Former Starbreeze Studios chief financial officer Sebastian Ahlskog was convicted of insider trading this Tuesday. This follows from Sweden’s Economic Crime Authority seizing SEK 700,000 (roughly £55,300 or $72,100) from him in December 2018 while raiding the company’s headquarters and at least one private home, under suspicion that he’d abused his position to profit from Starbreeze’s financial troubles.
According to Dagens Industri. Ahlskog exploited insider knowledge of the developer/publisher’s coming insolvency to sell his shares in November 2018, one month after stepping down from his role, and shortly before Starbreeze applied for reconstruction.
Starbreeze itself was not under suspicion, according to the publisher’s investor relations chief Ann Charlotte Svenssonat at that time: “The company as such is not the subject of any suspicion. The company cooperates with the ECA. The event does not affect the company of the ongoing business reconstruction”, reported Expressen. The investigation has also cleared former CEO Bo Andersson Klint of related charges. Ahlskog has been fined SEK 40,000 (£3171 or $4126). His legal team have two weeks if they’re to appeal the decision.
I hope this small portion of justice provides some relief for Starbreeze staff. The studio’s catalogue include Brothers: A Tale Of Two Sons, the ambitious and unusual Chronicles Of Riddick games, and the doomed-by-foolish-branding Syndicate FPS (which has its defenders, including our own Over-Alice). Their co-op heist shooter Payday 2 has a respectable 27,000 players active at this very moment, and Starbreeze IndieLabs, their attempt to pivot to publishing small third party games produced the beautiful Inked, a finalist in Unknown Pleasures in 2018.
Nonetheless, they’ve struggled financially over the last few years. The failure of Overkill: The Walking Dead proved particularly costly, as we reported in May. The outlook then was really quite bleak, but they’ve since concluded their 12 month period of reconstruction (a process of recovering a drowning business, comparable to administration in the UK) on a much more stable and optimistic footing.
Starbreeze published their end of year financial report just this week, and it’s encouraging given the circumstances. Payday 2 sold well enough to meet the criteria for Steam to adjust their traditional 70/30 revenue split to 75/25 in Starbreeze’s favour last month. They accentuate that success, strengthening the business for the long term, and ongoing discussions about Payday 3. They’re also seeking a publisher for a possible revival of the unsuccessful mobile spin off Payday: Crime War, which shut down its servers in December. Let’s wish them well, yeah?