Former senior staff at Bizarre Creations have spoken out about Activision’s closure of the studio in February.
Creative director Martyn Chudley, his wife, commercial manager Sarah Chudley, and former design manager Gareth Wilson, now at Sumo Digital, told us what prompted Bizarre’s sale to Activision, how the input of a major publisher affected the working atmosphere at the studio, and their feelings on Activision's decision to close the studio after three months fruitlessly searching for a buyer.
“I don’t think the atmosphere differed too much during the years before Activision,” said Martyn Chudley. “We were always proudly independent. However, 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 anymore – we were making games to fill slots. Although we did all believe in them, they were more the products of committees and analysts. The culture we’d worked on for so long gradually eroded just enough so that it wasn’t ‘ours’ anymore.”
Wilson says the change in atmosphere was “just the reality of managing so many people. It’s a challenge for any studio these days to make everyone on the team feel like they’re really contributing to a game when there could be well over 100 people on a single game in production.”
Having made its name with driving games like the Project Gotham Racing series, Activision’s decision to task Bizarre with development of Blur seemed a good fit. However Martyn Chudley admits that the final product “failed to resonate with the games-buying public…it was probably too tough to pigeonhole.” Wilson agrees, saying the studio erred in “underestimating how difficult it was to get a new IP off the ground at this stage of the console cycle.”
Perhaps the most surprising claim is that Activision gave Bizarre the choice of buying itself back; even more surprisingly, the answer was no. “Without going into details, yes, there was [an opportunity],” Martyn explains, “but I personally thought there was far greater potential for the security and well-being of the company if a third party could come in.”
“In any case,” Sarah adds, “Bizarre had grown even more since [Activision] took over, and we just didn’t have the skills, capability or finances to look after over 200 people. Martyn and I were always small-company people, which is why we stepped aside when we realised it needed big-company skills to manage.”
The Liverpool studio eventually closed its doors on 18 February, after 17 years in the business. You can read the full interview in our new issue, E227, which should be with subscribers any day now and will be on shelves on April 12.