Perfect Dark studio has lost half of its staff – now less than 50 employees

The future of the Perfect Dark reboot could be in jeopardy as numerous key employees have quit the project over the last 12 months.

Nobody was expecting the Perfect Dark reboot to release any time soon, considering it was only unveiled in late 2020, with a brief cinematic trailer and no gameplay footage.

Since then, however, the project may have experienced a soft reboot, as a large number of key employees at developer The Initiative have left over the past 12 months.

As first reported by VGC, the studio has suffered a worryingly large turnover of staff, with roughly half its employees quitting and bringing the overall total down to less than 50 – well below the average you’d expect for a modern, big budget game.

Losing a large number of employees is concerning enough, but those who’ve left include the game director, design director, lead level designer, two senior writers, the technical director, the lead animator, and the QA lead.

As for what triggered these departures, the former employees point to conflict between staff and the heads of the project. While The Initiative’s website talks of a ‘collaborative, thoughtful and self-aware environment,’ it’s said that studio head Neil Gallagher runs things from a more top-down approach.

Many senior staff felt they lacked creative autonomy in the design process and weren’t heard on key issues. This led to ‘painfully’ slow development and a lack of a solid company culture.

‘Making games is hard enough, let alone when you feel like you can’t get through to people making the decisions that affect everyone,’ says one anonymous source.

The writing was arguably on the wall when Tomb Raider developer Crystal Dynamics, which is owned by Square Enix, was brought in to assist with development. Allegedly, Gallagher and the now former game director Dan Neuburger, who both worked for Crystal Dynamics, hoped that enlisting help from a studio familiar with their work methods would make production smoother.

With so many key figures having left the project, it’s believed that Crystal Dynamics will now take more of a lead on Perfect Dark than originally planned. This is hardly a good look for The Initiative as it’s a brand-new studio, with Perfect Dark meant to be its first release.

Setting up new studios is not an easy task, or one that’s always guaranteed to succeed, which is one reason why Microsoft has preferred to buy existing developers wholesale. Managing so many new acquisitions is going to be an extremely difficult task for Microsoft, and yet it’s starting a new studio from scratch that’s the even more difficult option.

All the former employees who spoke with VGC commented on Microsoft’s leniency with how little progress has been made on Perfect Dark. This could also be why Rare’s Everwild, which has had significant development troubles since its 2019 announcement, also hasn’t been outright cancelled.

What’s not as surprising is Gallagher’s more positive spin on the situation, where he says: ‘In creating The Initiative, we set out to leverage co-development partnerships to achieve our ambitions, and we’re really excited about all the progress we’re seeing with our relationship with Crystal Dynamics.

‘In this journey, it’s not uncommon for there to be staffing changes, especially during a time of global upheaval over the last two years, and there’s plenty more work in front of us to deliver a fantastic Perfect Dark experience to our players.

‘We wish all our former colleagues the very best, and I’m confident in the team we have in place, the new talent joining, and we can’t wait to share more with the fans.’

Perfect Dark is in development for Xbox Series X/S and PC.

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