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It’s something we are hearing more often these days: making video games is difficult. And the job isn’t any easier during a pandemic and labor shortage. And while this reality is turning into a new normal, it is forcing many businesses to remain flexible in how they tackle their challenges. That’s exactly the thinking that led Xbox Game Studios developer The Initiative to hire Crystal Dynamics as a support studio for Microsoft’s upcoming Perfect Dark project, according to sources familiar with the move.
Development on Perfect Dark is in the process of ramping up. That was always the plan after a few years of pre-production and prototyping. But shifting into that higher gear is taking longer than Microsoft was hoping for. The Initiative needs talent, but it is difficult to quickly hire hundreds of skilled developers — especially during the pandemic. And the Initiative boss Darrell Gallagher was also concerned about team cohesion. It’s challenging to get hundreds of people to work together at a high level on their first project together.
Perfect Dark update! We are partnering with Crystal Dynamics, the world class team behind character-driven games such as Tomb Raider, to bring this first-person spy thriller to a new generation. pic.twitter.com/EiqjU99wMa
— TheInitiative (@TheInitiative) September 24, 2021
But Gallagher, who previously worked at Crystal Dynamics, still had strong connections to the studio and publisher Square Enix. He also deeply understands the capabilities of Crystal Dynamics. That led him to pitch all parties about a collaboration.
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Microsoft executives see this as very similar to large, named studios like Certain Affinity working on the Master Chief Collection or Sega’s Creative Assembly working on Halo Wars 2 or Sega’s Relic working on Age of Empires 4.
In today’s gaming market, this is a smart shortcut for Microsoft. Sure, it could go out and hire a full team immediately. That might include poaching talent from Crystal Dynamics. But renting that entire team is faster and more efficient.
Microsoft loves to announce things
While we see no indication that Perfect Dark is in trouble beyond the standard hurdles of publishing a game (like staffing), many fans came away from the announcement with concern. Perfect Dark and Xbox fans wondered why a studio built up like The Initiative would need help at all. And the announcement seemed strange to them.
But it’s important to remember that the Xbox team loves announcing things. Microsoft has played the public-relations game really well for the last two years or so, and it viewed this as another chance to get Perfect Dark in the news. Crystal Dynamics will also start hiring for positions to work on Perfect Dark, so Microsoft and Square Enix wanted to get ahead of the press.
The companies involved did not expect the backlash or concern, and that’s for good reason: They don’t see anything strange about this collaboration. By all indications, Gallagher likely always suggested Crystal Dynamics as a possible partner — especially after that studio expanded with a new office in Austin. So this is also just executing on a vision for how to get Perfect Dark up and running and complete in the next few years.
As of June, Perfect Dark was on Microsoft’s internal tracker for a 2023 release. But that is a tentative timeline, and it will likely depend on how the team-up between the two studios works out.
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