Oh Boy: Big Layoffs At Thief Dev Eidos Montreal

So it continues. It’s once again preening season in the gaming industry (Start of the year! Financial results! Losses! Fun, fun, fun!), and big studios are tightening their stylishly arrayed goth belts. 2K Czech, EA’s Ghost Games, Irrational, Disney Interactive, and Turbine have all taken their licks on the chopping block, and now reports suggest that Thief and Deus Ex developer Eidos Montreal is up next. Kotaku sources suggested that more than 20 developers are back out on the mean streets of the city after spending eons working on the mean streets of The City. We got in touch with Square Enix, and they confirmed the unfortunate news.

Square Enix offered RPS the following statement:

“Yes it is true we’ve let 27 people go today, unfortunately it’s something that every major studio has to do sometimes in order to ensure you have the right set up for current and future projects. It’s never a nice thing to do but we are genuinely trying to offer as much support as much as we can. We’re trying to re-locate as many people as possible into other roles here or at our other studios and we’ve been in touch several studios in Montreal to arrange a career day for those affected by this. We’re very thankful for all their hard work and we sincerely wish them well.”

While obvious speculation would point the blame finger at Thief’s notoriously troubled development cycle, it bears mentioning that Eidos Montreal is rumored to have canceled a game it was making in conjunction with Square Enix’s Japanese branch recently.

Regardless, it’s a shame nonetheless. We wish the best to all affected and hope that everyone lands on their feet sooner rather than later. If anyone would like to chat or further clarify the situation, our inbox is always open.


  1. TheIronSky says:

    “Working hard on a project for a few years knowing that your job depends on it selling well.”

    This is the outcome, right? There seem to be thousands of people who work in the development of a game — why do they always have to fire the ones who work the most directly on the game itself?

    • Shuck says:

      And even if a game does sell well, it’s no guarantee that your position is in any way secure, either.

      • mtomto says:

        AAA game industry is just like the movie industry. They get “new” jobs for each movie they do. Do a good job, and you got no problems finding another project.

        A bit more depth to the story/news would be nice, instead of another RPS crusade.

        • TheIronSky says:

          Depth is hard to come by when neither the publishers nor the developers have any reason to be transparent.

        • Ivory Samoan says:

          Indeed – it’s moving industry, the film business is a great comparison.

          • TimorousBeastie says:

            It’s an unfortunate one though. Unlike the film industry, the games industry isn’t limited to a handful of cities with a project generally being available in the same city. A games dev letting go of staff results in those people often having to move internationally, which for a lot of people isn’t really viable once you have a family.

        • Calabi says:

          Its nothing like the movie industry because the movie industry has unions. Plus the movie industry gets paid better and paid for overtime. And they dont get sacked after a project.

          • mtomto says:

            But that’s because the movie industry is a lot older than the AAA game industry. If you want to compare the “little” things, then you should factor in the maturity/age of the industry. I bet the movie industry wasn’t too fun in beginning as well.

          • Bassen_Hjertelos says:

            @mtomto – Are you seriously comparing the emergence of an industry of today with the emergence of an industry in a time were there were no labour unions? That’s like comparing the car safety of a modern car to the safety of the Ford Model T.

        • jrodman says:

          Games industry is like the film industry in that there are term projects.

          Games industry is UNLIKE the film industry in that their hiring terms, compensation, and other factors more or less refuse to recognize that they are really term projects shops.

          This means that in films there are recognized crews that are truly the best in various areas of filmmaking who can reliably deliver top results in relatively short times, making themselves comparatively wealthy and acting as a resource for the industry.

          In games, the set of staff explodes across the globe semi-regularly, preventing the hiring of these autonomous clusters of talent. This ensures they never become truly well paid, but it also means the game making industry has to constantly pay the price of people learning to work together (a multi-year cost).

          Meanwhile game shops keep talking to their employees like it’s a semi-permanent scenario, and there’s no strong freelance tradition to rely on like in flim.

          Really the fact that games do not adopt the flim model wholesale is ultimately to the detriment of the games indsustry as a whole, the output of it, and those who work in it.

          • toxic avenger says:

            Bam! Hit the nail on the head. I think many people are talking around the true heart of the matter here…

    • PoulWrist says:

      Isn’t it more like the project going keeps you in the job? It’s pretty standard that they fire people after a big project is out the gate, because they were hired for the sprint.

    • Lemming says:

      I can see the ones who drive the overall design getting fired based on sales – harsh, but I see the logic. However those that are doing the coding and artwork to spec shouldn’t have to fall on their swords. It makes no sense. What a bullshit job where you’re doing what you’re told for years knowing it’s not good enough but having no power to change it. Meanwhile, the executive positions get pay rises/move onto the next set of drones.

      This is why the AAA studio’s days are numbered. Unless they get proper unionisation or similar, indie studios are going to be popping up all over the place.

      • TheIronSky says:

        In some ways, I really hope you’re right.

        • danielfath says:

          A creative job that doesn’t offer any mastery, agency or purpose is a dead end, scientifically speaking. More money is a great way to demotivate you from doing something.

