Update 08/01/23: Activision CCO Lulu Cheng Meservey took to Twitter to say reports about lost Transformers games are inaccurate: "These headlines are wrong. We have the code, it’s not lost and never was."
A Hasbro rep also confirmed with Stephen Totilo of Axios that the reports of lost code weren't entirely accurate. "To clarify, comments that suggest Transformers games have been lost were made in error," the rep said. "We apologize to Activision and regret any confusion ... they’ve been great partners and we look forward to future opportunities to work together."
To be fair, the original reports didn't say that the old Transformers games in question weren't lost forever, simply that Activision wasn't sure where they are and didn't seem interested in putting great effort into finding them. Regardless, it's good news for Transformers fan: Xbox boss Phil Spencer has previously said he wants to bring back Activision's classic games if and when Microsoft manages to close the Activision Blizzard acquisition, and it's fair to expect that at least some of these games are on that list. And if he wants them found, I'm pretty confident they will be.
Hasbro's flying high at the moment, and is looking to get serious about Transformers and videogames. There have been multiple Transformers games in the past, of course, but these were somewhat isolated licensed titles rather than a part of any grander strategy. Now Hasbro's got a big title on the way next year from Splash Damage, has begun to sell a Gamer Edition line of toys (where the bots look like their designs in certain videogames), and as part of the latter has noticed that these games are incredibly hard to play.
This has been the case since the expiry of Hasbro's licensing agreement with Activision in 2018, which saw various Transformers titles removed from Steam and other digital marketplaces. These include Transformers: Devastation, Transformers: Fall of Cybertron, and Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark, with the PlatinumGames-developed Devastation arguably the pick of the bunch: colorful and slick action with a great transforming gimmick.
During this year's San Diego ComicCon, a Hasbro spokesperson answered a Q&A from Transformer World 2005 about these older titles, and the mood music is generally good aside from one quite surprising revelation. Hasbro was asked whether the Gamer Edition toys means we'll see the re-release of these games:
"Sadly, apparently Activision’s not sure what hard drives they’re on in their building," said the spokesperson. "When a company eats a company that eats a company things get lost, and that’s very frustrating. Hope is that now that the deal is moving forward with Microsoft and Xbox that they’ll go through all of the archives and every hard drive to find it all, because it’s an easy Game Pass add. We want those games back up for people to have a chance to play."
Let's just pause there for a second. It seems astonishing that Activision Blizzard, which has been one of the biggest games publishers around for decades, doesn't have an easily accessible archive of its own titles' source code. We're not even talking about especially old games here: Devastation came out in 2015. And it clearly was an issue, because Hasbro made the toyline using secondary assets.
"[We] had to load up the games on older platforms because there were some deco details we couldn’t find: we have the CAD [3D model], but it’s not colored," said the spokesperson. "So we had to find some of the character details within the games themselves."
Hasbro has some of the game assets, including everything from Fall of Cybertron, but it's hit-and-miss. "For [War for Cybertron], we had to rip it ourselves, because they could not find it: they kept sending concept art instead, which we didn’t want, we need the CAD. So we booted up an old computer and ripped them all out from there. Which was a learning experience and a long weekend, because we just wanted to get it right, so that’s why we did it like that."
Activision had the Transformers licence from 2006 until it expired in 2017, shortly after which all of its available Transformers games were de-listed. It's a real mixed bag and includes tie-ins to the movies and various iterations of the cartoons, as well as semi-original takes: all told there were at least ten Activision titles produced over this period (list here).
Interestingly enough there's also one more, a real historical curio: Activision made what was the second-ever Transformers game way back in 1986, The Transformers: Battle to Save the Earth (the first was made by Denton Design). It's obviously a good thing if Hasbro wants to give all these titles another chance, even if a few are probably rubbish, though it's certainly eyebrow-raising how casually a publisher the size of Activision archives (or doesn't) its past work on such a huge license.