Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
View All     RSS
August 30, 2014
arrowPress Releases
August 30, 2014
PR Newswire
View All





If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:


It's official: Disney shuts down  Epic Mickey  studio Junction Point
It's official: Disney shuts down Epic Mickey studio Junction Point
January 29, 2013 | By Frank Cifaldi

January 29, 2013 | By Frank Cifaldi
Comments
    50 comments
More: Console/PC, Business/Marketing, Recruitment



Disney has shut down Austin-based development studio Junction Point, the company confirmed Tuesday.

Junction Point was the lead developer behind both Disney Epic Mickey for the Nintendo Wii and the multiplatform sequel Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two. While the former sold 1.3 million units in its November and December 2010 debut months, the latter -- according to a source speaking to the L.A. Times -- sold just 270,000 copies across four SKUs in a comparable timeframe.

Sources familiar with the situation have told Gamasutra that Junction Point's employees have been on an extended, enforced vacation since the sequel shipped in November, and that their return date -- which was, officially, today -- was pushed back more than once.

Employees were officially informed of the closure today, though some were tipped off when fellow Austin studio Roberts Space Industries tweeted about the closure Monday morning (that tweet has since been removed). We understand that several developers learned that they no longer had a job through this publicly viewable tweet.

The closure follows Disney Interactive's ongoing consolidation of its development studios to focus more on digital and mobile titles. Other than its upcoming Disney Infinity project, we understand that the company is no longer publishing boxed retail games, though Disney CEO Robert Iger has stated that console games are still on the table, but "most likely in licensing rather than publishing."

A statement received by Gamasutra regarding Junction Point's closure reads as follows:
It was with much sadness that we informed our teams today of changes to our Games organization, which include the closure of Junction Point Studios.  These changes are part of our ongoing effort to address the fast-evolving gaming platforms and marketplace and to align resources against our key priorities. We’re extremely grateful to Warren Spector and the Junction Point team for their creative contributions to Disney with Disney Epic Mickey and Disney Epic Mickey 2.
The closure is the latest in a string of bad news for game developers in Austin. In the past 8 months alone we've seen major layoffs at Starhawk developer Lightbox, a near-shutdown of Zynga Austin, a restructuring of BioWare Austin and, just last week, the death of Vigil after bankrupted owner THQ failed to find it a buyer.

jps_team_01
Junction Point in happier days: This team photo dates back to 2009, before the first Epic Mickey shipped.


Junction Point was founded in 1995 by former Looking Glass and Ion Storm veterans Warren Spector and Art Min (and was, in fact, named after a cancelled Looking Glass game the two worked on). When Gamasutra first spoke to the studio in 2007, it was working on an original IP, though those plans changed when the studio was acquired by Disney later that year.

Though Disney has not responded to inquiries from Gamasutra, a representative tells Wired that Spector -- a lifetime Disney aficionado, historian, and collector -- will not be employed by the company following Junction Point's closure.


Related Jobs

Backflip Studios
Backflip Studios — Boulder, Colorado, United States
[08.30.14]

Game Producer
Raven Software / Activision
Raven Software / Activision — Madison, Wisconsin, United States
[08.30.14]

Sr. Software Engineer (Gameplay)
Infinity Ward / Activision
Infinity Ward / Activision — Woodland Hills, California, United States
[08.30.14]

Producer - Infinity Ward
Infinity Ward / Activision
Infinity Ward / Activision — Woodland Hills, California, United States
[08.30.14]

Senior AI Engineer










Comments


Carlo Delallana
profile image
"Align resources against key priorities"

To translate: If you aren't already set-up to make mobile free-to-play games then we simply have no room for you in our business.

This is the sad new reality we live in folks. Where Warren Spector, who's games and bold design have inspired many game designers that came after is sidelined, shut down. A child has heroes and dreams of becoming one of them. My first encounter with Warren Spector was doing QA work on Deus Ex. I knew I wanted to pursue a career in game design after working on that game. Warren, Harvey, Sheldon and the rest of the Ion Storm Austin team demystified game design for me.

Good luck Warren and the rest of the JP crew, may you land on your feet and never lose the drive to make games.

Michael Ball
profile image
"To translate: If you aren't already set-up to make mobile free-to-play games then we simply have no room for you in our business."

What a brave new world we live in.

Rodolfo Rosini
profile image
To translate: if you are making Mario clones using the best IP out there you better cost less and sell more.

You can be bold in game design without:

- in-game cartoons drawn by top external studios
- Mickey Mouse
- bad camera control

Ian Fisch
profile image
I feel very bad for the people who were laid off.

I do not wish to denigrate their talent in any way - we've all been involved in less than stellar projects.

That said, Epic Mickey 2 was not a critically-acclaimed game. The reviews on 3ds were downright nasty.

