Cryptic Studios, renowned for creating popular MMOs such as Star Trek Online and Neverwinter, has recently confirmed a series of layoffs. These unfortunate dismissals are due to the ongoing “comprehensive restructuring” led by the studio’s parent company, Embracer Group. Unfortunately, this follows a distressing trend that has plagued the gaming industry, resulting in a tumultuous year for many game developers.
Reports of layoffs at Cryptic Studios began circulating in October, when key members of the team, including narrative director Winter Mullenix, senior game designer Jesse Heinig, senior technical artist Chris Penny, and community manager Mike Fatum, publicly stated their search for new employment opportunities. Mullenix went as far as linking the layoffs to a “reduction in workforce.” Although Cryptic Studios initially remained tight-lipped, they have since confirmed that an undisclosed number of their 100-plus employees have been affected by the restructuring. In their statement to GamesIndustry.biz, Cryptic acknowledged that “difficult personnel changes” were necessary to align with Embracer’s cost reduction directives.
The impact of these layoffs extends beyond mere numbers. Among those affected are key figures within the development team, such as VP of game development Andre Emerson, sound designer Nigel Athanasios Wilson, producer Miles Deponty, senior environment artist Patrick Poage, senior concept artists Kelly Perry and Ahmed Rawi, and senior UI/UX designer Jules Norcross. Consequently, Cryptic Studios will now operate under the umbrella of free-to-play publisher-developer DECA Games. This reconstruction places Cryptic’s games alongside other well-known titles, including the MMO shooter Realm of the Mad God and popular mobile games like DragonVale, Crime City, and Kingdom Age.
Cryptic Studios reassures the affected employees that they will receive job assistance and support during this transition period. The studio remains committed to their existing free-to-play games and the dedicated communities that support them. Nevertheless, the aftermath of these layoffs casts a dark shadow over the future of Cryptic Studios.
Embracer’s decision to implement widespread restructuring measures comes on the heels of their announcement to cancel upcoming games, close studios, and lay off staff across their expansive workforce of over 16,500 employees. Having acquired more than 130 studios by June, including Cryptic Studios as part of the Perfect World Entertainment buyout, Embracer cemented its position as a major player in the industry. Some notable acquisitions include licenses for The Lord of the Rings’ Middle-earth, Borderlands, Tomb Raider, TimeSplitters, and Alone in the Dark.
However, these accomplishments have come at a significant cost. Embracer’s layoffs have impacted various studios within their portfolio, including Baldur’s Gate Enhanced developer Beamdog, Tomb Raider creators Crystal Dynamics, Borderlands studio Gearbox, and Pinball FX makers Zen Studios. The devastation does not end there, as storied Saints Row developers Volition and narrative RPG studio Campfire Cabal have closed their doors, leaving many talented individuals without jobs. These closures occurred less than a year after the establishment of Campfire Cabal by former Hitman and Hunt: Showdown developers.
Unfortunately, the turmoil experienced at Cryptic Studios is only one chapter of the larger tragedy that has unfolded within the video game industry in 2023. Layoffs have affected companies ranging from industry giants like Epic, Bungie, PlayStation, and Microsoft to esteemed developers such as Frontier, BioWare, Creative Assembly, and CD Projekt Red. The future remains uncertain for countless individuals who have dedicated their careers to creating immersive and memorable gaming experiences.
Cryptic Studios’ recent layoffs reflect the harsh reality faced by many game developers in an industry riddled with uncertainty and instability. The ongoing restructuring by Embracer Group serves as a stark reminder of the challenges faced by studios and their employees. As we navigate these tumultuous times, it is crucial to advocate for the support and well-being of those affected, as they contribute to the vibrant and ever-evolving world of video games.