Less than a week after saying that sales of turn-based tactics game The Lamplighters League were "a big disappointment" and confirming major layoffs at developer Harebrained Schemes, Paradox Interactive has announced that it has "decided to part ways" with the studio. Paradox said the split was a mutual decision, "stemming from each party’s strategic and creative priorities," and that HBS will officially be independent again on January 1, 2024.
"Paradox has refocused its strategy towards its core niches within strategy and management games with endless qualities," Paradox COO Charlotta Nilsson said. "We and HBS’ leadership have been discussing what would happen after the release of The Lamplighters League, but a new project or sequel in the same genre was not in line with our portfolio plans. Hence, we believe that a separation would be the best way forward."
The separation will leave Paradox with ownership of The Lamplighters League and "other games developed by the studio," although specifics about which games were not provided. Of particular interest on that front are Harebrained's best-known games, Shadowrun and Battletech: Both videogame series are based on tabletop games created by FASA, an RPG and tabletop gaming company co-founded by Jordan Weisman, who is also the co-founder of Harebrained Schemes.
It's something of a long and complicated history but the short version is that FASA launched a videogame studio called FASA Interactive in the mid '90s, which was eventually acquired by Microsoft. FASA Interactive was closed in 2007, but Microsoft licensed the rights to make new FASA-based videogames back to Weisman through his then-new, now-closed venture Smith and Tinker.
Those rights seemingly went with Weisman when he co-founded Harebrained Schemes in 2011 (the studio made three Shadowrun games and was deep into development of Battletech prior to its acquisition by Paradox) and the absence of those titles in the 'parting of ways' announcement makes me think that Harebrained Schemes may have retained them. HBS offered no insight into that possibility in its own comment on the split.
"Harebrained Schemes will support The Lamplighters League through the end of the year while we seek funding and partnerships for an independent future in 2024," studio operations manager Brian Poel said. "Our studio mission remains the same: to make games that challenge your mind and touch your heart."
In a separate statement provided to PC Gamer, Poel clarified the circumstances behind the split. "This decision to separate was primarily driven by changes in Paradox's portfolio plans, which did not include a sequel to The Lamplighters League, nor greenlighting new games in the genres in which we'd built our expertise," he said. "So the plans for separation began a while ago, when Paradox's strategic planning came into focus. This also led to layoffs, as the project shifted from full production to a smaller post-launch development team, but without a new project to roll over to.
"Paradox acquired the rights to all the games in our portfolio when they purchased HBS in 2018 and they retain ownership of all those games going forward. Please note that the video game IPs for the Shadowrun and Battletech brands are owned by Microsoft. As for future project ambitions, the studio’s current size—and our development schedule over the past five years—has certainly led us to revisit the scope of projects which we are exploring with future publishers."
What sort of resources Harebrained will have to pursue that mission remains to be seen. One person claiming to be a former employee of the studio said roughly 80% of its employees were laid off in June; Paradox didn't provide numbers in its confirmation but acknowledged that the headcount had been "significantly reduced." The one bright spot for the studio is that it has had consistent success with crowdfunding campaigns for its earlier project: Shadowrun Returns, Shadowrun: Hong Kong, and Battletech all far surpassed their goals on Kickstarter, and they all turned out to be pretty good games, too.