Star Theory Games is now out of business but employees of game designer Star Theory Games each received the same unusual recruitment message over LinkedIn. It struck them as bizarre. The job offer came from an executive producer at the publishing company funding their next video game. The job notice said the game -- in the works for the previous two years -- was being pulled from their studio.
"This was an incredibly difficult decision for us to make, but it became necessary when we felt business circumstances might compromise the development, execution and integrity of the game", said Michael Cook, an executive producer at Private Division, a publishing label within Take-Two Interactive Software, wrote in the message. "To that end, we encourage you to apply for a position with us."
It was strange and disconcerting news to Star Theory's employees. Normally, an announcement like this would be delivered in a company wide meeting or an email from Star Theory's leadership team. The contract with Take-Two was the studio's only source of revenue at the time. Without it, the independent studio was in serious trouble.
The LinkedIn message went on to say Take-Two was setting up a new studio to keep working on the same game Star Theory had been developing, a sequel to the cult classic Kerbal Space Program. Take-Two was looking to hire all of Star Theory's development staff to make that happen.
"We are offering a compensation package that includes a cash sign-on bonus, an excellent salary, bonus eligibility and other benefits", Cook wrote. When employees returned to the office on Monday, Star Theory founders Bob Berry and Jonathan Mavor convened an all-hands meeting. The two men had been in discussions about selling their company to Take-Two but were dissatisfied with the terms, they explained.
The game's cancellation was a shock, but the founders assured staff that Star Theory still had money in the bank and could try to sign other deals, according to five people who attended the meeting and asked not to be identified, citing the risk of litigation. Berry and Mavor encouraged employees to stick together and stay at the company.
The next few weeks were chaos, employees said. Take-Two hired more than a third of Star Theory's staff, including the studio head and creative director. By March, as the coronavirus pandemic choked the global economy, any hope of saving the business appeared to be lost, and Star Theory closed its doors.