1up.com is reporting that Canadian developer Silicon Knights, best known for their work on the cult-classic Gamecube suvival horror game Eternal Darkness, has reportedly laid off over 75 percent of it’s work force, reducing the size of the development studio down from 97 to 25 employees. 1up claims to have received the information from an anonymous “whistleblower” from within the troubled company, who, despite a recent $8 million grant from the Canadian government, has struggled to produce a hit game in this generation.
Originally an exclusively PC based developer, Silicon Knights had their first hit with the PS1’s original Legacy of Kain, a 2D overhead RPG. Despite the game’s success, the game’s publisher, Eidos, chose to create a series of sequels to the game without Silicon Knights’s involvement, leading to a protracted legal battle that the developer eventually lost. Years later, the company would once again enter the limelight after collaborating with Nintendo to create Eternal Darkness, a survival-horror game that combined the gameplay of Resident Evil with the psychological horror and otherworldly mythology of an H.P. Lovecraft novel. They also collaborated with Konami and Nintendo again to create the Gamecube exclusive remake of the original Metal Gear Solid.
Despite their success on the Gamecube, the company has had a hard time transitioning to this generation of hardware. The company severed their ties with Nintendo in order to work with Microsoft on Too Human, which was intended to be the first of a trilogy. The game was met with a negative response following the release of a demo at E3, and the head of Silicon Knights, Dennis Dyack, drew some controversy for saying that the game and his company were being treated unfairly by the press, and called for an end of preview coverage all together. The game was ultimately released to a mixed critical reaction and tepid sales, and the planned second and third entries in the series were cancelled. The only game the company has produced since then was the recent released X-Men: Destiny, an RPG based on Marvel’s popular comic book heroes, which was unfortunately greeted by the same critical panning and lack of sales success that Too Human recieved.
Despite these failures, the St. Catharines, Ontario company still qualified for an 8 million dollar grant from the Canadian government, and earlier this year Silicon Knights announced that they intended to use that money to create 80 new jobs while maintaining the security of their existing 97 positions. In addition to that, the company announced plans to eventually self-publish their own games, quite the achievement for such a small developer. If the rumors about these lay-offs are true (which, considering they are being corroborated by multiple sources, is likely the case,) that means that something has obviously gone very, very wrong within the company. Representatives from within the company have yet to make a public statement.
Regardless of how you feel about their games, its always bad news when people lose their jobs. Even the if the games themselves weren’t great, the blame for these games’ failure doesn’t lie with any single programmer, animator, or designer, and it’s a shame to see people lose their livelihood because of the mistakes of publishers, directors, or upper management.