The games industry can be a truly turbulent place, and there’s no telling what may become of a game development studio in a few years’ time. As the cost of development continues to rise with each new console generation, each project comes with a massive amount of risk for the stakeholders. And if that risk doesn’t end up paying off, publishers and investors usually resort to strict measures which could range from canceling future projects to downsizing employees to even outright closing the studio itself.
We have seen many promising studios fall due to such unfortunate scenarios, and the recent closure of developer Volition is the latest in the line of many such cases. The studio has left a long legacy of great hits and went through some troubled times during its long lifespan, so let’s take a look at how the studio rose to greatness and eventually shut its door.
Given the popularity of open world games where players can do whatever they want and create mayhem, Volition would go on to create a new IP in the form of Red Faction, and this mayhem-focused action-adventure game released in 2001 proved to a turning point for Volition. But that success was mostly short-lived as its sequel, Red Faction 2 didn’t achieve expected sales – which led to both the IPs being put on hold.
Volition would go on to work on a franchise that would go on to define the developer for the foreseeable future. The team planned to create a game that would have elements of a first-person shooter along with the ability to build gangs, and that idea would soon morph into something bigger – an open-world game that would expand on the concepts of contemporaries like Grand Theft Auto while infusing its own ideas into the mix.
Volition expanded the team by dozens during this game’s production, and Saints Row was finally released for Xbox 360 in 2006. The game was an instant hit and in addition to being critically well-received – the game also made impressive sales for a new IP with over 2 million copies sold in its lifetime. Now that Saints Row turned out to be a successful venture, the developer started work on sequels in an effort to turn the IP into a household name.
Saints Row 2 was released in 2008, and it took the franchise to new heights. The sequel featured a better open world with hilarious writing, and fans absolutely loved it. With two successes under its belt, Volition circled back to Red Faction with Red Faction: Guerrilla which was loved by fans and critics alike. Volition would also produce Red Faction: Armageddon which was a decent game but ended up lacking in sales which led to the franchise being put on hold for the foreseeable future.
Saints Row would return with a third entry in 2011, which took what worked in Saints Row 2 and expanded on those ideas which resulted in yet another successful sequel. However, the studio was sailing through troubled waters once again in 2012 – which led the developer and its IPs (which includes Saints Row) to be sold off to Koch Media and would become a part of Deep Silver.
Volition then came back with Saints Row 4 which was released in 2013, and the new game went even crazier with protagonists having superpowers and aliens being involved alongside a whole host of wacky weapons. It seemed that Volition was back in the game, but this game would mark the last of the developer’s successes.
After Saints Row 4, the developer released Agents of Mayhem in 2017 which was a spin-off to the mainline Saints Row series. It had some good things going for it, but the final product was nothing special and it ended up being received poorly with disappointing sales and mixed reviews. As a result, the studio was downsized with multiple layoffs – and would eventually start work on the next entry in this long-running franchise.
The Saints Row reboot released in 2022, tried to bring the series back to its old roots as it tried to craft a balance between realism and over-the-top action, but those efforts bore little fruit as the game flopped hard. According to some critics, the game felt dated in comparison to other contemporaries and the franchise’s signature humor lacked any kind of personality in this reboot, which ultimately led to disappointing sales figures. While there were some who appreciated what the game did, majority of the players were not happy with the experience. Volition would go on to support the game for a year with downloadable expansion packs and patches that promised to fix the game. Whether the game is an enjoyable experience in 2023 is something that is up for debate but it was soon becoming a case of “too little, too late.”
With two subsequent flops in Agents of Mayhem and Saints Row, Deep Silver’s parent company converted the studio into a subsidiary of Gearbox Software in an effort to reallocate its resources across its sub-organizations. The parent company had signed a deal worth $2 billion with a Public Investment Firm, and the company was set to use that money for further expansion to its games business. However, the deal never came through and the parent company had to cut out costs as a result. Many projects were canceled, and because Volition failed to deliver with its last two projects – its doors were closed with immediate effect, putting an end to the story of this studio.
It’s definitely a sad state of affairs, but it’s also the nature of the beast that is game development. To circle back, producing a game takes a ton of time and money, and if that investment doesn’t bear any tangible results – there will always be repercussions for it which can be as severe as shutting down the studio itself. While Volition’s output wasn’t the most consistent through the years, it was still a competent developer that could have turned its progress around had it been given another chance. After all, it did manage to survive hard times – so there was a decent chance that it could just deliver a game-changing hit in the near future.
As it stands, Red Faction and Saints Row have been transferred over to Plaion which includes subsidiaries like Deep Silver and Flying Wild Hog. Many of the studios that happen to fall under Plaion could do some great work with these IPs – so there’s hope that we might see Saints Row and Red Faction continue without the involvement of Volition. But will those IPs lose their soul? Well, we have to wait and see.
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