Making video games is a rewarding, but volatile profession. Although gaming is a multi-billion dollar industry, many people who work on the development side of things have to endure poor work conditions, with long hours and the threat of studio closure constantly hanging over their heads. This isn’t the case at every development studio, of course, but in just the span of a few decades, hundreds of companies have had to close their doors for good, putting many talented people out of a job.
The bright side to all of this is that the industry is so large that many of these people are able to find work elsewhere, but the loss of entire teams still hits hard, especially when those teams are responsible for creating some incredible video games. Here are 15 gaming companies we wish were still in operation.
15. Radical Entertainment (1991-2012)
Notable Games: Prototype, The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, The Simpsons: Hit & Run
Industry observers talk a lot about the decline in mid-tier development over the past decade; that is, games that occupy that nebulous space between indie and big-budget “AAA” software. Radical Entertainment, which was founded in 1991 and based in Vancouver, was the definition of a so-called “AA” developer, as the studio’s games were never top-tier experiences but were generally reliable, fun experiences nonetheless.
Radical achieved some of its biggest successes with quality licensed games such as The Simpsons: Hit & Run and The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. The studio’s final releases were Prototype and Prototype 2, a pair of underrated open-world action games. Although Prototype 2 gave Radical its biggest launch ever and was critically well-received, the game sold less than a million copies during its first two months, which led to Activision severely downsizing the studio. Today, Radical Entertainment still technically exists but as a shell of its former self, aas it’s now used as a support studio for other Activision titles.
14. Guerrilla Cambridge (1989-2017)
Notable Games: MediEvil, Killzone: Mercenary, RIGS
Guerrilla Cambridge had several names over the course of its almost three decade-long existence. Known as Millennium Interactive during the mid-90s, the company was purchased by Sony in 1997 and renamed SCEE Cambridge Studio. The studio would develop 12 games under this name, including the PlayStation hit MediEvil in 1998.
In 2012, the studio was restructured as a subsidiary of Guerrilla Games, the Dutch-based developer behind Killzone and Horizon Zero Dawn. From this point, the Cambridge studio focused primarily on making Killzone: Mercenary for the ill-fated PlayStation Vita, which remains one of the most technically-impressive games on the handheld. Cambridge’s final game would end up being PlayStation VR multiplayer shooter RIGS, as Sony decided to close the studio in early 2017.
13. Silicon Knights (1992-2014)
Notable Games: Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain, Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, Too Human
During the late 1990s and early 2000s, Silicon Knights was one of Canada’s leading video game development houses. The studio’s best work included Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain – the first title in the Legacy of Kain franchise – as well as a pair of excellent Nintendo GameCube titles: Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes and the cult classic Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem. Unfortunately, a partnership with Microsoft Games Studios in 2005 would eventually lead to the company’s undoing.
Silicon Knights had been working on a game called Too Human since 1999 and planned to release a trilogy of games on the Xbox 360. The first and only game was released in 2008 after nearly a decade of development hell, and ended up being a massive commercial and critical failure. To make matters worse, a failed lawsuit against Epic Games put Silicon Knights in financial ruin and when the company’s final game — the atrocious X-Men: Destiny — failed to make a splash, it was only a matter of time before the company declared bankruptcy, which it did in 2014.
12. Acclaim Entertainment (1987-2004)
Notable Games: Turok, Buronout, Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX
Much like Midway, Acclaim was once one of the biggest publishers in the business. Sure, it released a lot of crap over the years, but Acclaim was arguably one of the most important mid-tier publishers in the business during the 1990s and early 2000s, putting out such classic franchises as Turok, Burnout, and a variety of sports titles. However, things began to quickly unravel in the 2000s, with poor sales leading Acclaim to file for bankruptcy in 2004.
11. Zipper Interactive (1995-2012)
Notable Games: SOCOM U.S. Navy SEALs, Crimsons Skies, MAG
The Redmond, Washington-based studio Zipper Interactive was founded in 1995 and started out developing games for Microsoft Games Studios, including the original Crimsons Skies in 2000. However, it would be with Sony that Zipper hit serious pay dirt, as they were the team behind the massively successful SOCOM U.S. Navy SEALs franchise. The SOCOM games almost single-handedly sold the PlayStation 2 network adapter and were an important component of Sony’s online gaming initiative for the console.
Unfortunately, the studio failed to regain its footing once development moved to the PlayStation 3, as Zipper’s hugely ambitious game MAG — which featured a record-setting 256 player online matches — failed to have staying power. Zipper’s follow-up, SOCOM 4, had the misfortune of being released around the same time as the infamous PlayStation Network outage in 2011, which severely limited the game’s impact. Zipper’s last game was the disappointing third-person shooter Unit 13 for the PlayStation Vita, as Sony shut the studio down just a few weeks after the game’s North American release in 2012.
