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.
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.