Gloomhaven studio releases a demo for a new game and lays off more than half its employees on the same day

Ironmarked key art - a group of fantasy adventurers in battle
(Image credit: Flaming Fowl Studios)

In a strange and unfortunate turn, indie developer Flaming Fowl Studios, known for past games including Fable Fortune and Gloomhaven, has released a demo for a new game on Steam while simultaneously laying off more than half its employees.

"Today we are releasing a demo of Ironmarked, a new game we have been working on recently," Flaming Fowl said. "Unfortunately, due to the current lack of funding in the games industry, we are putting production on hold and have had to downsize the studio, letting go of some amazing people. 

"Although this is a difficult and sad time for everyone involved, we are very proud of what we were creating and want to share that with all of you. We also hope that by releasing this demo, we can help those people leaving us to secure new roles elsewhere, by demonstrating their outstanding work on the project."

Flaming Fowl was founded in 2016 by former Lionhead employees, with the goal of finishing and releasing Fable Fortune, a free-to-play CCG that had been in development for more than a year at Lionhead prior to its closure. Fable Fortune was taken offline in 2020; in 2021, Flaming Fowl followed up with Gloomhaven, an outstanding turn-based dungeon crawler (and adaptation of a beloved tabletop game). 

Craig Oman, the CEO of Flaming Fowl, told VGC that Ironmarked was dropped by its publisher in the summer of 2023. The studio continued to fund development itself, but more than 30 other publishers have since declined to pick up the game, which ultimately forced the project to be put on hold.

Oman said part of the problem is that publishers aren't interested in mid-tier games—"people were either looking to sign stuff for a few hundred grand, or up to the £20-40 million range," he said—and of course the current state of the industry, which has been wracked by deep layoffs since the start of 2023, is a major factor.

"As soon as we finished Gloomhaven, we signed Ironmarked," Oman said. "We had multiple offers. But then a year and half later, we’ve gone back to a lot of the same publishers and they say they’re no longer looking for projects like this."

The layoffs reduced Flaming Fowl's employee count from around 30 to just nine people, Oman said. The remaining developers are taking until the end of 2024 to make a smaller, self-funded strategy game. As for Ironmarked, he hopes that releasing the demo on Steam will help it attract enough wishlists to convince a publisher to get behind it in the future.

"Wishlists are a hugely important thing for anyone trying to launch a game on Steam," Oman said. "It’s a metric you can go to publishers with that gives them a clear indication of the market you can tap into… they’re just so risk averse."

Ironmarked is a co-op RPG with turn-based combat, set in a fantasy world inspired by medieval Italy. Players hire mercenaries to undertake various quests, each of them with unique gameplay abilities and personalities that can provide powerful synchronicities or equally challenging debuffs that persist from one scenario to the next. You can check out some gameplay courtesy of YouTuber TheTouryst in the video below.

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.