Gazillion Entertainment shut down on Wednesday just ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, according to Kotaku. The move to lay off all staff came after Disney severed ties with the company and announced that Gazillion’s Marvel Heroes game would shut down.
The game was originally due to shut on December 31, but the company also got hit with a lot of requests for refunds, Kotaku said. Gazillion didn’t make an announcement, but numerous employees relayed what they were told.
Today we were told no severance. Not even paying out PTO. Good job, Gaz. I feared this would happen so I appreciate all the support you’ve given to shasta :https://t.co/aWyk0ja8Jh
— Anthony Gallegos (@Chufmoney) November 23, 2017
The employees said they are not being paid severance or paid time off, and that their medical insurance ends next week. In a statement, Disney had said earlier, “We regret to inform our Marvel Heroes fans that we have ended our relationship with Gazillion Entertainment, and that the Marvel Heroes games will be shut down. We would like to sincerely thank the players who joined the Marvel Heroes community, and will provide any further updates as they become available.”
It’s a sad Thanksgiving for those associated with the company, which has had a rich history. The San Mateo, Calif.-based Gazillion had legendary ambitions as a maker of massively multiplayer online role-playing games.
Rob Hutter, the former head of Revolution Ventures, founded Gazillion with Doom co-creator John Romero in 2005 in an effort to create MMO games that could rival Blizzard’s World of Warcraft. Over time, Hutter raised more than $250 million for Gazillion, and he got the deal for a Marvel MMO in 2009. Previously, Cryptic Studios had a license to make a Marvel MMO, but that game was cancelled in 2007. MMOs proved to be hard to make and World of Warcraft was the toughest of rivals.
Romero’s own game was canceled and his Slipgate Ironworks division was shut down. About a year after that, Romero left. The industry also shifted from premium subscription games to free-to-play online games with microtransactions. That prompted big changes at Gazillion, which at its peak had more than 350 employees.
David Brevik, co-creator of Diablo and one of the former Blizzard North leaders, spent 6.5 years at the company. In early 2011, Brevik was named president and chief operating officer of Gazillion. Shortly after that, John Needham, former head of Cryptic Studios, replaced Hutter as CEO in 2011. One of the games that Gazillion shipped was Marvel Super Hero Squad, built by the now-defunct The Amazing Society studio in Seattle. That studio was run by Jason Robar and Jay Minn, and they focused on creating a family-friendly Marvel game for kids. Their game helped keep Gazillion afloat.
Brevik’s game was a version for adults, and it was renamed Marvel Heroes. It launched in 2013. Around that time, David Dohrmann, a board member who was then at Roth Capital Partners, and investors at Oak Investment Partners recapitalized the company, meaning they took control and put more money into the firm. Brevik became CEO.
Marvel Heroes was buggy at launch, and the developers had to fix it. They relaunched it in 2014, and its average Metacritic rating rose from 58 out of 100 to 81 after a number of key adjustments to content and the pricing model. The company did a further update and renamed Marvel Heroes as Marvel Heroes 2015. The game was a moderate success in its new form, but Gazillion laid off some staff in September 2015. Brevik resigned as CEO in January 2016, and Dohrmann took over.
Dohrmann, who later changed his name to David Von Dorman, attempted to reboot the company and launched the PlayStation 4 version of the Marvel Heroes — dubbed Marvel Heroes Omega — earlier this year. Von Dorman said early results were good, but apparently the players didn’t stick around.
In an email, Von Dorman said, “It’s obviously been a really difficult period – a turn of events that is very hard to fathom. You know we were very committed to building Gazillion and we were on that trajectory – but yes, sadly due to a series of events that happened at an incredible pace (the last 30 days) the company is preparing to wind down. I can tell you that above anything else, the management team tried as best we could to make sure our employees would be treated with respect and given severance packages. It is heart breaking that things ended up this way, but as mentioned our intent has always been to take care of our people. If we could have done this differently we would have.”
I interviewed each of Gazillion’s leaders over the years, and it was sad to see the company’s decline. Sorry to deliver a downer on Thanksgiving, but this is one of those cases where I cover a company from cradle to grave.