A good game is no assurance that a studio will stay open, but a mediocre game doesn't help.

Jay Anne
profile image
@Ian Fisch
Ouch, I hope you never have to give a eulogy

Ian Fisch
profile image
@Jay

haha I was just responding to the idea that such studio closures are inevitable.

Of course, releasing a great, critically-acclaimed game is no insurance. Look what happened to Ensemble and the makers of La Noire.

I still feel terrible for the employees involved. I've worked with some incredibly talented people on less than stellar projects. It may not even be the fault of the project leads.

Sometimes a publisher's demands (such as multiplatform, multiplayer coop, etc) just make it impossible to deliver a great product given the budget and timeframe.

Jay Anne
profile image
@Ian Fisch
Yes, times they are changing. $50-$60 console games for kids haven't made sense for a while, much less ones made by large teams.

Next up. What does Disney do with LucasArts game studios?

Lars Doucet
profile image
Warren Specter used to come and talk at my university, so did a lot of reps from THQ. Now both of their studios are gone. It feels.... weird.

I have really mixed emotions about this one. On the one hand, seeing these large studios shutter left and right makes me feel like I dodged a bullet by going indie and focusing on low-budget, niche titles rather than taking the conventional advice everyone was giving in 2008 and trying to get a job at a big studio.

On the other hand, I looked up to those titans and it pains me to see them fall. Warren Specter was and still is one of my biggest heroes and I hope he and his team find a way to land on their feet.

Mathieu MarquisBolduc
profile image
It wasnt a large studio, though. They were making one game at a time, and depended on the success of each to continue. In a large studio, you can have several games in the pipeline at the same time, shift ressources in between (avoiding the string of layoffs at the end of a project), and hopefully the success (sales-wise) of one project can compensate for the failure of another.

Good luck to everyone. I am sure everyone can appreciate the quality of their work, and they will rebound in no time.

Lars Doucet
profile image
True, Junction Point != THQ.

My point is that Epic Mickey surely cost orders of magnitude more than the original Deus Ex.

http://tech2.in.com/opinions/gaming/are-big-budgets-killing-the-v
ideo-game-industry/536622

Escalating production values/team sizes escalates the need for money, which escalates control/micromanagement from publishers like Disney, which leads to studios that are one poorly selling game away from certain doom.

A sustainable studio is one that doesn't have to hit it out of the park every single time they're up at bat, and I feel a lot of AAA studios, big and small, are now caught in that vice.

Mathieu MarquisBolduc
profile image
THQ was a whole other matter.

But you should take as much risk as you can, but no more than you can afford to lose, whether its a one-person indie or a 1000+ people business.

Rising costs to me is a mainly a tools problem. People arent as efficient as they should be, because its a lot easier to just hire 10 more guys, than to invest in developping tools that are going to make your best level designer 10 times as efficient.

Ramon Carroll
profile image
Just hiring one Bret Victor instead of those ten random guys/gals would solve whatever tools issues you are dealing with at that time.

Joe Zachery
profile image
Know your game, and now your audience. While I keep hearing comments from people that Epic Mickey 2 was a horrible game. Still the first nonHD Game sold 1.3 only on Wii. Where the HD version across 4 consoles sold no where near as much in the same period of time. At the time on Wii alone that game had a user base of around 25 million to sell too. With the new game had a combine user base of 80 million to sell too. Even with a larger audience the game did not pick up any extra sells. This clearly shows the game should have stayed an exclusive. If they didn't spend the extra resources on the other versions. They may would still be in business today. Something similar to THQ, and their De Blob franchise. That was very successful on Wii alone, and then went multi only be finished as a company.

Nathan Mates
profile image
What about the decision -- as reported online -- that Epic Mickey 2 would be a musical? For me, that reduced my interest in EM2. Warren Spector admitted that the musical format would be a hard sell -- see http://herocomplex.latimes.com/2012/11/16/epic-mickey-2-the-power
-of-two-injects-music-into-game-play/ . Sales being down by 75% showed that there was some breakdown in design, development, marketing, or something else. An honest postmortem including customer surveys would be great here.

While Epic Mickey 1 might have been an interesting game with choices, reviewers widely panned its camera. As much as I admire Warren Spector's past games, you can't go innovative if the polish and fun suffers. Pre-Epic Mickey games were more polished and fun. Innovative and a great designer at the helm are a plus if the game's good. But, innovation is an independent variable from fun.

Joe McGinn
profile image
Totally agree Joe. Proven failing formula, take your unique Wii game and try to make a generic multi-platform portable version game as the sequel.

Craig Stern
profile image
Why is it always the people who actually make cool things that gets fired in these scenarios? Why not the useless people who spout gibberish like "Align resources against key priorities"?

