Just 3 months after launching Tales of Kenzera: Zau, developer Surgent Studios lays off 'just over a dozen' employees

Tales of Kenzera: Zau screenshot
(Image credit: Surgent Studios)

Less than three months after the release of its debut game Tales of Kenzera: Zau, Surgent Studios has laid off "just over a dozen" of its employees.

The layoffs were initially reported by multiple Surgent employees (via Game Developer) who posted about their pending terminations on LinkedIn. Producer Philip Smy said he'd become "another casualty of the Wild West industry that is videogame development," while level designer Pete Brisbourne wrote, "The chapter entitled 'Pete Works At Surgent Studios' is coming to a close at the end of the month." Several Surgent employees have now added an "open to work" indicator on the profile pictures.

A few hours after the initial report, Surgent Studios confirmed the layoffs on Twitter

"Unfortunately, Surgent has joined the growing number of games studios impacted by layoffs this year with just over a dozen people affected," the studio wrote. "It's a difficult time in the games industry, but we remain incredibly proud of our entire team's work on Zau and of the praise it has received from critics and players alike. Our focus now is on supporting those affected, continuing our work on Zau, and looking to the future with our next creative project."

The number of employees at Surgent Studios prior to the layoffs wasn't revealed. The studio's LinkedIn page says it has between 11-50 employees; 37 LinkedIn users are "associated" with Surgent.

"This hurts deeply," studio founder and CEO Abubakar Salim said in a separate message. "This isn't the news I wanted to share today.

"I am so proud of what the team have achieved over the course of these 4 years. When things got tough, every one of them stood so strong, it was inspiring. So to be delivering this news today really sucks. I know we're not alone here, but that doesn't make it easier."

Tales of Kezera: Zau, a metroidvania "inspired by Bantu tales" as well as Salim's own grief following the death of his father, was well received when it launched in March. But the player counts, at least on Steam, don't suggest big sales numbers: The peak concurrent player count on Steam was just 258, and currently sits at only 19. The game was also the subject of what Salim called a "targeted harassment" campaign driven by "people who see diversity as a threat."

Sales figures have not been released, but in June, Salim denied reports that Tales of Kezera: Zau wasn't selling well, saying claims of low sales "are a fraction of our actual playership, and they're being shared in bad faith by people who are wanting to provide 'proof' that their harassment campaign has been successful in punishing us for daring to take up space."

(Image credit: Abubakar Salim (Twitter))
Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.