    • Juan Carlo says:

      I doubt it even has much to do with sales. This just seems to be the nature of the industry now. Hire when you are making a game, fire when you are finished, then hire people on for the next game at entry level salaries. It sucks, but it’s the sort of industry where such a practice is viable given the huge number of people willing to work for shit just to get their feet in the door.

  2. Chubzdoomer says:

    To those who were laid off (if you’re reading this!): Thank you so much for helping create such an awesome game, even if it didn’t garner stellar reviews. I hope you find work soon.

    • Loopy says:

      I literally only just started playing this game tonight after receiving my copy in the post today and while it’s not Thief as I remember it I can see where the work has gone into it and I am actually quite enjoying myself so far. It’s such a bummer to hear news like this on the back of that, I hope they all find new jobs soon.

      • Henke says:

        My feelings exactly. Thief 2 is one of my all time favourites, so I was a bit disappointed that the new one doesn’t feel much like the originals, or is even giving me any nostalic vibes, but it’s a fun stealth game nonetheless. 23 hours in at the moment, I’ve been playing it like crazy since Friday.

    • Juan Carlo says:

      I’m sure they will all print out your message of encouragement and feed it to their starving children.

      • Loopy says:

        Did you buy the game and play it? If not then I wonder what your air of self important sarcasm is based on… because you certainly didn’t help them keep their jobs in any way.

        • GunnerMcCaffrey says:

          I’m not sure what Chubzdoomer buying the game or not has to do with the layoffs.

          They said they laid people off to “have the right set up for current and future projects,” which probably means “not keeping anyone on long enough to get seniority, and being able to pay the people who replace them a starting salary.”

          It’s kind of astounding how much exploitation people in this industry seem willing to accept.

          • Loopy says:

            Congratulations on missing my main point spectacularly. That Chubzdoomer not buying the game has no real effect on the situation doesn’t excuse his sarcastic tone, my original message was genuine, I take your point on the possibly exploitative aspect of the industry though. Unfortunately it’s all too common these days and not only in games, it;s all too easy for employers to take people on short term contracts where they get minimum wage and no benefits and then turf them out for a new batch of young, eager raw recruits before they actually become entitled to anything by law.

            Of course that may not actually be the case here as I do understand that working in the game industry is more of a freelancing thing anyway, like the film business, where people get work on a project to project basis. It doesn’t look good from the outside though when stories like this get aired and that may be something these big companies might want to consider for the future if just from a public relations point of view.

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        Phasma Felis says:

        Jesus, Debbie Downer, what have you got against being nice to people?

      • Grygus says:

        If their children are starving today then they had problems well before these layoffs.

      • Bahlof says:

        Despite your sinister comment I laughed at your joke

    • GunnerMcCaffrey says:

      ” I hope you find work soon.”

      I hope you start organizing.

      Are there any union shops in AAA game development?

      • FFabian says:

        In the eyes of the average USian unions are devils work, something communists do etc.

        • Mitthrawn says:

          Speaking as a US-whatever-you-called-me, unions are extremely detrimental in many ways. They mire the US auto industry, almost bringing down an entire industry with their high wages and unrealistic health care costs in 2008. Many of them have negotiated for pensions, which are a constant drain on the economy and are a ridiculous expense in the age of 401ks. Mostly though, unions champion mediocrity. Because all public unions (in America) have pay scales that are tied to seniority, rather than merit, they attract employees that are not good or ambitious enough to work hard to get ahead (because that is quite impossible), but not quite bad enough to get fired. In short, unions have a bad name in America for a good reason. They were necessary 100 years ago, but quite outdated and costly for our economy now.

    • GardenOfSun says:

      That’s very nice and kind of you. I echo your sentiments. :)

  3. MrThingy says:

    If only you’d kept the Hammers, I would’ve bought it.

    Instead you took the “fun” out of “fundamentalism” and made me cry.

  4. Stardog says:

    Blame the gameplay designer for this one.

  5. Judasgoat says:

    Totally agree with “Chubzdoomer”. Reviews be damned, Thief has been one of my favorite series (along with Fallout 1 & 2) since the original Dark Project and this felt like a comfy pair of shoes to me – much more than Deadly Shadows did. Thanks for a stellar time. Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait as long for another go.

  6. The Sombrero Kid says:

    If you lay people off after shipping a game, you are a despicable person and you don’t know how to run a studio.

    • Shuck says:

      Hell, I know a lot of studios that laid people off just before shipping the game (but after they’d done their work). It is, sadly, incredibly common to lay people off immediately after shipping the game. It saves on expenses as you ramp up for work on the next project, it saves on all those bonuses employees might have been promised if they stayed with the company through the project…

    • DodgyG33za says:

      Being objective about this it makes fine sense to lay people off after the development phase has been completed if you are operating on a waterfall development methodology. The game is more or less finished. You need a few people to hang around for patches etc, but the work is done.

      A more sensible approach would be to have staggered waterfall, but to do that you need a large outfit working on multiple games. And it may still make no sense if you want to release games at set times of the year.

      Of course you could go iterative development, but that is better geared towards smaller more agile teams. Indie developers are ideally suited to this sort of dev methodology.

    • toxic avenger says:

      Wow, you have a real gift my man. I have never seen someone oversimplify a situation more than you have right here.

