Bethesda responds to Prey 2 cancellation

Jan 6, 2014
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Sorry my article was on a more toxic subject :(. But we need to remember this in mind for the future; we lose great games because of bone-headed moves like the one Bethesda pulled with Prey 2 & Human Head

Edit: Just letting you all know that the site is down at the moment, so I'm sorry if you cannot access the Prey 2 article as of 8/10/16, 9:50AM EST. Will post a new comment once the site is back online.

Edit 2: Site is back online and the article can be viewed now! Sorry for the issue everyone.
 
Jul 22, 2010
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Pre-E3 2011, the game was scheduled for a late March 2012 release. After Prey 2 was nominated for game of the show, Bethesda offered Human Head, a team of 55 in the Midwest more time and money to flesh out the game world. The game was nearly at an alpha state when Human Head stopped working in November 2011.

Milestone abuse and a failed hostile acquisitions basically goes like this:

Bethesda disputes Milestones - reasonable or not - and withholds payment while Zenimax, the parent company, offers to loan money while the issues are being sorted, saying it's just an administrative issue that is bound to get resolved, then after several milestones aren't met and the money "lent" becomes too important, it offers to buy the company as a solution.

The companies have done it several times already. Given their documented history, there is no reason to grant them the benefit of the doubt: this is a planned, predatory practice.

If you're giving me money and it looks like I'm failing, and you don't want to give me more money because you don't trust that I can complete the project, why are you trying to buy out my studio?

That's the six million dollar question: if this really was a case of Human Head dropping the ball, ******* up development and ruining Bethesda's investment, why did Bethesda want to pour more money into acquiring the entire studio/team in addition to the product?

The fact is, Human Head were doing such a good job that Bethesda pretended they were doing a shit job so they could gain the financial leverage needed to acquire the entire studio.

I'll try to explain it as best I can. I'm sure there's a proper phrase for it in consumer advocacy environments, but I just call it milestone abuse.

In a traditional publisher-developer relationship in the video games industry, the publisher usually pays the developer through a number of milestones. Here's an example.

> Milestone 1: Exit pre-production with a final design plan
> Milestone 2: Finish X number of levels and audio/graphical assets
> Milestone 3: Have a "vertical slice" demo (showing all core features)
> Milestone 4: Establish a pipeline with the quality assurance testers

Stuff like that.

This system is technically great since it keeps the developer accountable. They only get paid if they keep working and showing progress. I WISH they'd have something like this for Kickstarter.

The problem with milestone abuse is when the milestone criteria isn't shown to the public (due to corporate confidentiality and all of that). Since it's kept behind closed doors, people who actually give a shit can't make sure that the publisher isn't trying to exploit the developer by exploiting loopholes in the contract.

Since most studios can only afford to work on one major project at a time, they need the milestone payments in order to stay afloat. However, if the publisher wants to intentionally bankrupt the developer so that they can purchase their IPs and employee contracts (hostile acquisition), then the publisher just has to ride it out and see who runs out of money first. Since the publisher is almost always wealthier, they just have to play a waiting game and arbitrarily fail the milestones.

> Yeah, you set up a quality assurance pipeline but we don't think it's good enough. No, we don't have to explain why. You think anyone out there's going to look through this contract?

> Yeah, you exited pre-production, but we still count those 10 meetings you did afterwards as part of it. Actually, you deserve less money than we gave. Maybe you should be happy that we're just withholding payment and not suing you.

> You call this a vertical slice? We didn't finish focus testing yet! We still might want more features! Oh, we didn't tell you? That's not our problem.

Once the developer gets desperate enough and they almost reach bankruptcy, the publisher is in a good position to force a buy-out. Since whether or not they did anything legally wrong is really, really complicated and the developer no longer has any money to hire a legal team that can rival a publisher's, most of these end in hostile acquisitions.

The bigger problem here is that you could have very easily achieved the same result by suing Human Head for "not fulfilling the terms of their contract" (and not have to pay a single cent more), but Bethesda never pursued that because they'd have no legal case. If this was presented before an external court that doesn't care about video games, they'd see that Human Head adequately fulfilled all the portions of their contract.

