On Tuesday, Daybreak Games announced what amounts to a form of slow death. Technically, sure, what it announced was that the company is splitting up its game development into a number of smaller sub-studios, with Darkpaw Games handling EverQuest and EverQuest II, Rogue Planet Games handling PlanetSide 2, and apparently Dimensional Ink handling DC Universe Online.
But what the announcement actually did was pretty much confirm all the speculation that had been floating around in the last year, and it also seemed to confirm what a lot of us had been speculating about behind the scenes. It’s not necessarily doom and gloom for these games themselves, but it does significantly lower the odds that Daybreak as an overarching entity is going to last a whole lot longer… and that’s without even getting into the fact that there’s an uncertain future for the individual studios as well.
Let’s start by making something clear to anyone who was thinking otherwise: These individual studios exist primarily because this makes them easier to sell off to an interested buyer. And you can tell that because coincidentally, each of these studios suddenly has something in development.
If you genuinely and sincerely believe that this means PlanetSide 3, Everquest III, and DC Universe Online Two But Also Three To Continue The Naming Scheme are in active development, I really don’t want to be the one to disabuse you of that notion, but they really probably aren’t, or at least not in the sense that you would hope. In all likelihood, what the studios have are likely (and respectively) design concepts, some actual half-finished documents and pulled bits from EverQuest Next, and whatever was left over from that supposed Marvel title that never went through. Enough, in short, to talk up that these studios all have new things they’re working on!
It’s a great sales pitch if you’re looking to buy. Hey, look over here, we’ve got two classic MMOs and a new one in development at no extra charge! Wouldn’t Darkpaw Games look great on the mantelpiece where you keep all of your subsidiary studios? Come on down to Daybreak Games, located at the corner of Columbus Avenue and Nova Lane!
Between all of the layoffs and general studio tumult, it seems highly unlikely that any of these “in-development” titles is anywhere near even a reveal stage. But it makes things look nice to potential purchasers, and it reassures players, who are also an important asset in the sale of these subsidiary outfits because you don’t want to just buy a whole studio if all you’re really getting are the IP rights. It’s sort of a bundle deal that looks appealing to groups like Gamigo and Pearl Abyss, which love purchasing what looks like valuable real estate for non-huge investments.
Of course, I also tend to really doubt that’s a new concept. It seems more likely to me that this has been in the cards for some time now, that Daybreak’s nebulous ownership has been trying to position itself for piecemeal sale for a while once it became clear that “new games” based on the design ethos that they were operating under were not bringing people in. I’d say this likely predates PlanetSide Arena; that was already more of a whimper than anything else.
You’ll also note that no portion of H1Z1 or its various rebranded subsidiaries show up there, which kind of implies that it was either already fully acquired by NantG or it’s just getting quietly put out to pasture while the clock runs out. Either one feels plausible to me.
(And I would personally note that Mark Jacobs came into our comments to more or less echo the same basic sentiment, which tickles me.)
So with all that in mind, what should fans of these games actually be feeling? Is this bad news? Well… no. But it’s also not necessarily good news. It’s ambiguous news until you find out who is actually interested in picking up these fragments and what they want to do with them.
Out of the three studios that we definitely know about and with implicit “For Sale” signs in the front window, Dimensional Ink is the one running the most singularly successful individual title. That alone might be enough to make buyers interested, and it’s not exactly out of the realm of possibility that WB Games would want to buy the title and bring the licensing in-house. Other companies might also want the studio just for the game itself.
By contrast, Rogue Planet mostly has an IP and a name. That name is itself of niche appeal, and it’s the sort of niche appeal that clearly couldn’t make a battle royale game a success (if, indeed, anything can make a new battle royale title into a success at this point). I feel like this one is going to be a harder overall sale to anyone, which makes its future much more ambiguous than its contemporaries.
Darkpaw Games is… an interesting combination. The franchise name is one of those things that only matters if people are told about it now; for people not knee-deep in this industry, I don’t think EverQuest as a name really means much any more. At the same time, if you can market that history, you can get some of the same sense of legacy that has worked for other long-fallow gaming properties… and this time it comes with two active and developed titles as a freebie.
I’m reluctant to say who would want to buy these studios, although I wasn’t altogether joking mentioning Pearl Abyss or Gamigo above, and that’s something we’ve speculated on at length in the past too. They’re hardly the only candidates, either; Perfect World Entertainment has an eye for snatching things up when the getting is good, for example.
But what seems almost more interesting to me is that this almost certainly does spell the end for Daybreak as a unified organization. No, it’s not going to happen overnight, but as mentioned, I do think these studios are being split up to be sold. Daybreak as an overall publishing arm seems shady in and of itself, especially when you consider that its history as a publisher more or less starts and stops with Standing Stone Games (maybe).
The sudden changeover from Sony Online Entertainment to Daybreak Games was one of the first stories we covered here on the then-new Massively OP, the first big bit of news that skated across our newly moved desks. In a way, it almost seemed like an ironic mirror, both of us outfits that had belonged to a larger conglomerate before moving to a more independent stature.
But with this move, well… Daybreak now exists in compartmentalized groups to be sold off from itself once again. And while you can certainly speculate about other reasons, I’d advise a healthy does of skepticism for fans of the titles. Your all-access subscription isn’t going away right away, but this is the start of the day ending for Daybreak.