The day Bizarre Creations closed, there was an outpouring of emotion from gamers and developers alike. While the studio's games had seen a few ups and downs in terms of quality, there was little denying that at least the Project Gotham Racing and Geometry Wars franchises were genuine classics of the last couple of generations. Many were quick to point the finger at Activision as the ones to blame for the studio's death. But a soon-to-be-published interview from Edge magazine raises a few interesting points.
"I don't think the atmosphere differed too much during the years before Activision," said creative director Martin Chudley. "We were always proudly independent. When Activision took over, we really felt that they would leave our culture alone, and for a while it was fine, but slowly the feeling did start to change. We weren't an independent studio making 'our' games any more -- we were making games to fill slots."
Former design manager Gareth Wilson defended Activision, noting that the change in office culture and atmosphere was mostly "just the reality of managing so many people," and Chudley admitted that the final version of Blur "failed to resonate with the games-buying public."
This part is simply tactful nonsense, of course -- any lack of "resonance" was almost entirely the fault of Activision's Mario Kart-lampooning ad campaign. Besides being an unsubtle and undignified prod at a game that wasn't even a direct competitor, it caused many potential customers to misjudge the kind of game Blur actually was. And as a result, it didn't sell. Even immediately after launch, peak populations on the multiplayer servers rarely exceeded 2,000 across all modes. This was nothing to do with Blur's quality -- anyone who actually did pick it up will agree it's a great game. Rather, it was down to it being released to little fanfare and lacklustre marketing, causing it to pass by most gamers unnoticed -- the kiss of death to a new IP this late in a console cycle.
One interesting fact about the whole debacle that doesn't appear to have been mentioned previously, however, is that Activision actually offered the studio back to its founders, who declined the offer.
"I personally thought there was far greater potential for the security and well-being of the company if a third party could come in," explained Chudley. Before you start lighting the torches and raising the pitchforks, though, know that there was a good reason for Chudley's decision: growth. Success of past titles, even under Activision's ownership, had caused Bizarre's ranks to swell to over 200 people.
"We just didn't have the skills, capability or finances to look after [that many] people," said commercial manager Sarah Chudley. "Martyn and I were always small-company people, which is why we stepped aside when we realized it needed big-company skills to manage."
Activision's involvement with Bizarre was, in many ways, both a blessing and a curse for the developer. Whilst the increased financial backing from the publishing giant allowed huge expansion of the development team and the pursuit of more ambitious titles, their creativity was stifled by focus groups, committees and analysts. It also meant that when things did eventually go wrong, the founder members of the team weren't in a position to be able to rescue their own company.
Did Activision kill Bizarre Creations? Perhaps not directly, but their involvement certainly didn't help in the long term. Let's hope no more creative, independent developers meet the same fate in the near future.
This article originally appeared on GamePro.com as Did Activision kill Bizarre?