10. Bizarre Creations (1988-2011)
Notable Games: Project Gotham Racing, Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved, Blur
Founded in 1988, Liverpool-based studio Bizarre Creations established a pedigree as a racing game-focused developer in the mid-90s with a series of Formula 1 games before going on to play an integral role in the early success of both the Xbox and Xbox 360. On the original Xbox, Bizarre made a name for themselves with the popular Project Gotham Racing franchise before shifting gears in an unexpected way for the Xbox 360 launch in 2005. Though Bizarre delivered the well-received Project Gotham Racing 3 as an Xbox 360 launch title, it was the company’s addictive twin-stick shooter Geometry Wars that became a massive early success for the Xbox 360 and its fledgling Xbox Live Arcade service.
Unfortunately, things went downhill after Activision purchased Bizarre from Microsoft in 2007. Though the studio continued to put out great games, including a Geometry Wars sequel and the hugely underrated arcade racer Blur, the latter title was a sales disappointment and this, combined with a larger trend of new IP struggling to find success at that time, prompted Activision to start looking for buyers in late 2010. Three months later with no buyer found, Bizarre Creations officially closed after more than two decades in the business.
9. Psygnosis/Sony Liverpool (1984-2012)
Notable Games: Wipeout, Lemmings, Colony Wars
Founded in 1984, Psygnosis spent its first decade developing games for a variety of platforms before being purchased by Sony Electronic Publishing in 1993. The studio became a key first-party developer for Sony’s PlayStation when it launched in western territories in 1995, most notably the PS1 launch title Wipeout, a futuristic racer that launched a long-running franchise. Racing games would end up being Psygnosis’ specialty, as the studio ended up making titles exclusively in this genre after being re-branded as Sony Liverpool in 2000.
Sadly, corporate restructuring led to Sony making the difficult decision to close Sony Liverpool in 2012. At the time of its closure, the studio was one of the UK’s oldest video game developers and second largest of Sony’s European group. The Liverpool site still lives on and serves as an overseer of Sony-published games at other developers, but the studio itself is for all intents and purposes defunct.
8. Lionhead Studios (1997-2016)
Notable Games: Fable, Black & White
Lionhead Studios was known for its distinctly British video games and its overenthusiastic visionary co-founder Peter Molyneux, who built a reputation over the years of overhyping his games, only to routinely under-deliver with the finished product. Still, separated from Molyneux’s rhetoric, Lionhead’s output speaks for itself. The studio’s two biggest franchises were the god-sim Black & White and the RPG series Fable, the latter of which remains one of Microsoft’s biggest Xbox exclusives. However, following the release of Fable III in 2010, things started to go downhill for Lionhead.
Disillusioned with the company’s direction (Microsoft had them producing titles for the Kinect at this point), several veteran employees left in early 2012 and Molyneux himself soon followed. Following this, Lionhead’s next major release was to be Fable Legends, a cooperative action game in development for the Xbox One. However, the game was cancelled by Microsoft in 2016 and Lionhead was closed down not long after, with many of the company’s employees finding work with Molyneux’s new studio 22 Cans and Two Point Studios, a developer founded by Lionhead co-founder Webley and several other ex-Lionhead staff members.
7. Free Radical Design (1998-2014)
The decline and eventual closure of Free Radical Design is arguably one of gaming’s most tragic studio failure stories, as the English developer was truly one of the best at what it did. Free Radical is perhaps best remembered for Timesplitters, a series of stylized and ridiculously fun first-person shooters that saw its final release in 2005. However, the loss of Timesplitters is just one reason to mourn Free Radical’s demise, as it had been working on a third Star Wars Battlefront game from 2006-2008 that we know would have likely been awesome thanks to leaked gameplay footage.
Sadly, Lucasarts cancelled the game when it was said to be “99% complete” and following the poor reception to Free Radical’s PS3 shooter Haze in 2008, the company had no choice but to file for bankruptcy. For a brief period, there was reason to hope Free Radical would be alright, as the company was bought out by Crytek in 2009 and became known as Crytek UK, but the studio was ultimately shut down in 2014, with the majority of staff transferred to Dambuster Studios.
6. Ensemble Studios (1995-2009)
Notable Games: Age of Empires, Age of Mythology, Halo Wars
When it comes to real-time strategy games, few developers could rival the creations of Ensemble Studios during the company’s heyday. Founded in 1995 in Dallas, Texas, Ensemble got their start with the beloved Age of Empires series, as well as developing Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds for Lucasarts before being acquired by Microsoft in 2001. Under Microsoft’s banner, Ensemble continued to be a top-tier RTS developer, putting out the Age of Mythology franchise and Age of Empire sequels throughout the 2000s.