  7. Malcolm says:

    Sadly this seems to be par for the course for AAA software development:
    1. Frantically recruit to increase teamsize as project hits a the usual crunch period (has no one in game development circles read The Mythical Man Month?).
    2. Ship game (probably late and over budget)
    3. Immediately lay off a load of unfortunate souls in a desperate attempt to recoup some costs.
    4. Repeat.

    • DatonKallandor says:

      They also tend to fire artists after a game is done. After all what do you need artists for when the game is DONE? For the next game? Poppycock, we’ll hire new people if we make a next game.

      • Shooop says:

        I’m very thankful they didn’t do that to Dark Souls.

        The art and models in that series are outstanding.

        • Niko says:

          I know how they could have been even more outstanding – if they’d hired people who did monster animations in the Monster Hunter games.

      • Shuck says:

        But you’ll probably not need those artists for a few months, until you’re well into developing the next game, so you’re saving money! And hey, you can probably rehire some of those very artists, the ones unable to find jobs because they were trying to not have to move. It’s like a vacation for them – an unpaid, mandatory vacation!

    • LionsPhil says:

      I don’t understand why people work in professional “big” game development.

      I mean, I’m glad that some do, but I don’t get why you’d want that for a dayjob.

      • Drake Sigar says:

        I wouldn’t be able to live with the stress. It’s a wonder anyone in AAA development has hair.

        • kalirion says:

          Yes, all those AAA devs should go make Indie Games – I think there’s a Movie about what a cushy and stressfree undertaking that is!

          • The Random One says:

            Still seems better than working at AAA. At least if you have an indie game you’re crunching of your own volition, and you will be able to resume working on the next project immediately. You also have a greater sense of creative accomplishment than if you’d spent six months putting the bump maps on rocks. Plus Team Meat have come through saying that their perils were exaggerated and had come mostly from Microsoft’s demands on the XLive port and not so much on making the game proper. Phil Fish was pretty much freaking out over nothings because he’s Phil Fish.

      • buzzmong says:

        For the CV, and the experience.

      • Malcolm says:

        Likewise. I enjoy games massively, but from years of reading bits and pieces about the low pay/long hours/poor management of many large scale game development efforts I much prefer life in the “boring” arena of business software development.

      • Lemming says:

        Just to have a job, I assume. It’s all very well going indie, but you have to be getting paid a wage to feed a family. I do,however imagine a few of these poor drones have private side projects going jjust in case...assuming their employer’s give them any free time at all.

        • LionsPhil says:

          You can develop software other than games, though. It’s not exactly a dream, but it’s not permacrunch hell followed by being let go shorting after shipping, either.

    • Archonsod says:

      It’s the same in any industry, if you have a short term need for manpower you recruit on short term contracts. Farmers don’t retain labourers between harvest seasons either.Only smaller companies tend to retain staff, because they usually have more projects than staff to begin with.

      • Malcolm says:

        If they were on short term contracts presumably it wouldn’t be announced as a layoff. How onerous is Canadian employment law? Can people be let go from nominally permanent contracts relatively easily or is there an expensive redundancy process?

    • PopeRatzo says:

      Does this happen as often when a game is not disappointing?

      • CheeseOnToast says:

        Short answer, yes. At least in the States. However, a pretty decent severance payment (enough to live off for several months) is common too.

        My personal favourite way to be laid-off from a games job was for us all to be taken to a hotel function room for an “off-site meeting”. At the meeting, we were all made redundant, and returned to the studio to find bouncers at the doors, admitting us a few at a time to collect our stuff. Fun times. This was a UK studio, BTW.

        Most seasoned devs have their porfolio/CV at the ready for the end of a development cycle.

  8. Shooop says:

    You mean it wasn’t a good idea to take an old franchise and use such a massive budget on it it’d have to be a million-seller to break even to turn it into a run of the mill streamlined as hell FPS/stealth game?

    Who’d have thunk it?

    • The Random One says:

      I’d argue that their first error was “let’s make an AAA game that’s not Call of Duty”.

    • WhatAShamefulDisplay says:

      They’re not learning their lessons, are they? If you have to rip out the core gameplay of the franchise (as they did with Thief), and then you don’t replace it with any kind of endearing, charming or engaging story, art direction or level design, then to whom exactly are you aiming the game? The CoD crowd want CoD, and even nuThief will likely be too complicated for them. The Thief crowd want Thief, which Thief is not (I constructed that sentence deliberately to show how retarded “reboot” nomenclature is, by the way). The run-of-the-mill gamer is influenced largely by reviews, and if I may be permitted to interpret the AAA review business as a 6-9.5 scale (because it just is), the game was panned. So that’s also a no-go. To whom was this project going to sell? Well, John liked it I guess, as did TB and a few others, most of whom seemed to like the earlier games and were prepared to put up with compromises to the design (I’m being as open-minded as I can here), but don’t tell me that was the target market!

      • fish99 says:

        TB didn’t really like the original Thief games due to the slow pacing (not a criticism I agree with, but hey everyone’s different), and as such he’s probably not the best judge of the new one. I’m guessing JW did play and like them though based off previous articles.

        Haven’t tried it yet myself.

