The Chinese Room, the Britain-based studio behind Dear Esther and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, has announced the layoff its development team as the studio plans to ‘go dark’ for the foreseeable future. The studio’s latest game, a VR project called So Let Us Melt, has just been released on the 21st of September; apparently the development team has been gone since June, when work on the game was being wrapped up.
In a statement released on the company’s blog yesterday, co-founder Dan Pinchbeck broke the news of the company’s upcoming pause in operations, saying, “Back in June, I had a health scare – nothing life-threatening, but enough to pull me up short and make us have a serious think about things. This was right at the tail end of development on So Let Us Melt, following a long period of ongoing pitches and negotiations to secure the follow-up project for the studio. To cut a long story short, the situation – between financial pressures, trying to keep the lights on for the employed team, the stress of end-of-development, health issues – just wasn’t a tenable thing anymore. It was time to take a break, recharge, recover and have a good think about the future. So we let our team go.” Pinchbeck cited that the delay in breaking this news was because “it didn’t feel fair to anyone, least of all people who had spent a year working on a project, to have its completion and release overshadowed by news about the studio closing.”
Pinchbeck also made it clear that The Chinese Room is not gone for good, nor are the works they’ve already released. “It’s not the end, just a pause,” Pinchbeck wrote. “The games are still on sale, merch, soundtracks, the Dear Esther tour, all of that. We’ll keep things gently ticking over: talking to fans, being on twitter, the usual stuff, just… less.” A small team of three which includes Pinchbeck and studio co-founder (and Pinchbeck’s spouse) Jessica Curry is continuing work on the company’s next game, The 13th Interior. “So we’ll still be about, just not a fully active development team for the time being,” Pinchbeck clarified.
Pinchbeck also wrote that the company’s unexpected success and subsequently quick growth into a full-fledged studio became a source of difficulty, as the administrative demands running a studio put strain on the creative part of the job. “We’re essentially artists, Jess and I, who made a hit game without realizing it, and became a studio faster than we planned for,” Pinchbeck said. “we’re makers, fundamentally, and our roles were increasingly making it very difficult to be practically involved in doing the things we love and we started the company to be able to do. We’re taking time to figure that out; how we get to be creatives, not managing directors.”
“Is it the end of The Chinese Room? No, I don’t think so. But it’s the end of a chapter, and we hope you can all be patient with us whilst we figure out what happens next.” With that last piece of reassurance, we can look for at least one more game from The Chinese Room at some point in the future. The rest of the company’s future has yet to be planned out.