A lawsuit would have been literally cheaper if that was the case. If Bethesda didn't have a documented history of abusing companies in such a way, its people would be granted the same latitude.

BETHESDA OWNS PREY. Human Head fails to complete the project, you take what they've got so far and dump it in some other studio's lap to finish.

The reason you break contract with Human Head is you feel like you're throwing good money after bad; if I pay you, you still won't finish this project, so I'll stop paying you and pay someone else to finish it instead.

Pete Hines "quality" story would ring true if:

1) Bethesda/Zenimax didn't try to acquire the company at the same time it was denying it payment.

2) Bethesda/Zenimax didn't have a recorded history of acquiring companies that way.

With those two elements, that behavior from the company becomes terribly suspicious at best.

Every game Bethesda's published in since New Vegas has missed its release window. Dishonored took four years, Dishonored 2 slipped from Spring 2016 to November, according to the leaked pitch documents Prey was pushed back from Q3 to 2017. Evil Within delayed four months. Wolfenstein: The New Order delayed from the XBONE and PS4 launch to mid-2014. Doom was restarted countless times under their 7 year watch. P2 wasn't an expensive game. HH were a team of 55 in the mid-west. The 15 million marketing budget exceeded the costs of the game. Since they restarted with Arkane, Bethesda had to grow a studio of 24 to 80ish, licence technology and restart the marketing cycle. Pete Hines is a liar because they didn't scrap the game. They took it to Obsidian, and in June 2012, offered "What we said was it was not coming out this year and we're still trying to sort some things out with Human Head," Hines told Eurogamer. "That really hasn't changed. I don't have an update for you on that, other than it's not coming out this year."

Bioware's Jason Richardson, gameplay programmer of P2:


Prey 2's narrative director (currently narrative director for Volition)
WOW, I had no idea about any of this, holy shit! What an informing & eye-opening discussion this thread has been. I don't play many Bethesda games, but yeah can't willfully support shitty practices like this. Was planning on getting Dishonored 2 on sale anyway.
 

Easy_D

never left the stone age
Jan 5, 2008
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It's funny how the people who worked on the game think what they showed of at E3 looked like shit, because that was some fucking amazing footage. Wish I could see how far they were able to take it, some day. If only to know what could have been. And to fuel my hatred for Bethesda some more.
 
Jan 6, 2014
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Thank you for writing it. Bethesda and Zenimax always seemd shady as fuck, this confirms it and then some.
No problem! It covers mostly old ground though, but its important for this story to be on peoples minds regarding game development. It can sucks sometimes and its a shame to see a great game 'die' for petty reasons.
 
Mar 28, 2013
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No problem! It covers mostly old ground though, but its important for this story to be on peoples minds regarding game development. It can sucks sometimes and its a shame to see a great game 'die' for petty reasons.
Just one thing: a RPG Codex user pointed out that this part is inaccurate:

Fast forward to the release of Dishonored and that game get a lot of great success. So much so, Arkane accepts Bethesda’s offer of a buy-out and is now an official part of the company’s line of internal studios.
May have been a takeover like the rest, but Arkane was bought by ZeniMax in 2010, while Dishonored was still in development.
 
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Deleted member 80556

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The game even had Blade Runner references. Such a way to rub it in the fucking wound (that was recently re-cut open).
 
Jul 31, 2008
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Zenimax/Bethesda has always been shady, even early on they had a somewhat shady reputation. They have all that Elder Scrolls money with AAA titles coming out but still act like some random budget publisher.
 
Jul 26, 2013
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Another comment from Pete Hines on Prey 2's cancellation:

GC: I saw Prey yesterday, and it looked fantastic. But since I’ve never been able to raise this subject with anyone at Bethesda before I feel I have to ask about Prey 2, specifically the IGN report about your relationship with developer Human Head.