      • kament says:

        The Thief crowd, as any crowd, is stupid. That’s the thing about crowds: they dumb you down. As such it doesn’t have a clue what it wants. So it just clings to the familiar things, however insignificant they might be. Rope arrows, jumping, etc. And calls it “the core gameplay”.

        Whereas if you step out of the crowd it becomes (perhaps blindingly) obvious that the *core* of the gameplay was always hiding and stealing, and Thief does an excellent job at those. That is why it’s a good Thief game, despite forced narrative sequences and other rather jarring features (context actions included).

        • Emeraude says:

          I don’t know about the crowd, but I think you are mistaking the narrative wrap up put around game-verbs (“hide”, “steal”) with the actual game design issues raised by people about the way those verbs are being implemented – what they actually are.

          • kament says:

            Looks to me that’s exactly the problem: some people don’t play games anymore, instead breaking them down to design elements and then trying to fit them in some perfect template. Or rather their idea of that template, sometimes seriously divorced from reality of any game it supposedly based on, as is the case with the old Thief games. And if it doesn’t fit, those deconstructivists, for lack of a better name, condemn that game with such a fervor it almost seems religulous.

            They simply can’t just play *for the sake of it* and regard such a manner of playing with something closely resembling disgust, as WhatAShamefulDisplay did. And they’re well past the point where it’s natural curiousity, “So what didn’t work, why didn’t I like it, why didn’t it click with me?” which I understand. They need their games to be composed from certain elements and work exactly the way they seem to hold sacred. In short, they look for something that is not or may not be there and ignore anything else as idk profanities. Because its not like it used to be and as it should be. Must be.

            But when it comes right down to it, a player doesn’t play “verbs” or “props” or what have you. They play games. Which could contain a number of obvious flaws but deliver a lovely experience nevertheless. Because they’re not playing for *the way* something is implemented, they’re playing for *what* is implemented and how well it works within its own constraints. And if they compare one game to the other, they compare *games* and not their elements.

            With the Thief it goes something like this: a stealth game with multiple paths through locations with inevitable bottlenecks which were always there and a range of tools that enable the player to use those paths. Shadows are relatively (which is an improvement) safe, light is dangerous. Enemies could be avoided altogether. Well, seems to be right so far. Oh, there’s the downside: sometimes you can’t backtrack due to the scripted events. Which is a shame in theory, but in practice I’m used to playing Thief very carefully to avoid backtracking (hate it) anyway and I can replay the mission anytime I want.

            Something like that. Simple. Basic. But I guess that’s the difference between hardcore and casual gamers. It’s not about what kind of videogames you play of how much or for how long. It’s about taking things very seriously. Playing the right games the right way. The result is usually disappointment and bitterness after nearly every major release. Why would one do that is beyond me.

          • WhatAShamefulDisplay says:

            With the greatest respect, (after all this is still a videogame discussion), your argument sounds like anti-intellectual luddism to me, Kament. I’m not saying videogame analysis is ever an intellectual pursuit per se, but cursing any kind of in-depth analysis due to the fact that it might preclude you from having fun seems to me like an incredibly backward argument. Even if I didn’t bring up the problems Thief has with emergence, art direction, music, technical performance, pacing, story and dialogue, these issues would still be there. You can’t curse the messenger for reporting bad news, the news is what it is.

            I also think the nostalgia argument is facile at best. I played Thief II for the last time about three months ago. I spent the entirety of my free time this afternoon playing Morrowind. Yesterday I played Betrayal at Krondor for the first time in over a decade. You know what? I had a hell of a lot of fun. My memory of what was well-designed about these games is both vivid and current. I don’t see what the nonsense word “hardcore” has to do with it, a lot of rather casual games journalists have panned the new Thief game, too. Game design can be quantified, it can be written about. The fact that most people instead choose to write about how “hyped” or “stoked” they are for the new “season pass” doesn’t mean that that is the extent to which games discourse can reach. You’re very right that certain games of late have disgusted me personally: Total War: Rome 2, Civ V, Bioshock Infinite, Skyrim, SimCity and Thief to name but a few. But there have been others (the new South Park game, Fallout New Vegas, Europa Universalis IV, Crusader Kings 2 and Dishonored) which I have enjoyed very much, and considered very well designed. New Vegas is an example of a well-designed game which updates the design principles of an old classic without desecrating it. Fallout 3 is an example of a game which appeals squarely to the lowest common denominator, and treats any gamer with a more holistic view of game design than just a desire to see a theme park with contempt. See, this isn’t a battle between old and new. It’s a battle between good design and bad design, examples of both can be found in present and past.

          • kament says:

            I certainly didn’t want to come across as someone blaming the messenger and cursing the analyst. No analysis is going to preclude me from having fun, that’s not the point. What I was trying to say is that design flaws are not necessarily that important for *everyone* playing the game as they appear in the analysis of said game. A videogame is not a machine, it’s an experience.

            A story could be poorly written, but if it has something to say, something that appeals to those who read it, bad writing won’t matter much. And with videogames nothing is that clearly defined yet. Those criterions we gamers (both common and glorified) have are mostly and most arbitrary. You say New Vegas doesn’t desecrate the original. I say it’s based on that same gameplay mechanic many’ve come to loathe in F3. And Walker here on RPS says Vegas is just bland and boring and there’s nothing to see.

