In June this year, rumours began to circulate that developer and publisher Crytek were in trouble. Anonymous sources told Kotaku and GameStar [article behind paywall] stories of wages being late, staff going two months without pay, and a lack of communication from the company's management. Crytek initially denied everything. Then last week Crytek made staff redundant at their Austin office, and sold their UK office and the Homefront IP to Koch Media.
Which brings us to today, upon which Eurogamer have run an interview with Crytek co-founder Cevat Yerli. The interview is long and wide-ranging, and covers the current financial situation at the company, why wage payments got "delayed", and where the company is now headed.
The most pertinent question is, of course, about staff payments. In fairness, I'll quote Yerli's answer in full:
First off, why did staff go unpaid?
Cevat Yerli: You have two choices, right? Either you delay payments - again delay... it's not that they didn't get paid, they got delayed - delay payments and salvage the company. Or, you push your cash flow directly to the studios and you file for insolvency. Both options are really bad. So you have to make the better of the two bad decisions.
However, like we had promised to everybody - and we said the company is not at a big risk, not a danger, it just needs more time to salvage it and that's what we did. Now, everybody got paid plus inconvenience payments additionally to that, like we promised everybody.
Some people were very impatient and got angry at the smallest delay. Also, there was a critique of us not being proactive in communication, which we don't understand, because we had been frequently in the UK as well as every other studio, talking about potentially rough times. And we had even shared with people how they should maybe work with different banks at a personal level to prepare. Or, if not, they could make a choice to resign and look for other jobs.
But our priority was to not downsize the company. Our priority was to not let anybody lose their jobs at that point. Because if a company gets into a difficult situation and you know the outcome is going to be bad, you have the choice to downsize everything. But we haven't done that because we wanted to keep everybody tied together as a team.
I was surprised and upset a little bit that the intention of us keeping together everybody upset a few of them. But I understand that situation. Some people live in very tight financial planning. That's their own privacy. They can do whatever they want. Those guys, when they get under pressure it can become emotional. We tried to individually help out. Like if somebody gets in trouble they can talk to us directly so they don't get under pressure. We tried whatever we could do. But you can't make it right for everybody.
On the one hand, it is very easy misspeak or express thoughts poorly in conversation. On the other hand, this answer suggests a lack of understanding for why people get "very impatient" and "angry" when wages don't arrive on schedule. It also frames jobs as a gift given from on high rather than a mutually beneficial exchange of services for money, and the "intention of us keeping together everybody" as a noble act for which those who have chosen ("they can do whatever they want") to live "in very tight financial planning" should be grateful. I wonder how patient the company would be should staff decide not to work for the eleven days or two months that wages were reported to have gone unpaid.
The rest of the interview is similarly careful with its rhetoric, framing the whole situation as a somehow inevitable consequence of the "transformation" or "transition" of Crytek from a creator of retail games to a creator of free-to-play games or of a "game service". Yerli paints a picture of an industry in flux, with retail in decline and Crytek taking the only natural course of action for a company buffeted by forces beyond its control.
Retail certainly is in decline, but it's a strange picture to paint: the decline in retail is matched by the rise of digital distibution; singleplayer or cinematic experiences of the sort Crytek try to make are thriving on digital distribution services; and we're not seeing every other similar company shed staff in a rush towards free-to-play business models.
It is fine to want to change the type of products or services your company provides and to do so in pursuit of greater profits. Running a large, multi-national company is also, I imagine, extremely difficult, and human beings at all levels of life will make mistakes in their jobs.
But it's not OK to sweep away those mistakes, frame decisions as unavoidable, and dismiss the concerns of those affected as unnecessarily "emotional". If I'm doomed to live in this world where game companies are followed, worshiped, villainised and picked over with the same tribal fervor as sports teams, then let's at least arm ourselves with the tools to know what's being shoveled.
The full interview over at Eurogamer is worth reading, and the follow-up questions to the one quoted above are further illuminating. Not asked: why they're so fond of creating impeccably-rendered gurns.