Krome’s Studio of Cards, Part 1

How to Win Friends and Influence People…

As one of the old-guard, Krome has lasted the longest as an inflated bloated-mess of a studio. Originally spanning three studios and states, it appears that they have finally imploded to just about nothing. This news comes after the recent developments of having been acquired by (merged with) Emergent Game Technologies.

I guess it’s hardly a surprise, they’ve been hemorrhaging staff for a long while now; but, the sudden confirmation that things are well and truly over for the studio that was Krome. Is in stark contrast to recent claims of it being anything but over – actually, it was painted as a positive picture of health.

Of course, people were quick to shoot holes in such “claims.”

It seems that every time Krome is mentioned locally, it ends up like a drunken Brisbane-bogan bush-pig fuck. Everyone wants a piece of the action or, to just show up to watch the spectacle. Maybe shouting some poignant words of encouragement to those huffing and puffing away at the dirty job at hand.

Apparently, Krome’s not exactly a studio that appears to have made many friends over the years, and detesters are always quick to point-out the lack of quality in the developed titles and keen to shed light on the inner-workings there – the claimed egotistical boy’s club at the heart of such development efforts.

I know that writing this particular blog and potentially adding to it all. Isn’t going to make me any friends – even if I can add a new perspective on things.

But, I think there are enough ex-Kromeans out there that will largely agree with my argument, and even those that have been made redundant, will come around when they’re far, far less emotionally involved with the current situation.

With that bit of, let’s call it “formality,” out of the way. I can get on with it.

Having never worked there, I can’t say what their studio culture is like, all I can do, is point at what I can measurably see, and draw my own conclusions based on my own knowledge and experiences. But, considering how poor their “licensed” titles are rated, with the Hellboy PS3 version getting 47 on Metacritic. Or at least, how divisive these titles are in splitting opinion. Like their Wii Force Unleashed title either claimed as the BEST in the series, or, the WORST of the lot – regardless, Metacritic gives it a 71, which is hardly stellar.

It’s hard not to agree with such prevailing comments, when Krome was at one time Australia’s biggest and apparently, best, studio.

Of course, none of this would have come to pass if it weren’t originally for Ty the Tasmanian Tiger series of games. Which if I’m not mistaken, was their last attempt (or release) of original IP. Which was 5 years ago, and once again, Metacritic gives the PS2 titles a: 70, 71 and 68 for the first and subsequent releases.

Not the best ratings, but hey, not a bad effort for a studio if they planed to do better the next time around; considering, that they managed to get 3 titles out of the IP. You’d think that with that success they’d strive to do better the next time around, and produce a title of higher quality. One, that perhaps rates on average in the mid-80s. You’d be wrong.

For whatever reason, this just didn’t happen.

Who’s Idea Was This…

The only explanation I can arrive to, is that there is some truth to the comments you read about Krome on sites like Tsumea. That those that helped Ty become a success, moved on to greener pastures. Whilst those that perhaps shouldn’t have been, were promoted into managerial positions due to the circumstances – and their own machinations.

Once in, they would be hard to budge.

That’s the nature of promoting such individuals. Trying to remove them or negate their effect on a studio, team and project. Is hard exhausting work. Dirty work. A street fight. That you may have no choice but to fight.

A poor rep locally that such individuals contribute towards, wouldn’t of helped with the talent side of things. In that the best probably did their best to steer clear. And ultimately, such individuals do their best to keep those out that can see through their competent facade. This means that you rely upon internationals that you hire for their expertise, believing that the talent just isn’t here locally.

Another area of poor judgment, in that just because they are from a larger or more experienced game development region, doesn’t mean that they have the skills, knowledge or experience that your project needs to succeed. For your studio to thrive in the long-term – they’re more likely to move on once the novelty of working in Oz has worn off.

I mean, you do have to ask yourself why it is that they had to go to a smaller pond from a larger pond in order to progress their career forward?

Then there is the lack of original IP in the works, but rather a focus, on fee-for-service work – also referred to as work-for-hire. This work is always about the license holders hoping to get a title out the door as quickly as possible for as little as possible, yet amazingly, they’ll often still expect quality.

Though I’m sure that in LucasArts’ case, they were willing to pay more if the quality could be delivered upon. Which if my instincts are right, Krome just weren’t able to deliver what they promised; why they weren’t involved with The Force Unleashed 2 titles.

I mean, Star Wars is their bread-and-butter license. They may release a poor title unintentionally, but at the end of the day, they want to keep the license alive and kicking for obvious reasons. So, they have base standards and expectations to meet…

However, why the reliance upon fee-for-service work – notoriously unsustainable – in the first place if Krome had a decent break of things with Ty?

