Embracer has reportedly closed Elex developer Piranha Bytes as former creative director announces a new indie studio

Elex 2 website background image - split image of man wearing sci-fi and fantasy armor
(Image credit: Piranha Bytes)

Piranha Bytes, the German developer of the Gothic, Risen, and Elex RPGs, has reportedly been closed by parent company Embracer Group. The closure comes less than six months after Piranha Bytes said it was "in a difficult situation" but was still trying to find a way to move ahead with its next game in order to keep the studio open.

The closure was first reported by Polish gaming site CD Action, which quoted a former employee as saying the studio had been shuttered at the end of June after Embracer was unable to find a buyer. 

Shortly after that report came to light, former creative director Bjorn Pankratz, along with his wife and fellow Piranha Bytes veteran Jennifer, announced the launch of a new indie outfit called Pithead Studio. 

"We wanted to keep doing what we love," Pankratz said in the studio announcement video. "This seemed like the best way to do it."

The video makes no mention of Piranha Bytes, but a message posted on the Pithead Studio Discord points to an unhappy ending. 

"As you sure noticed, the gaming industry was not doing well last year," it states. "This was also the case for the Embracer Group, to which THQ Nordic and Piranha Bytes belong. A lot of studios had to close, thousands of people in the gaming industry worldwide lost their jobs. Sadly, Piranha Bytes was also affected by this."

A separate message notes that the Gothic, Risen, and Elex games remain the property of THQ Nordic, the Embracer brand under which Piranha Bytes operated, and Pithead Studio has no knowledge of, or influence over, what will happen to them in the future.

"All we know is that Alkimia Interactive from Spain is working on an Elex remake," Pithead said. "We are not included in the making of the remake in any form, and therefore have no influence on it. Therefore, we are as excited as you are and will follow it with curiosity."

WE ARE BACK ⚒️🦉🦇 Pithead Studio TV - YouTube WE ARE BACK ⚒️🦉🦇 Pithead Studio TV - YouTube
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Piranha Bytes wasn't a "big" studio but it did have deep roots in PC gaming. Founded in 1997, its first game was the 2001 fantasy RPG Gothic, and while it wasn't a huge hit, it established Piranha Bytes as a maker of ambitious Eurojank—the sort of games that tend to have small but very dedicated followings. That reputation was cemented over the years by two more Gothic RPGs, the Risen RPG trilogy, and two Elex games: The first Elex, for instance, "is the kind of weird, flawed RPG we don’t always get anymore," we wrote in our 2017 review, the kind of thing that "will appeal to die-hard RPG fans and few others." 

Embracer-owned THQ Nordic acquired Piranha Bytes in 2019, when Embracer's 'buy everything that isn't nailed down' spree was getting up to full speed, but it fell victim to the collapse of a $2 billion investment deal that resulted in hundreds of layoffs through 2023 and '24, and the closure of other studios including Volition, Free Radical, and Pieces Interactive.

A message posted on the Piranha Bytes website in January saying the studio was trying to find a partner for its new project has been removed. Via the Wayback Machine, that message was present as recently as June 2—all that remains now is the studio logo and contact information.

THQ Nordic declined to comment on the reported closure.

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.