Check out more from this interview: Crytek going fully free-to-play in 2 to 5 years and Homefront is Cevat Yerli’s dream game.
On the Friday after the THQ auction, Vigil Games shut down for good. The Monday after that? The core members of that developer announced they were now Crytek USA.
I wanted to find out how this happened, so I ignored the boundaries of time zones and got Crytek chief executive officer Cevat Yerli in Germany on the phone along with Crytek USA’s newly appointed chief executive officer, David Adams in Austin. The pair explained what it was like to establish a new developer over just a one or two meetings.
If you aren’t aware of the specifics, on Jan. 23, the Bankruptcy Court of the District of Delaware held an auction to sell off pieces of publisher THQ to the highest bidders. Darksiders developer Vigil games received no bids and by Jan. 25, THQ shut down the studio and let everyone go. Then, on Jan. 28, Crytek announced that former Vigil lead David Adams would run Crytek USA Corp. as CEO and would bring on the core members of his team from that now-shuttered studio.
How did Crytek USA happen?
“We were surprised when nobody bid on Vigil,” Yerli told GamesBeat. “We would have liked to have bid, but there were too many unknowns.”
Through the THQ bidding process, Crytek was most concerned with nailing down the rights to the Homefront franchise, which it’s developing at its U.K. studio.
“But when nobody bid [on Vigil], I thought that maybe we could reconsider bidding,” said Yerli. “But eventually we decided not to because the projects [the developer was working on] weren’t strategically fit for us, but I really liked David [when I talked to him] on the phone. He made a very good impression on me as someone who really cared, someone who is really passionate about what he does, and someone who is passionate about the team he works with.”
Yerli decided to fly out to Austin to talk with Adams and possibly to visit the studio sometime during the week of Jan. 28 to have a closer look. Crytek had already begun planning to start a U.S. Crytek corporation, and the executive thought that maybe the Vigil team could work. But THQ laid off everyone at Vigil before Yerli left.
“We had chosen Austin as the destination for [our U.S. branch], and we needed a lean and core team of expert to run the studio,” said Yerli. “At the same time, we didn’t want to continue with Darksiders 3, since that doesn’t fit with our strategy. So when I heard that [THQ laid off everyone at Vigil], I decided on Saturday morning to fly out to meet with them to see if the team would be interested to join our mission, which is significantly different than what this team has done before.”
At this point, Yerli told me that he based his decision to act quickly on his conversations with Adams and his time with the Darksiders games. Yerli hasn’t finished Darksiders II, but he likes what he’s played so far. Yet at this point, Yerli still isn’t sure if the former Vigil team is right for Crytek USA. The CEO hasn’t seen a single résumé or held an interview with anyone.
Meanwhile, in Austin, the employees of Vigil were trying to figure what to do next. Adams had talked with Yerli on Thursday but wasn’t sure what would come of it. He was also preoccupied with a studio crumbling all around him.
“It was an interesting time,” Adams told GamesBeat. “I was telling everyone that [Friday] was their last day. I was pretty busy trying to help people find jobs. Sure, Crytek was gonna come out the following week, and that was cool. It sounded like a good opportunity, but my mind was really focused on finding people a place to land.”
Then at 8 p.m. Friday, the day Vigil shut down for good, Cevat Yerli’s brother Avni called Adams to tell him that Cevat was getting on a plane to Austin as soon as possible.
“He came out the next day,” said Adams. “We met, and the day after we were pulling a new studio together called Crytek USA.”
But how does something like this happen so fast?
“This is probably the fastest establishment ever [for a new studio],” Yerli told GamesBeat through a laugh. “I don’t think you could establish a studio faster than this. Only a few people within Crytek even knew this was happening because we didn’t have time to update people. So it was a surprise for a lot of people within Crytek.”
Yerli is right. On Jan. 25, Vigil dissolved. On Jan. 28, Crytek announced Crytek USA. That is a busy weekend. I’m lucky if I remember to do the laundry in a similar time frame.
“I was in Delaware for the auction,” Adams said. “I was front row for the entire preceding. I had to come in the next day and tell everybody, and then from there it was this whirlwind into Crytek USA.”
So I asked Yerli what gave him the confidence to move so boldly in this situation.
“I met with David and some of his former colleagues and his dear friends,” said Yerli. “I shared with them, before meeting the other team members, how I see the world. I told them what we want to do and where we want to go [with Crytek]. But I also wanted to get to know them. I wanted to know them as humans, as team members, and as friends. And within a short amount of time I got very comfortable with David and his friends.”
Yerli said he wasn’t worried about discovering the developers’ technical or creative abilities because he believes that the Darksiders games speak for themselves.
“My point is, I saw a history of games that spoke to the team’s capabilities,” said Yerli. “I saw, from a corporate-culture perspective, a very fit core team, and I saw a strong leader in front of me.”
But that was just a small get together with Adams and some lead developers from Vigil. Before meeting with the other dozen former Vigil employees that Adams was thinking of inviting to Crytek USA, Yerli knew how he would decide whether or not to go through with this initiative.
A decision right from the gut
“I think one thing that people don’t realize with a game studio is that we make games together, but at the end of the day, we work really hard together for many, many years,” Adams said. “So for me personally, I was excited because Crytek is awesome, but also because I love working with these people.”
And that’s exactly what Crytek was looking for.
“I was thinking that if the [whole] team showed up to the Sunday meeting in full number, as David said they would, it would show implicitly the trust and respect the team has for David,” said Yerli. “And when they all showed up and expressed that they really wanted to work together — that team integrity and the fact that they really didn’t want to split up was enough for me to say this goes beyond an interview.”
In fact, Yerli didn’t interview any of them.
“I didn’t ask David about his previous jobs, it was completely based on trust and the fact that these guys were great people with a great history,” Yerli said.
Most people don’t get jobs because a CEO has a good feeling about them. I asked Adams if he felt any added pressure to perform due to Yerli’s decision making process.
“We’re a team that likes to prove ourselves,” Adams said in response. “We relish the opportunity to be put in a situation where we can prove our worth, and we’re all so dedicated to show Cevat that his initial instincts about us were not incorrect.”
So, about the games?
Crytek USA is employing about 30 to 40 people out of the gate, so not everyone from Vigil is making the transition to this new studio. At least not right away.
Also, Crytek has no interest in pursuing the Darksiders property rights, so the studio is starting from scratch.
“It’s not like we set the team on a specific game concept,” said Yerli. “They’re actually going to work on what David and the team identifies as what they want to do. Right now, they just know what the strategy of Crytek is and the framework we need to satisfy, but none of that drives what the game is about.”
The CEO did tell me two things about the game: It will use Crytek’s CryEngine development tech, and it “is going to be awesome.”
As for the Crytek USA team itself, they are almost all on vacation.
“There’s some of us setting up the office,” said Adams. “But it’s good, I think it’ll give everyone a chance to recharge their batteries … it wasn’t the most pleasant end to THQ. It wasn’t all happy days at the end. Obviously, we don’t know what we’re going to do. We’re gonna spend a lot of time messing around with the CryEngine, but everyone’s just relaxing right now.”