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Former 2K Developer Blames the Publisher for Several Failures, Says Mafia III Would Need to Sell 8M to Recoup Costs

Alessio Palumbo
Posted Oct 31, 2016
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A former developer of studio Irrational Games took to Hacker Noon in order to rant against publisher 2K Games. As we all know, all but fifteen developers at Irrational Games were laid off. According to this developer, it was mostly due to Ken Levine wanting to go back and create smaller games, but 2K could have handled the situation better.

Basically what had happened was that Ken had been pushed past his limits with the stress of running BioShock Infinite — the team was so huge and unwieldy that he wanted to go back to basics and build a game with a skeleton crew like in the old days. He basically tried to quit, but 2K said “no, don’t go, you can do whatever you want — just stay with us.”

2K should have managed that situation better. If you have a big team who work well together in Boston, why not put a new studio head at the top and keep the team together? It could still be called Irrational — it would still have the majority of the original staff. Then Ken could go and do his thing, and everyone else could continue to do theirs — you know — making successful games for 2K…

But the rant goes much deeper. The developer states that 2K HQ interfered with the development of The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, which was the biggest failure among titles developed by 2K Boston, Marin and Australia.

He added that the very same might have happened with Evolve and Mafia III (which, according to him, would have to sell eight millions to recoup costs but it didn’t even to get one million so far), concluding that the only reason 2K is still standing is because of “golden goose” studios like Visual Concepts (NBA 2K) and Firaxis (Civilization, XCOM).

There is no doubt that in this list, “The Bureau: XCOM Declassified” is the black sheep — it did poorly and lost money. With that said, there are 4 games here that were hugely profitable — and every single studio responsible for these games no longer exists.

Instead the studios were dismantled, one way or another, by 2K. Is this really how a studio acquisition is supposed to go? Pay millions for a talented independent studio, let the people make you giant profits for a decade, and then shut all those people out of jobs before they get the chance to make you more money? Sounds like grave management incompetence to me.

By the way, does anyone know why XCOM tanked? I know — I was there: It is because out of the above titles, it is the only title where 2K HQ felt obliged to get their hands dirty with the development. They turned the product around several times for reboots, and completely took creative control out of the hands of the developers, even going so far as to change the name of the lead studio to “2K Marin, Australia” — just so the Australian studio knew they were no longer in charge.

Perhaps this is why Mafia III and Evolve also lost so much money. 2K HQ doesn’t seem to be afraid to try out their artistic streak — even if it costs the shareholders hundreds of millions of dollars, costs the jobs of hundreds of developers, and costs the reputation of 2K as an employer.

The only reason why 2K can be so incompetent and afford to make all of these mistakes is because they have studios like Firaxis (Civilization 6) and Visual Concepts (NBA 2K17) churning out gold for them year after year — without HQ interference. If 2K headquarters decided to stick their fingers into those pies, the publisher would be at serious risk of going entirely out of commission.

Of course, we have to take anonymous reports like this one with a grain of salt. We’ll keep you updated should there be any developments on this story.

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