I wish I could say nobody could’ve seen this coming, but in fact, everyone did.
A few weeks ago, we learned that key Cryptic staffers at Star Trek Online and Neverwinter were engaging in what looked like a coordinated job hunts, with at least four devs posting to Linkedin searching for new industry jobs, including the game’s top community liaison, Mike “Ambassador Kael” Fatum. But it apparently wasn’t layoffs; Fatum tweeted he hadn’t been laid off and that “none of the teams at Cryptic [had] changed at [that] time.”
We were left to assume the teams had learned something dire about the fate of the company, which would’ve made a lot of sense under the circumstances; Cryptic/PWE was sold to Embracer Group’s Gearbox Entertainment in 2021, and its games have been stalwarts of Gearbox’s back catalogue ever since. But this year, Embracer’s business dealings have been a trainwreck and its stock dipped following the collapse of a $2B business deal with Saudi Arabia’s Savvy Games. By June, the company was engaged in a major restructure with mass layoffs and studio closures. We also learned in September that Embracer was “considering options” to “explore a sale” of Gearbox Entertainment and therefore Cryptic.
As of this morning, we’ve learned that multiple people from the Cryptic teams have indeed been laid off, including artists Ian Richards, Joe Jing, and Bill Yeatts, as well as QA Christopher Andry (and yes, some of these were lead/principal roles, and at least one was still working on STO). Narrative director Winter Mullenix was also let go, suggesting that the layoffs impacted in-production titles as well as the art team – which likely means that whatever unannounced game Cryptic was working on has been canned. Mullenix refers to the layoffs as a “reduction in work force.”
Players have also asked on Twitter for an official statement; Ambassador Kael replied to one, saying,
“It’s a difficult time for the Cryptic team right now. I want you to know that our free-to-play games are not affected by these recent changes. We’re always thankful for how you rally around us, and we’re still here for you.”
Of course, it’s hard to see how losing art staff won’t have an impact, particularly given the monetization style of Cryptic’s titles.
Our sympathies go out to everyone affected – those laid off, those mourning co-workers, and concerned players too. Once again, all the wrong people continue to pay for the colossal blunders of megacorps.