PH: I’m not gonna talk publicly about the back and forth, and the he said/she said. It does absolutely no good to anybody. And I’m certainly not about to say anything to try and cast anybody in a bad light, one way or another. Here’s the fact: the game didn’t turn out like we wanted. It didn’t work, and it didn’t happen.

I find it really interesting that I get abundantly more questions about Prey 2 being cancelled than Doom 4 being cancelled. Everybody seems to forget that we did actually cancel a Doom game at id for pretty much the exact same reasons, and started over. And all anybody talks about, and rightfully so, is the game that we did make and how it turned out. Not, well whatever happened with that other Doom, and why did you decide…

GC: But I’m not sure the situations are that similar. The rumour wasn’t that the game was turning out poorly, the rumour was that you were purposefully failing their milestones…

PH: Utter nonsense. I will simply say this: I don’t know what possible good reason we would have for spending millions and millions of dollars to create something to then suddenly arbitrarily decide, ‘No, we don’t want to actually make our money back off what we’ve put into it’. Because we were footing the bill, right? We’re the publisher, we’re paying the developer. We’re putting all the money into it.

I’m spending my own time taking trips up to Madison, creating brand, creating trailers, putting effort into it, taking it to E3, doing all that stuff. And to take all of that time and investment, and for the notion to be, ‘Oh yeah, for arbitrary reasons we decided to fail the milestones and are just going to wave goodbye to all that and never see any of it returned is the dumbest argument I’ve ever heard.

GC: Okay, but according to the rumour the reason wasn’t arbitrary. It was that you were trying to force them into a situation where you could acquire them against their will and for less than they were worth. And I’ve personally spoken to a veteran developer who, although he knows nothing about Bethesda specifically, states that this has always been a standard industry tactic for many different publishers.

PH: We don’t have any real predilection towards acquiring somebody or not. We haven’t acquired anybody, that I can remember, in the last five or how many years. I think Tango [Gameworks, the studio behind The Evil Within] was the last acquisition. It’s not like we’re on some acquisition tear.

We work with third party folks, like with The Elder Scrolls: Legends, like with Quake Champions. We have a perfectly good third party relationship with them. We’re gonna make the game, we’re not acquiring them, we haven’t failed milestones… again, it boils down to one thing and one thing only: we’re in the business of making games and we’re only going to put out and make games that we think raise to a certain level of quality.

It’s no different to BattleCry, which isn’t anywhere. Isn’t being talked about, and it’s on hiatus because it also wasn’t rising to the level. Just like the Doom game that we cancelled.
 
Mar 11, 2010
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PH: We don’t have any real predilection towards acquiring somebody or not. We haven’t acquired anybody, that I can remember, in the last five or how many years. I think Tango [Gameworks, the studio behind The Evil Within] was the last acquisition. It’s not like we’re on some acquisition tear.
5 years, 10 months ago: Machinegames
6 years, 1 month ago: Arkane Studios
7 years, 2 months ago: id Software
 
Jan 6, 2014
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Damn, didn't think my Prey 2 article would have such legs XD!

Seeing that Metro review is just head scratching though :l. They KNEW using the Prey name would spark all these questions and people writing/being interested in looking into Prey 2. So, why use the name if it would cause unneeded issues for Bethesdia?

Meh :l. I enjoyed there work with id's IP's this generation but really have a sour view on the company after looking into the Prey 2 situation :(. Was honestly sad writing that article.

Edit: I updated the article with the Metro Interview & IGN UK article as sources & quotes.
 
Apr 1, 2013
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Man, they really are poison. Isn't that how they acquired Arkane as well?

He dodges that question like a proper politician. "Prey 2 didn't work out. It's not our only cancellation. What about Doom 4? Ask me about Doom 4!! Or BattleCry!"
 
Jul 26, 2013
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He dodges that question like a proper politician. "Prey 2 didn't work out. It's not our only cancellation. What about Doom 4? Ask me about Doom 4!! Or BattleCry!"
Pete "Pathological Liar" Hines definitely possess more than a touch of Trump. Must be all the time he's spent with Donald's brother Robert (far right) over at Zenimax. :)