            And when it comes to discussion you say about appeal to the lowest common denominator and luddism, I say about the proverbial forest and the trees and so forth. You say that new Thief is flawed beyond redemption, I say that the core gameplay remains the same and it matters most, because that’s where the fun always comes from. And I don’t think any of us are gonna be convinced one way or the other, I just want to say that I don’t condemn any in-depth analysis, I only point out its, well, limitations.

          • Emeraude says:

            @ kament:

            Well, yes some of us are trying to reach a level of critical analysis that goes beyond “I like/I don’t like”. Sorry about that.
            Personally as someone who has an extensive library about games (of all kinds), playing and gaming, someone who still has the hope to one day, in her small, limited way, she’ll help in the creation of a proper critical theory which we sorely lack right now, that seems like a worthy proposition.

            I reject the idea that the analytic process necessarily bears contempt for things that do not fit into its pre-established grid. Rule number one in craft/art remains still: if it works, it works. All the rest is trying to decipher why and how it does or doesn’t. I reject the silly idea that wanting for higher standard of games is a bad thing.

            But when it comes right down to it, a player doesn’t play “verbs” or “props” or what have you. They play games.

            “When it comes right down to it, a musician doesn’t play “notes” or what have you. They play music.”

            What we’re having here really, is the old debate about high and popular culture (a fake opposition on many respects, but useful as far as defining crowds is concerned I guess): the people who do not love cinema, who do care about its craft and its art more than probably do not care about the work of people like, say, Bresson, or Tarkovsky. People I know from the conservatory, for the most part, don’t have much love and/or respect for the latest pop music craze. Having given more of themselves in the study and the pursuit of the craft, they also now demand *more* of and from it.

            People who’ve grown old along with video games, who devoted a great amount of their limited lifetime playing, discussing and analyzing these games – are going to want more from games than people who did not. We want – we need – the high culture of games. We need games that push the envelope, games that try to charter new territories, games that manage to make the familiar new again by redefining it.
            That doesn’t mean that pop-games (like, say, a game as poor as Assassin’s Creed) have no place. I enjoyed Shadowrun Returns recently, and I that was a perfect example of a mis-mash game with loads of design issues. As I said in the comments for the Thiaf* review: we’re not made for great things all the time. Hell, more often than not, the ferments of change will come from the low-brow ones (see how jazz and hip-hop revitalized music in their respective emerging periods; see how Kabuki revitalized a Japanese theater that with No had ascended to unbreathable heights… before reaching those in its turn).
            That doesn’t mean that the people who only enjoy those are to despised in any way, or their opinion disregarded for it. They don’t have to justify their tastes.

            What those people cannot do, though, is claim the inanity of the hopes and dreams of those who dare want and demand better for the medium. What they cannot do is somehow impose the mediocre limits of their undemanding satisfaction to all.

            Now on the respect of Thief: the series was critically revered for doing very specific things design-wise. For daring to push the envelope and redefining games. When they took the name, SE/Eidos put themselves in the position of seeing their game being judged according to those things, and in light of these facts.

            They took a high culture game and made it a pop-game. They reaped the whirlwind.
            They got criticized as a high culture game – because contrary to other reboots, they did not control the discourse and language surrounding the game. For once, the people who loved games did.

            (PS: gotta love how you place yourself out of any crowd that would make *you* stupid – of course you’re better than that; it’s others who’re in a crowd. You, on the other hand, are an individual. “You see clearly.”)
            *: I know, it’s childish, but I still think it advantageously allows to differentiate between the original and the reboot.

          • kament says:

            First of all I wish you luck helping to create proper critical theory. Still I’d like to stress that we gamers don’t have one at the moment and things are a bit arbitrary on that front. We hardly even know what a videogame is, and already we have ungames and nongames to boot.

            Doesn’t mean that games shouldn’t be analysed, of course. I didn’t say that. What I said actually boils down to aphorism about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. And you can’t get that with a game other than playing it to completion. Some people won’t do that because they strongly dislike certain design elements of a game. But that’s just it: they don’t play a game, they compare design elements. As if a musician preferred certain notes, saying: Those other notes are just popular notes, I play only high culture notes, and to hell with the tune.

            But let’s not detract here. See, I myself have grown old along with videogames. I’m pretty sure John Walker has also had more than enough gaming experience to “want more from games”, as you put it. And yet he’s clearly enjoyed this Thi4f, as have I. So the anger towards it is not something that comes with experience. But what is it? I say it’s an attitude. It’s playing the right games the right way because it’s serious business and high culture.

            Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to appear scornful, I’d just like a little bit more levity. Now back to the reboot.

            When I suggested that Thief was actually a game about hiding and stealing, you dismissed the notion: Those are just narrative wrap-ups around game-verbs. And not for the first time, too. WhatAShamefulDisplay also rejected my obviously silly idea: The core of Thief was emergent solutions to remaining unseen.

