Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture and Dear Esther developer The Chinese Room announced that they have laid off many of its staff, and are taking a “pause” from development. This is not the end of the studio, as founders Dan Pinchbeck and Jessica Curry will stay on alongside lead designer Andrew Crawshaw. The company states that they’re still working on projects, including The 13th Interior and Little Orpheus, although they won’t be “a fully active development team for the time being.”
Dan Pinchbeck honestly laid out the studio’s plans in an open letter to fans on their website. Here’s an excerpt:
This has been on the cards since earlier this year. Back in June, I had a health scare – nothing life-threatening, but enough to pull me up short and make us have a serious think about things. This was right at the tail end of development on So Let Us Melt, following a long period of ongoing pitches and negotiations to secure the follow-up project for the studio. To cut a long story short, the situation – between financial pressures, trying to keep the lights on for the employed team, the stress of end-of-development, health issues – just wasn’t a tenable thing anymore. It was time to take a break, recharge, recover and have a good think about the future.
So we let our team go. Lay-offs are never pleasant, particularly when you’re all trying to wrap a game. We did our best to try and help the team secure new positions, and then we all – the whole team – threw everything we had at wrapping the game. It didn’t feel fair to anyone, least of all people who had spent a year working on a project, to have its completion and release overshadowed by news about the studio closing, so we’ve held off on the announcement until we felt we were clear of all of that.
OK, two things. Firstly, it’s not the end, just a pause. The games are still on sale, merch, soundtracks, the Dear Esther tour, all of that. We’ll keep things gently ticking over: talking to fans, being on twitter, the usual stuff, just… less. We’re still making The 13th Interior (formerly Total Dark) – me and Andrew and Jess, pushing that forwards until it’s ready to throw a whole team at – and we’ve got plans (and funding) to go into a prototype period on Little Orpheus at the end of the year. So we’ll still be about, just not a fully active development team for the time being.
Secondly, we’re essentially artists, Jess and I, who made a hit game without realising it, and became a studio faster than we planned for. And it’s been an amazing few years where we’ve made and released games we’re very proud of, and we’ve worked with great people and made great friends. But we’re makers, fundamentally, and our roles were increasingly making it very difficult to be practically involved in doing the things we love and we started the company to be able to do. We’re taking time to figure that out; how we get to be creatives, not managing directors. That’s a whole other job and skill set and lots of people do it really well and love doing it. But it’s not for us – it just led to stress and burn-out and a desperate need to actually make stuff again- whether that’s art, music, games, writing. So this break is a chance to reconnect with all of that, and we figure we’ve earned that time.
He closes the post by saying The Chinese Room isn’t ending, but this is “the end of a chapter, and we hope you can all be patient with us whilst we figure out what happens next.” They’ve certainly earned the time away from active development, and after innovating so much within the narrative space within gaming, I’m sure many will be interested when they do make their return.