employees respect their executives and know they have to run a business. During election year Marvin Windows was used by Obama and others as a highlight. Employees were making less, had no overtime option and 32 hour work weeks. But they still had a job and health benefits. Which is better than no job.

      Nintendo’s 3DS poor launch sales and required price cut was followed with the CEO taking a 50% price cut and executives taking a 20-30% cut.

      You would hope they would try to renegotiate cuts first before finding a way to let loose any liabilities.

    • Eonfge says:

      It’s a Dutch company, and that kind of practices are banned by the Dutch labour laws. The laws in The Netherlands about labour are some of the most strict and rigid in the world.

      As far as the studio goes, I’m sorry to hear that they have gone under. The Dutch studio that I worked for had to lay of people too, me included. I wish the guys of Two Tribes the best of luck and I hope to see you guys again.

    • JamesTheNumberless says:

      I’ve lived in two countries in my working life and the laws differ. In the UK as far as I’m aware it wasn’t possible to force a reduction in pay on anyone. They had to agree to it in writing. But if you made such an offer then you had to be sure they would accept it because it was illegal to fire someone for refusing to accept a reduction in pay. In Austria you just can’t reduce a person’s salary at all. So the sensible option (and really the only option left) is to let everybody go, bite the bullet on the redundancy packages, reform the company and then re-hire everyone on new contracts. I’ve worked for at least one company that had to do this at one point in their history – and it turned out well enough in the end for everyone involved.

  4. Baines says:

    It is a sad situation for those that lost there jobs, but “In this instance, “send everyone home” is a pleasant euphimism for making staff members redundant.” somewhat stands out when “making staff members redundant” is itself a pleasant euphemism for various other terms that themselves are (or at least once were) pleasant euphemisms for “fired”.

    Or maybe I’m showing my age, as I recall a time when “making staff members redundant” was still considered fairly new corporate speak. And what will businesses do when they run out of euphemisms to use?

  5. Viroso says:

    A wild Surgeon Simulator 2013 appears

    https://www.humblebundle.com/gift?key=PnK4Az4PNReDKrUy

    You may only throw your pokeball at it if you are not totally terrible. Yeah, you know what I mean, if you are like that you KNOW it, so don’t even!

  6. Hailencte says:

    My co-worker’s sister-in-law makes $85/hr on the laptop. She has been without a job for 10 months but last month her payment was $12628 just working on the laptop for a few hours. check here >>>>>>>>>> http://WWW.BAY93.COM

  7. alms says:

    On the “sending everybody home” thing, it might be a colloquialism that doesn’t translate well or its meaning just sounds different to a native speaker: the same expression exists in my own language (not dutch) and is not an euphemism by any stretch of the imagination, quite the opposite.

  8. Brainz says:

    They messed up with Toki Tori 2 imo; they kept postponing it and the game turned out to be a big disappointment (to me), especially when compared to Toki Tori 1.

  9. LordMidas says:

    I just wonder if this practise is even legal. I mean, they can’t make you (your role) redundant, then employ someone else to do the same role. In this case, they literally make everyone redundant, then “start again” with exactly the same business? Doesn’t sound right to me.

  10. Low Life says:

    I didn’t much care for the game itself, but the ending of Toki Tori is quite grim: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=–PLwmu1_GQ

  11. botonjim says:

    Toki Tori 2+ was a wonderful *entirely* puzzle and exploration based (no combat) metroidvania, sort of like FEZ only perhaps even better.

    To this day I’m still amazed it never got any attention from this site. Did someone at Two Tribes molest John’s pets or something? It’s exactly the sort of game he usually enjoys and promotes.

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