The team’s final game would end up being Halo Wars, an RTS set in the popular Halo universe that proved to be both a critical and commercial success. So why then did a revered studio that sold over 20 million games get shut down? According to company co-founder Bruce Shelley, there were a variety of factors that went in to Microsoft’s decision. In 2009, Shelley explained that a lack of diversity, oversized workforce, and the cancellation of two projects (including a Halo MMO) ultimately led to Ensemble’s demise.
5. Pandemic (1998-2009)
Notable Games: Star Wars Battlefront, Full Spectrum Warrior, Mercenaries
An independent developer for most of its existence. this Los Angeles-based studio was yet another victim of Electronic Arts downsizing, as the publisher shut Pandemic down only two years after acquiring them. However, for nearly a decade Pandemic was a powerhouse developer specializing in third-person action games, with the studio’s most notable works occurring during the sixth console generation in the early 2000s.
Pandemic’s breakout year came in 2004, when the company released two huge titles: the tactical combat simulator Full Spectrum Warrior and the original Star Wars Battlefront, which is still widely regarded as one of the best Star Wars games ever made. Pandemic’s final game, The Sabatouer, was released for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in 2009 and though it represented a return to form after a series of disappointing releases (Mercenaries 2, Destroy All Humans), it would prove to be a sales disappointment and EA officially closed Pandemic on November 17, 2009.
4. Clover Studios (2004-2007)
Notable Games: Viewtiful Joe, Ōkami
Compared to many of the other companies on this list, the closure of Clover Studios is a little less regrettable as the studio essentially lives on as Platinum Games. However, even though Platinum is a great video game developer, its track record isn’t as consistent as Clover, which never put out a bad game (that comparison is a bit unfair considering Clover was only around for less than three years, but that track record is even more impressive considering how brief its existence was).
From 2004 – 2007, Clover released six games, including Viewtiful Joe and Ōkami, the latter of which has seen its legacy grow in the years since release. Unfortunately, neither Ōkami nor Clover’s final game God Hand were commercially successful, prompting Capcom to shutter the studio in 2007. That same year, many ex-Clover employees formed Platinum Games, the developer behind such games as Bayonetta and Nier: Automata.
3. Visceral Games (1998-2017)
Notable Games: Dead Space, The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, 007: Everything or Nothing
Originally known as EA Redwood, Visceral Games created arguably some of the greatest licensed video games of all time during the early to mid-2000s, including 007: Everything or Nothing and The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. However, it wasn’t until 2008 that Visceral became a top-tier developer with the release of Dead Space, still regarded by many as a survival-horror masterpiece. The Dead Space franchise was a breath of fresh air in an era when many doubted the viability of the survival-horror genre as a whole but Visceral’s success ironically ended up becoming its downfall.
Emboldened by the success of the first two Dead Space titles, Electronic Arts tried to chase mainstream success with Dead Space 3 by introducing co-operative play, microtransactions, and a change in tone that moved further away from the series’ horror roots. As a result, the game was not as well-received as its predecessors and did not meet sales targets. Visceral’s next big project was Ragtag, a Star Wars game being headed up by Uncharted director Amy Hennig, but a change in direction prompted EA to close Visceral in late 2017 and move Ragtag to EA Vancouver to finish.
2. Neversoft (1994-2014)
Notable Games: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, Spider-Man, Guitar Hero
For gamers who grew up owning a Sony PlayStation, Neversoft’s output during that era likely holds a special place in their heart. After all, this is the studio that not only created Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, but also gave us one of the best Spider-Man games of all time. While the studio hit a bit of a creative lull as the Tony Hawk games began to see diminishing returns in the late 2000s, Neversoft still managed to stay relevant by taking over the Guitar Hero franchise with Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock in 2007.
However, that franchise too reached a saturation point before long, prompting parent company Activision to merge Neversoft with Call of Duty developer Infinity Ward. Neversoft officially closed its doors on July 10, 2014, 20 years to the day of its founding.
1. Midway (1958-2010)
Notable Games: Space Invaders, Mortal Kombat, Rampage
At its height, Midway was the fourth-largest video game publisher in the world and were responsible for creating some of the most influential games of all time. Midway began life in 1958 creating amusement park games, but transitioned to video games in the 1970s. The company’s first mainstream hit was the classic 1978 arcade game Space Invaders and throughout the late 1970s and into the 1980s, Midway would become one of the biggest players in the arcade business, creating or licensing many of the most successful games of the era, including Galaga, Defender, and Pac-Man.
By the 1990s, Midway had begun transitioning to the home console space, delivering classic franchises like Mortal Kombat and NBA Jam. Unfortunately, Midway experienced a period of rapid decline during the 2000s and was forced to file for bankruptcy by the end of the decade. While Midway’s various brands still exist under new publishers, the company itself went under for good in 2010.