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Crytek - From Heroes to Zeros?

One of the most respected independent studios in Europe seems to be making one weird move after another.

  • Text: Bengt Lemne
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It's not long ago that Crytek was widely considered as good guys in the industry. They had a rock-solid reputation for creating high-quality games like Far Cry and Crysis, and their technology was a step ahead of the competition as CryEngine provided gamers with the best visuals for the time. To further cement their legacy as heroes they went on to save a studio like Free Radical Design from closure (labelling it Crytek UK) and later they would do the same for the remains of Vigil Games (which got turned into Crytek USA). Other studios were picked up or started in various spots in the world, but somewhere along the way, it would seem Crytek lost the plot. Maybe it was a case of overextending themselves, losing focus, or a mix of the two, but much has changed over the last few years, and with the revelation of the lawsuit against former partners Cloud Imperium Games many game developers have openly criticised the company via social media. Recently, we also learned that they've partnered with something called Crycash, dubbed a cryptocurrency for gamers, but given that key individuals from Crytek serve on the advisory board there's reason to believe the ties are closer than the word partnership would suggest.

Crysis 3 was released in February 2013. It's the most recent AAA project to come out of the studio and, famously, founder Cevat Yerli had announced prior that the studio would be focusing solely on free-to-play (their first effort in this space, Warface, had begun its roll-out at this point in time) moving forward, alongside their engine business. Their UK dev studio (formerly Free Radical Designs) were in a precarious situation as the publisher on Homefront: The Revolution, THQ, had filed for bankruptcy, but the good news was that Crytek had secured the Homefront IP in the subsequent auction. The problem now was that Crytek wanted to transform the game as they had gained full creative control. Meanwhile, as no one had picked up Vigil Games and their just launched new development project in the THQ auction, Crytek also dived in to save what remained of that studio to form Crytek USA. At this point in time, although there was some concern over Crytek's insisting on going completely free-to-play, the company was largely seen as heroes in the gaming world. They'd saved two highly respected studios and had lots of projects underway.

Crysis 3 was released in 2013.

Crytek USA's project, Hunt: Horrors of the Gilded Age, was first shown at E3 in 2014 and it was just around this time that Crytek was hit with the first wave of financial troubles. We remember the somewhat odd mood at the booth this year, with some people putting on brave faces trying to be accommodating, while others seemed to be in a foul mood. Deep Silver had stepped in as publishers of Homefront: The Revolution and would later acquire the IP and studio from Crytek. But trouble at Crytek UK (now known as Dambuster) with missing salaries meant talent left the studio. Crytek USA was soon cut loose too (they would instead form Gunfire Games).

A deal between Amazon and Crytek in early 2015 seemingly saved the company from bankruptcy. The deal allegedly worth somewhere in the range of $50-70 million saw Amazon use CryEngine to build their own Amazon Lumberyard engine. However, it's hard to say how much of that was delivered upfront and how much is ongoing payments and royalties. It's also difficult to estimate how much in debt Crytek was in at that point; given the size of the company at its biggest, the burn rate must have been very high. It was announced a little later in the year that Cloud Imperium Games, who had licensed CryEngine for use with Star Citizen, would open a new branch of their Foundry 42 studio in Frankfurt, employing some of the tech talents behind the inner workings of CryEngine. Perhaps a prelude to what was about to happen later.

Meanwhile, the number of big games making use of the engine has dwindled, with Prey and Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 being the only really notable releases using the engine in 2017. Before that it was Evolve and Everybody's Gone to the Rapture in 2015, and Homefront: The Revolution in 2016. The one big project set for 2018 (apart from Crytek's own Hunt: Showdown) is Warhorse Studios' Kingdom Come: Deliverance. A number of smaller projects make use of the engine, but it's difficult to imagine that this business generates enough income at this point given the big investments needed in order to keep up with the competition (Unreal Engine and Unity primarily). Losing Star Citizen in late 2016 was a big blow, not only in terms of publicity but also in terms of potential royalties and payments down the line. Ironically, Crytek lost that game (or games if you will) to Amazon Lumberyard, the engine that's based on their own tech.