            Those are fine words, but what does it all even mean? You’re saying you have a whole library about games of all kinds on your side. Help me out here, would you? What exactly are those, quote, very specific things, unquote, Thief was doing design-wise? Are they quantifiable? Can they be explained in terms of actual gameplay experience?

        • WhatAShamefulDisplay says:

          No it wasn’t, and no it doesn’t. The core of Thief was emergent solutions to remaining unseen, and the new Thief treats emergence with a kind of contempt that I don’t think I’ve ever seen from a reboot before. Not even Bioshock and Fallout 3 seemed so aggressively opposed towards letting the player think for him or her self. It’s an overly linear, over designed mess.

          As for the point about it doing hiding and stealth well, I couldn’t disagree more strongly. I’m going to come right out and say it: NuThief is the worst game I have ever played. I would love to be able to sugar-coat this in some way, in order to appear moderate, balanced and considered, but I just can’t. I can’t think of anything about it that I like. Please don’t misinterpret this for an evangelical love of the first games, I always felt that by and large Deus Ex was the more coherent of the imsim experiences, and that Thief could be a little opaque for first-time players. They were still great games, though. I came to newThief relatively neutral, even though I knew it had been critically panned, because I don’t always agree with reviewers. Oh boy, I got about ten hours in or so before I uninstalled the game in disgust. Unless you find hiding from guards fun *for its own sake*, Thief can offer nothing. There is no appreciable lore about the world, what there is is dire. The dialogue may be the most turgid ever produced for a triple-A game. The art direction doesn’t have a clue what it wants to be, and just comes across as pastiche grimdark (Dishonored did a much better job at the 19th century). The actual system of movement itself feels restrictive and laboured, due in part to how contextual everything is. The process of stealing is trivialised by the sheer volume of worthless loot like inkwells and scissors, and just becomes a chore. There are far, far too many quicktime events. The actual main narrative reads like it was written by a twelve year old as a twilight fan fiction. It runs like gravel on a very good PC.

          I could keep going, but I just don’t understand how this game has already garnered such a cult following. I’ve had this feeling before, most recently with Binfinite and Skyrim, but at least I could see what people saw in those games, even if I felt the negatives outweighed the positives. This game is just awful, and it’s not because of some spurious “crowd” indulging in groupthink.

          • kament says:

            Emergent solutions to remaining unseen. Wish I had such a way with words.

            Seriously now: those solutions mostly involved, well, remaining unseen. In the shadows. Out of sight. There simply wasn’t anything emergent about stealth in Thief. It’s just not that kind of game by any stretch, and never was. Granted, there was a couple emergent solutions to climbing, but they were so few and far between they couldn’t possibly constitute a core of the gameplay. Well, if you don’t count exploiting fairly forgiving AI.

            And frankly this is how I feel about the rest of your critisism, too. That is, I don’t understand where it comes from. Ok, lore is definitely deeper in Thief, but seriously? Who plays games for that? I’d rather read a book. At least, its in-game equivalent, but there was never such thing as a codex in Thief, either.

            Art direction lacking something? Well, for the game played mostly in the dark isn’t it a bit… tertiary? I think it is, because for all the fuss about how brilliant the City used to be I just can’t remember anything visually striking or even particularly coherent. I think it’s just rose-tinted glasses playing tricks again. Yeah, Dunwall has undoubtedly more personality, but so what?

            Dialogue, story.. are we on the same page here? We’re talking Thief, not Obsidian or Bioware game. It all seems so irrelevant that I’m just not sure what is there to say. You obviously find it strange to like hiding from the guards for the sake of it, but what else would you do that for? Dialogue? Lore? Seriously?

          • WhatAShamefulDisplay says:

            I think we’re just going to have to agree to disagree on this one, because we obviously don’t experience videogames (well, at least this type of videogame) for the same reasons. For what it’s worth, I’ve never understood games like Super Hexagon, where the objective of the game is to be good at the game and progress, either. Obviously you like a more systemic experience, where the possibility to master systems even for their own sake is appealing to you. I don’t agree with this school of game design at all. Without story, art, music and so forth the entire game is pointless, meaningless, as far as I’m concerned. Thief (the originals) worked hard to build a coherent world. That is very important. I think it’s the same criticism people level against Tolkien for describing his world in such detail, sometimes to the detriment of the story: immersion in the world is what must always be paramount. These are what I like to call “dim-the-lights” games, where you really try and inhabit what you’re doing in the game. Within that context, player agency is critical. You can’t just take away 10 out of 11 paths and then say “what does it matter if the 11th path is still fun?” That’s not the point, it’s the real-time selection of that path that matters. I actually think that even the linear path that nuThief does present isn’t fun either, but that’s another story.

            I’m afraid I also don’t quite follow your point about art being tertiary, because the game takes place in the dark? Art is even more important in the dark, since it requires greater skill to paint a picture with less light. The world of new Thief is…immature. It’s a lot of effing and blinding to no purpose. The entire economic and ideological superstructure of the world is unclear: how does it function with such a bizarre street plan? How is it possible that industrialisation has led to no benefit for a growing middle class? Why did industrialisation result from a magic artifact? What happened to the Keepers, Hammers and Mechanists? The lack of willingness to engage with these questions is what makes this game bad. It’s just a stealth game, and not a very good one at that. You might say “it’s just a game dude, chill”, but if DX and Thief were able to get this stuff right over fourteen years ago, I don’t think it’s a stretch to expect the same from this lot. I have exactly the same complaints, rendered with considerably more vitriol, for Skyrim, which I regard as an insult to the memory of Daggerfall and Morrowind, but we’ll leave that for another day!

