Poor investments and engine woes at centre of Starbreeze's untimely demise

Poor investments and engine woes at centre of Starbreeze's untimely demise

We now have a better idea of what went on at Swedish games firm Starbreeze in the last few years.

That's thanks to an in-depth article from Eurogamer, with the media brand having spoken to staff from the studio to see what went wrong in the months and years leading up to its descent into administration.

One of the main factors behind Starbreeze's demise was large amounts of money being spent unnecessarily; in the wake of Payday 2's success in 2013, the firm's CEO Bo Andersson invested heavily in setting up a publishing division. This was costly, with only one game - Dead by Daylight - being a hit, selling three million copies. Starbreeze sold the publishing rights back to developer Behaviour Interactive in 2018 in order to ease its cash woes. The firm also spent $8m publishing Raid: World War 2, a game that bombed after launch.

Another misspend was buying the Valhalla game engine to power future projects - this cost Starbreeze SEK 73m ($8m) and it would have been fine if the tech was of high quality. But sadly, this wasn't the case, with developers working on Overkill's The Walking Dead complaining that it barely worked, being "50 to 60 per cent of the way in terms of usability and stability," according to one member of the development team.

The project eventually switched to Epic's Unreal Engine 4... but this meant ditching two year's worth of asset and starting from scratch. This came after the developers had pushed to work on UE4, with the production team thinking that the switch would be easy. A release date was set for one year down the line.

In order to get the game finished, employees often had to work 100-hour weeks for much of 2018, with developers burning out, resulting in a game that was - by most accounts - okay, but failed to hit the mark commercially

"Everyone knew it was going to tank," one developer said.

"All of us, we put our blood, sweat and tears - and our fucking livers and pancreases - everything into that game, and no matter how much we would push to do it as best we could, it got shat on. No matter how much you polish a turd, it's still a turd. It was never going to get any better than where it was. It was always hacked. Everything that was done there was - let's hack it and put it together. There wasn't much hope for most people, and what little hope there was dead by the end of it."

This was around the time that Bo Andersson was fired, with the CEO sending round a goodbye email that included this, um, 'choice' paragraph:

"Personally though I lost all my money, my family in divorce and my kids custody through the toil over the last 2-3 years working 100 hour weeks for Starbreeze and keeping you devs paid and in the game," the chief wrote.

"With less and less developers willing to put in the extra care in a product it clearly limits the possible result of enough quality in time. This is a new era and I did not leave the old one and adapt in time - my fault. Its ok - its new times."

Aside from the fact it really should be "fewer and fewer developers," this is a rather, um, shitty thing to say as you leave the building.

In response to Eurogamer's piece, acting CEO Mikael Nermark said: "Coming into a CEO role at the phase that Starbreeze currently is in is never easy, I'm humble before the task at hand and will work my hardest to get our feet back on the ground as soon as possible. As the company currently is in reconstruction, the future is indeed uncertain, but myself and the rest of the management team are working very hard to stabilise and bring the company back to its core; games development.

"We recognise that there have been bumps in the road and that our development process may at times have seemed disorganised to our employees. That is one of my main goals to improve as we move forward. We're in a phase where we focus on moving us ahead as a company, but will very soon shift our focus more inwards, on improving our processes, communication and to provide a clearer framework for everyone to work within."

PCGamesInsider Contributing Editor

Alex Calvin is a freelance journalist who writes about the business of games. He started out at UK trade paper MCV in 2013 and left as deputy editor over three years later. In June 2017, he joined Steel Media as the editor for new site In October 2019 he left this full-time position at the company but still contributes to the site on a daily basis. He has also written for, VGC, Games London, The Observer/Guardian and Esquire UK.