To help explain this, you really need to go back years ago. Back before the GFC, which is apparently the explanation for everything bad that happens to the local industry of late. That, and the state of the Australian dollar compared to the US. Another old faithful argument that has it’s holes, the key one being that if you are capable of creating quality, it doesn’t matter where you are or what the exchange rate is… people will be knocking on your door to work with you.

If they’re not, then it’s because they can go somewhere else (like China) to get their fee-for-service work done for cheaper at the same (or better)  level of quality.

Anyway, most people were surprised by the GFC, but some of us, weren’t. Some saw it coming a year or two away. A few, further back than that. Though, they were mere hunches about the nature of it all however; which when voiced, were ridiculed. You didn’t exactly need to have a crystal ball, just to at least be aware of your surroundings – unfortunately when in development, it can be awfully hard to keep track of the greater world around you. There were plenty of current affairs programs about the looming sub-prime fiasco at least a year off of before collapse of the bubble and then its rapid reflate – or bounce leading to another potential “dip” before stabilizing.

We just didn’t have a simple means to describe it to people – now all you need to do is say GFC and everyone knows what you mean since everyone now is an expert on the matter.

Regardless, those that saw it coming, started to “strategize” about how to weather the storm that they could see building over the horizon. A part of which, was the rise of cheaper development regions that would compete for the industry’s fee-for-service work – now, we also have the strong Australian dollar to concern the locals with.

One camp, said that what the industry needed to do was to go back to its original indie roots and embrace them. Even if it was a gamble, and even, if you failed at it.

To focus on original IP as this was the way that all well-known studios created their own independence and mini-empires – even the local old-guard back in the golden days, got to be big fish because of the original IP they were responsible for; they just got suckered into the fee-for-service cycle is all, for one reason or another, rather than sticking to their guns.

That what we needed to do, was to be small and lean. To be specialists whilst still being flexible enough to adapt. And most of all, to collaborate in order to get larger projects out the door – something more along the lines of how film projects were developed, produced and delivered to market.

Mind you, this was before the advent of digital distribution and “apps” becoming a serious alternative to the traditional publisher and retail business model. But hey, the evidence was there pointing towards this becoming a viable option, and sooner, than most would have thought.

The other camp said that what they needed to do, was for a few studios to get as big as quickly as possible, and, have as many “diverse” projects running at the same time as they could possibly (half-arse) manage. To do this, they would devour as much of the local talent pool as they could, along with, siphoning off as much of the available government funding they could get their hands on – not for original IP mind you, but so that they could remain “competitive” in securing fee-for-service work; makes you wonder why there is so much less of this funding now available for game development, doesn’t it?

Studios like Transmission and Krome.

The reasoning was that by getting as fat as fast as possible, you could shed staff and still survive. But whilst you had the staff, you could secure development work of any nature in the interim. Best of all, you could use the current situation – even layoffs –  in order to pay as little to your staff as possible, squeezing them, in order to truly get your money’s worth. By using the fear of an industry in flux, the fear of change, to scare people into sticking with you no matter what horrid working conditions you put them through.

Which strategy do you think ultimately prevailed here, and which, do you think was the viable sustainable option and the one with potential for real industry growth… ?

Make sure to read:Krome’s Studio of Cards, Part 2!

7 thoughts on “Krome’s Studio of Cards, Part 1”

  1. Great article.
    Enjoyed reading it and I couldn’t agree more with what you have said.

    Lets hope that studios wake up to the failed work for hire scam and start to create some more original, QUALITY game titles in this country.

    It certainly can’t damage them any more than the current strategy has.

    1. Thanks David. I tried to make sure that it didn’t come across as too negative. It’s really about the industry not Krome. So, I tried to keep it not sounding like an attack, even though that would have been much easier to write

  2. Overall, interesting read, and the end part is especially well-reasoned. I’d question the comment about LucasArts, though. After the first Force Unleashed ports, they did go on to make Clone Wars Lightsaber Duels and then also Republic Heroes – the latter of which I’d wager to be more likely at breaking the relationship with LucasArts than anything else. Fact is, LucasArts did trust them with the Star Wars brand for three whole games. I’m not really sure what to read into that. Surely it doesn’t take three games to get to know a studio capabilities?

    1. Unfortunately for me, I’ve got too many things on my plate to get done other wise I might have been a little more stringent — I don’t exactly follow everyone’s career closely either, just my own ;). Doing a metacritic search of Republic Heroes (43 to 48) and Lightsaber Duels (56) doesn’t dissuade me from my internal reasoning.

      So yeah I think you’re right, Republic Heroes looks like the breaker of relationships here. Not sure what to read into it taking 3 games either; maybe someone else has some insight to share on that… ?

  3. Just letting people know that I’ve updated this post. Had some time available to look at it again with fresher eyes and fix some of the readability issues caused by a bit of a last minute rush job in order to shift the tone of the piece away from Krome, and onto, the industry. It’s real intent.

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