          • kament says:

            Well, I didn’t mean that art, story and music and such amount to nothing at all, I said they were supplemental. It’s not a book, not even an RPG to require really rich and deep lore and backstory. And it’s not one of those… artworks in videogame form to judge it based on art.

            And I mean not just this nuThief or noThief or whatever, I mean any Thief game. I don’t know where great art or story in any of those are. I suspect they don’t actually have it. And I don’t think Dark Project or Metal Age or Deadly Shadows have answers to your questions regarding economics and politics. They are not watertight. Because it really is not that important for a game. It’s not to say that only mechanics matter and it might as well be just a series of challenge maps, not at all. But you gotta have priorities. Take “hiding from the guards” out of Thief, and no amount of Hammerites and Pagans and Keepers all working together will be able to save it. Not vice versa, though.

            But yeah, it’s great when even supplemental things have an emotional impact on the player. Sometimes they make games great, at least in part, engaging you that much more, like the Shalebridge Cradle, whose brilliance rests almost solely on sound. But nuThief isn’t great. It’s good, which apparently is not good enough, and it has its share of flaws.

            Yet it’s still entertaining. It does have solid enough story as stories in Thief go, and if you dismiss it as something written by a 12-years old, you might as well do that with the whole series. It doesn’t explain anything about Pagans and others, but I don’t see how that could be done considering the old factions never existed in nuThief timeline.

            And it’s certainly not the case that only one of ten different routes remain. For one thing, there never was that much freedom in Thief. One point of entry, fairly linear (as in one route only) sequence leading to a more open area and then a bottleneck again—it’s not nuThief, it’s Metal Age, rooftop mission. On the other hand there are fairly open-ended brothel and mansions in nuThief, not to mention the City itself. I replayed Deadly Shadows just before the reboot was released. And playing the new game after that wasn’t nearly as grating as I feared. In fact, it felt oddly familiar and sometimes even more satisfying. Granted, it irritated and frustrated me even more often, but still.

            PS. I just read about jumping in another article here on RPS and how it was a free way to make noise and distract threats, but not anymore. And I thought to myself, But-but what about blackjack? Talk about emergent gameplay.

        • fish99 says:

          Is that why it sits at a lowly 68% on metacritic versus 92% for TDP and 87% for Thief 2?

  9. Noise says:

    Ah the unsustainable AAA game development business model. Good luck to those laid off, go and make the games of your dreams.

  10. jonahcutter says:

    The sturm-and-drang over these layoffs seems weird to me.

    Of course, I work in the film industry, where working from project-to-project is the standard. It’s good fortune to land a job that is going to last years (not months, weeks, or even days). If you’re smart you lay up a cushion for when times are leaner.

    I have a regular position with some responsibility at an animation studio and we have a good relationship. But they don’t pay me to be there when there’s no project to actually work on. And I don’t expect it. I go looking for other gigs. I go on unemployment. I turn tricks. Etc.

    When you work on creative projects, that is often the case. I’m as leftist, pro-worker, anti-corporatist as they come, but this doesn’t seem like any sort of particular corporate malfeasance. It’s just the nature of the business. Project and paychecks come and go as funding comes and goes.

    • Tridae says:

      Came here to say exactly this – It’s just how the creative industry works since no two projects require the exact same amount of work. There’s always a growing and shrinking process that happens. People outside the industry find this hard to accept but that’s just how it is and I’m fine with it. I like swapping around from place to place, new office, new people, new project. Its pretty sweet.

  11. Marinetastic says:

    Terrible for those who lost their jobs, but it’s 27 people out of 350-500. They’ve not turned around and fired everyone who worked on Thief.

    • Srethron says:

      Yeah, 27 does not sound right for the layoffs being the Thief 4 team. If Eidos Montreal laid off those people, it would be a much bigger number. The Thief 4 team is probably still around doing DLC or some such. Maybe some of them got the axe, but it sounds more likely that Kotaku’s speculation is right and it was a team doing concept and prototyping work on an unannounced title. Could even have been QA guys. Speculation is speculation.

  12. Tallfeather says:

    Plus side: those folks have the skills to become master silver pen and candelabra thieves to make ends meet.

    • Hypnotron says:

      lol. Some will use their powers of near invisibility-when-crouching for unselfish reasons I’m sure!

  13. eclipse mattaru says:

    This kind of news sure gives a lot of hope for the PS4/Xbone generation. I mean, it’s not like development is gonna get EVEN MORE bloated and money-burning-insane now, right?

    • Stardreamer says:

      This is a point worthy of an article or two here, RPS.

