Activision: Bizarre bidders 'waiting to plunder staff'

Activision: Bizarre bidders 'waiting to plunder staff'

By Rob Crossley

January 20th 2011 at 8:00AM

Publishing boss says firms were keen on the workers, but saving a studio wasn't worth the money

Companies interested in buying Bizarre Creations have instead waited for the studio to close so they can take staff pickings, a key Activision exec has claimed.

The 200-odd workers at Bizarre were yesterday advised by Activision to close operations – a decision understood to have been accepted by the Liverpool-based studio’s management.

Bizarre was put in a 90-day consultation period in November, yet Develop sources revealed one day later that a number of companies were interested in saving the studio through acquisition.

Yet according to Coddy Johnson, Activision Worldwide Studios’ chief operating officer, those interested parties decided instead to wait for the studio to close down so they could plunder staff.

“We were talking to a lot of companies about buying Bizarre – as many as possible – but when it got down to it, no parties wanted to take over the studio,” Johnson told Develop over the phone from the publisher’s UK head office.

”I can imagine from their [the bidders'] perspective, and we heard this from a lot of them, they were asking; ‘should we buy the studio, or should we wait it out and pick off talent after it closes?’ Pretty much all of them, explicitly or implicitly, are thinking of the latter option”

The theory is that acquiring a studio like Bizarre would cost too much more than taking its best people, due to numerous office and overhead costs that come with a studio takeover.

Johnson said Activision proposed a number of acquisition offers to help secure a sale.

He told Develop: “I want to be clear, our first choice was to try and keep this group together and find a buyer for the studio. This decision comes after a few months of exhausted examination of a number of different options across the board.”

Since November, when Bizarre Creations was first put in a consultation period, a number of UK and US-based companies travelled to Liverpool in a bid to hire staff.

The likes of Jagex and Codemasters have each held special recruitment events at the studio in the last 60 days. Develop was told from studio sources that representatives from Microsoft had also “flown over” to meet with the group.

The 90 day consultation for Bizarre Studios was originally timed to end in February.

The closure of the studio will represent another major triple-A UK outfit being torn from its roots. Last year Realtime Worlds entered administration and eventually shut down.

Bizarre Creations’ final game was a James Bond title, though the game that defined its later years was the 2010 racing game Blur. 

Johnson told Develop that the initial interest in the game was promising.

”When we put it out in Beta we had 1.2 million people playing it, there was this great response,” he said.

”But when we put it out over the marketplace, it gave it no response, which was really surprising. It seems like the fundamentals of the racing genre are shifting somewhat, and that’s part of the reason why we’re having to go through all this.

”It’s really tough to get traction in that market.”