There’s more bad news out of struggling gaming conglomerate Embracer: The company has confirmed that approximately 50 employees are being laid off from Chorus developer Fishlabs, and is also reportedly looking at closing TimeSplitters studio Free Radical Design completely.
Fishlabs is best known for the well-received “sentient starfighter” sim Chorus, but it’s also had a hand in recent games including Dead Island 2, the Saints Row reboot, and the Xbox version of Valheim. It was working on an unannounced game known internally as Project Black, but parent company Plaion, one of Embracer’s internal divisions, said it was unable to find financing for the project and was thus forced to cancel it and cut employees. Remaining Fishlabs employees will continue to work on “existing co-development projects” with other Embracer studios.
“We are facing a tough moment together,” Plaion vice president Lars Janssen said in a statement. “Each individual at our Fishlabs studio has been more than just a team member; they’ve been a vital part of our creative journey, bringing not only their skills but also their passion and dedication to every project. We’re truly thankful for the energy and heart they’ve invested in our collective endeavors. This painful decision is a reflection of the broader challenges in the gaming industry, not the incredible talents or efforts of our team.”
Of course, it’s fair to say that this tough moment is not really being faced “together”: 50 employees suddenly no longer have jobs, while the company leadership whose decisions led to Embracer’s catastrophic situation are still comfortably employed. In fact, Embracer CEO Lars Wingefors and the company’s board of directors were formally “discharged from liability for the financial year 2022/2023″ during the company’s annual general meeting in September.
It’s grossly unfair, but it’s also, very unfortunately, the nature of the business. That point was emphasized last week by Embracer chief strategy officer Phil Rogers, who said the company’s ruthless reduction in headcount—roughly 5% of its workforce as of mid-November, totalling around 900 employees—is “an agonizing process” but also “how we win.”
A day after the Fishlabs layoffs were announced, VGC reported that Embracer is also looking at closing Free Radical Design entirely. Free Radical was founded in 1999 and closed in 2014, but was then “reformed” in 2021 to work on a new TimeSplitters game. That’s presumably off the table now: Sources told the site that an internal email said Free Radical is facing “potential closure” on December 11, and while it’s possible that the studio could remain open if Embracer can find a buyer for it, the specificity and proximity of that date makes it seems unlikely. Employees don’t appear to be waiting around to find out: A large number of them on Free Radical’s “people” page on LinkedIn are already indicating that they’re available for other jobs.
2023 has been an extremely bad year for workers in the games industry, who have been laid off in alarming numbers from developers and publishers of all sizes. Embracer employees have been particularly hard hit: The collapse of a $2 billion mystery deal in May has resulted in layoffs at studios including Beamdog, Zen, Cryptic, Crystal Dynamics, and others, as well as the outright shutdown of Volition and Campfire Cabal. There may be more to come: Embracer’s CEO said during a recent presentation that while the company delivered “stable performance and improved cashflow” in its most recent quarter, the financial benefits of its restructuring program are still “mainly ahead of us.”