      The expectation with every console “generation” (nngn) is that game quality will increase significantly, across the board (graphics, story-telling, animation, etc). You can already see the press hungry for “Next-gen” experiences now that PS4 and XBone are out in the wild. But considering that AAA development has had to fight harder and harder to make itself profitable in the PS3/X360 era, needing to sell ever greater numbers just to recoup costs, let alone be considered successful, how capable is the industry of delivering this next step up? Have we reached a ceiling in terms of what Industry can deliver? Who out there can afford to bring us the next step up in an industry being cannibalised by Kickstarted studios, casual gaming, indie gaming etc?

      Thief was clearly compromised by the need for mass market appeal; stripped of many of the game’s more eccentric elements, like the versions of spicy foods you find in some restaurants that are tamed down so as not to offend palates unused to strong flavours and spices. Is this also gaming’s AAA future? Risk-averse titles where uniqueness and individuality are boiled out at the design stage to avoid excluding the mainstream?

  14. huldu says:

    Not a huge surprise since the game was terrible. I couldn’t play more than 20 minutes of it. At least I didn’t ask for a refund.

  15. geldonyetich says:

    I hope they all land on their feet.

    I hope those who remain are better at porting an engine to the PC.

  16. zain3000 says:

    I’m honestly not sure why these lay-offs keep making the news. It’s the nature of many businesses that hire contractors to work on projects. Do you keep a plumber around when he’s done fixing your pipes? I work in a field that is contract to contract, and it’s just something you get used to. If you’re good at what you do you build a reputation and simply move to the next contract.

    Eidos doesn’t “owe” any of its employees anything except payment for services rendered and fulfilment of any other contractual obligations.

    The only reason I can think of for stories like these to be newsworthy would be if contractual obligations were reneged. Otherwise, business as usual.

    • Hypnotron says:

      Not everyone knows how often this occurs. Not everyone is in this industry.

      You like to say “business as usual” but this is not how it always was. Many of us have parents who worked for the same company for 30 years or more. There used to be such a thing as loyalty. Together management and workers would forge a mutually beneficial long term relationship with the goal of growing and improving the company for the benefit of all. Working for a good company meant a lifetime commitment by both sides and this manifested itself in retirement benefits.

      Even in the software industry, you only need go back 15 years to find employees who had been at the same company for 15 years. It’s only workers hired within the previous 15 years who no longer can count on a company to show them loyalty. This wouldn’t be so bad if their compensation reflected the “contract” nature of their employment. But they are not even getting contract pay (which should be 50% higher to make up for the fact that they have to be able to ride through periods of unemployment).

    • zain3000 says:

      Contract payment shouldn’t have to be anything other than what both parties agree upon. If one party feels that exchange of value is not balanced they can renegotiate or seek employment elsewhere. The company is not obligated to pay any more for a job than what the job is worth.

      It’s a competitive industry out there. Companies need to watch the bottom line in order to remain viable and provide goods and services of value at competitive rates. Would it be preferable that Eidos employed a large number of superfluous employees only to go under a year or two later and have everyone out of work?

      Comparing today to “ye goode olde days” is an exercise in misplaced nostalgic sentimentality. There is so much more mobility in today’s world than there was when my parents were first starting out. If one stays sharp and flexible, there are plenty of jobs waiting to be filled.

      • Hypnotron says:

        “they can renegotiate or seek employment elsewhere.”

        No they can’t. People are forced to settle. Corporations and the wealthy are taking advantage of an employers market where over 1 out of 3 college graduates are unemployed or under employed.

        If people actually did do as you say, their incomes would rise. But they don’t because they have very few options.

    • Mo says:

      I would kinda agree with you, but these jobs aren’t offered as contract work. These employees were given full-time job contracts, and many relocated their families as a result. Not the kinda thing you’d do if you knew, upfront, that it was a 6 month gig.

      Now you might say, “but they should have known, this happens after every project!” but that’s not true either. Not every company does this for every title… it’s really a combination of how well scoped, budgeted & managed the production was, as well as how well the game was received by the press, shareholders and general public. In other words: from an single employee’s point-of-view, it’s basically random. You’ll note, for example, that Eidos did not announce layoffs following DX:HR.

      • zain3000 says:

        Fair enough, and since I don’t know the nature of the contracts these employees signed, I can’t really comment. The game industry, like most I suppose, is one where you have to expect downsizing, especially when big projects run their course and the company can no longer afford to hang on to its employees.

        Considering the tale of woe which is Thi4f’s development cycle, I can’t say that I’m surprised, really. If the company as a whole is managed even a fraction as poorly as that title, I’m surprised it hasn’t gone under.

        I’m hoping that the employees in question were able to see this coming and make the suitable arrangements required.

        • Hypnotron says:

          Or maybe the next ones will and maybe these types of articles and subsequent discussions serve really good purposes after all.

  17. Bull0 says:

    The irony being we all talk about these studios being ‘AAA’ but in all honesty 90% of them put out BBB games at best. Think about your favourite developers – the ones who put out extremely polished and fun games – and ask yourself if they follow this boom-bust cycle?

    • jrodman says:

      Smaller shops boom and bust less. Sometimes they bust entirely though.

  18. Ultra Superior says:

    Canadian tax incentives for game developers – they hire more staff than they need in order to get the taxman off their profits and grab some extra coin. Then they just fire the staff they never needed in the first place. Everybody wins, right.

    link to gamesindustry.biz