More work without more money
Around this time last year, rumors were swirling surrounding a Phantom Dust reboot for Xbox One. It was eventually announced at E3 2014, but it hasn’t come to fruition, and it’s on an indefinite hold as of now.
However, it’s not just the game that’s dead in the water — by all accounts, the studio is, too. And, according to a report from Kotaku, Phantom Dust publisher Microsoft is to blame. After the relationship between Microsoft and Darkside Games dissolved in February, five sources spoke anonymously to recount how everything went down.
Phantom Dust was originally envisioned by both Microsoft and Darkside as a multiplayer-only version of the game — something designed to simultaneously capture the Hearthstone and League of Legends audiences. Both sides agreed that $5 million should be adequate funding for that undertaking.
But, within a week of the deal, Microsoft came back and said that players would want a singleplayer component. Despite the request for additional development — a task that would require more employees and more time — Microsoft offered no additional funding.
That initial request would become a recurring theme. Kotaku’s sources say that on a near-monthly basis, Microsoft would ask for more and more features to be included while sticking to the $5 million budget. Darkside reportedly rebutted by insisting time and time again that it couldn’t meet these demands.
Darkside put all of its eggs in one basket. It focused on developing a vertical slice of Phantom Dust that it could present to Microsoft to make a case for more funds. Given that Darkside had approximately 50 employees on staff and no other projects, this undertaking was crucial to the continued existence of the studio.
When it was presented in January, former members of the developer say that Microsoft “loved” the way the slice turned out. However, when studio management flew out to Redmond in February to discuss raising Phantom Dust‘s budget, Microsoft was unwilling to budge. One source explained, “We could not make them the game they wanted for the budget they had.”
Just days after the failed Redmond trip, Darkside received a phone call. Microsoft was cutting ties with the developer. Darkside was out of options. Management immediately laid off everyone. Most of those employees found homes at other Florida-based game studios, while some work as contractors.
As for Microsoft, it was unwilling to comment on Kotaku’s report beyond the statement it released in February. The official word is that Phantom Dust‘s reboot isn’t yet cancelled. If the publisher eventually teams with a developer to take a second shot, the studio had best be wary of getting buried under unreasonable demands.