Source: Free Radical Locked Up
A source close to staff at Free Radical Design told Edge on Thursday that the developer has shut its doors–and changed the locks–just before the Christmas holiday.
"Staff arrived for work this morning to find the locks had been changed and notices on the doors advising them to attend a meeting at a nearby Novotel [a hotel chain] at 12 noon today," said the source, who preferred anonymity and worked with Free Radical in better times. "Heavy duty security staff was patrolling the buildings."
"…I think they’re all a bit shell-shocked."
The studio employed around 150-200 staff, the tipster said. "After the poor reviews of Haze and subsequent loss of a contract with LucasArts, [Free Radical was] struggling to find publishers to back the long-awaited TimeSplitters 4 and other smaller projects and were left with no choice but to pull the plug."
Free Radical was founded in 1999 by former Rare developers including David Doak, Steve Ellis, Graeme Norgate and Karl Hilton, who created games including Goldeneye 007 and Perfect Dark. Free Radical also created the aforementioned TimeSplitters series of games.
The independent studio had a publishing deal with LucasArts on the unannounced Star Wars Battlefront III, a deal that fell through in October after about two years of development, the source said. "[Free Radical] was relying on Lucas for further contracts which had been promised in some sort of exclusivity deal. Obviously that all went down the pan."
Perhaps the worst news for fans of the studio is the demise of TimeSplitters 4. "They had already started working on TimeSplitters 4, and had been for over a year, but due to the failure of Haze and the deal falling through with Lucas, they couldn’t get a publisher to back them. They had a last ditch attempt last week down South somewhere, but it came to nothing so I think that was the last hope."
The source claimed that the company "didn’t treat their staff well at all." Rumors of a closure were circulating within the company for "a few weeks."
"People have been leaving in droves due to lack of security, poor treatment of staff, better offers and guaranteed work from other local developers such as Monumental Games and one in Derby whose name escapes me [Rebellion and Core Design both have Derby locations--ed.]."
Doak reportedly "officially" left the company early this month, and Ellis has set up another company called Pumpkin Beach, which already has a placeholder website registered under his name. The two are reportedly working on this project together and will "hand pick" Free Radical staff to join them. [2/11/09: Crytek, who has since bought FRD, has since confirmed that Ellis stayted on board.]
The source also said that despite the looming closure, the company still held a big Christmas party last week and gave staff a week’s pay as a Christmas bonus.
Attempts to contact Free Radical have been unsuccessful.
After the meeting
Later on Thursday, our source updated us with more inside information from the Free Radical staff meeting that took place at a hotel near the studio. Apparently, Free Radical knew the urgency of its situation six months ago.
Co-founder Ellis was "visibly upset" when he talked to the staff, the source said. "[He] told staff how very sorry he was and they’d been doing all they could, working flat-out to either find a publisher or a buyer over the past six months, but no offers were made. There have been several visits to the States, but to no avail."
About 20 staff members were offered positions, possibly with Ellis’ new venture, Pumpkin Beach, although this is yet to be confirmed. The rest of the employees were told in a separate room that they would be laid off.
Staff had reportedly been paid to the end of December, but are not expected to receive any further compensation "as there was nothing left to give."
Reps from U.K. game makers Codemasters and Monumental Games were at the hotel after the meeting asking for CVs and applications from former Free Radical staffers.
Update: Added meeting notes.