Lars Doucet
profile image
Because the latter have the money :(

Joseph Mauke
profile image
Its called the golden rule....the person with the gold, makes the rules.

Joseph Mauke
profile image
Jeferson,

I'm not a big fan of this rule, but its the reality of the world in which we live. Both in our industry and life in general. As for console gaming being flexible, I don't agree with that in the slightest. The development costs for a boxed title are astronomically more expensive then that of a mobile or social title, and with lowered costs come higher profits and lower risk. The games industry you, and well all of us knew is gone and more then likely isn't coming back. We can either deal with this new reality or complain. So, my recommendation isn't curse the darkness....its light a candle.

Kevin Fishburne
profile image
The games industry is the same as any other industry. The ones who do the real work are the first to get laid off, and you're only as good as your last [fill in the blank]. Epic Mickey 2 was seen as a failure and it probably lost money for Disney. To the pencil pushers there is only one option to this black and white scenario: cut out the cancer and try something else.

Best wishes to Warren and team. It's an embarrassment and a shame to see someone like him let go simply because he didn't bat 1.000 this time.

Adam Bishop
profile image
Given that the studio is being shut down, it sounds like there are a number of management folk losing their jobs in this situation as well.

Kevin Fishburne
profile image
@Adam Even pencils too close to the fire get burned. No surprise.

Ryan Barrett
profile image
Another big hit to the game industry where I live, here in Austin. I'm very saddened by this news.

Kale Menges
profile image
Business as usual in Austin, as of late.

Ron Dippold
profile image
While I respect Warren Spector, this is not a case of a studio doing something cool that got axed. I played both Epic Mickeys and while the first was a charming game with some flaws (the camera), Power of Two was not a good game. Not Superman 64 level, but they failed to fix the weaknesses of the first game and then made the highly questionable decision to make the game mechanics depend on an AI companion.

That should have been a red flag to someone - companion AI is really, really hard to hard do, especially for one that needs to coordinate with you on platforming. Instead Oswald just constantly sabotages you. A working prototype of this should have been a gate for the game. There are other mechanics issues, but none as fun crushing.

So it got universally mediocre reviews and word spread among the hard/midcore (anyone who reads game reviews), and then there was almost zero no for the family market. Most people I talked to didn't even know the game was out. Not sure whether that was JP or Disney was supposed to be handling the publicity.

Either an axing or realignment of focus seemed inevitable, though it's too bad it was the axing. I hope everyone lands on their feet. And Warren, you're great on the ideas (I think the premise could have made a great game), but please consider working with a partner who can focus on the /game/ part of the game to support your ideas. I realize that's arrogant (who made Deus Ex? Not me!), but that does seem to be a real problem.

Philip Wilson
profile image
Would sure be awesome these studio CEOs, etc would be honest with their employees and let them know that *hit is about to go down instead of giving this false impression that things are ok. Usually layoff decision of that magnitude aren't made overnight plus it seems that usually only those of more senior positions seem to get the heads up. Just because someone has senior level title doesn't make them more privileged to know, the smaller guys usually have a tougher time at finding a new gig.

Christian Nutt
profile image
I think two months forced vacation was maybe a hint.

Philip Wilson
profile image
Maybe but considering the amount of OT and personal sacrifice that goes along with this industry, EVERYONE deserves a heads up.

Kujel Selsuru
profile image
While I'm not happy to see these people lose their jobs I can't help but wonder what some people love about Mr. Specter's work, every game of his I have tried I did not like.

I know fans of the first Deus Ex will call me a blasphemer for this but the only Deus Ex game I actually thought was good was Invisible War (the second game) and the other two greatly disappointed me (Mr. Specter was the lead designer on both if I'm not mistaken).

I really don't understand his fans love of his work and I wish someone would explain to me what they like about his stuff cuase I just get it.

Still sad to see a lot of fellow developers out of work and I hope they find new jobs soon.

Lars Doucet
profile image
Have you also played System Shock and Ultima Underworld?

Kujel Selsuru
profile image
@Lars no to system shock, and I have a personal policy never to play MMOs!

Lars Doucet
profile image
You should try it sometime :)

Also, Ultima Underworld != MMO

It was an early 1992-era RPG and one of the first games ever from a 3D, first-person perspective.

Basically, Warren Spector is famous because he worked on a lot of the seminal, ground-breaking games in our industry.

Bart Stewart
profile image
And as an over-simplified description of what distinguishes a Warren Spector game from others, I'd respectfully suggest that it's player choice.

Spector-produced games are designed to let players solve gameplay challenges in multiple ways: combat, conversation, puzzle-solving, and even avoidance are frequent options for getting things done. Epic Mickey's "paint versus thinner" choice was maybe the most constrained version of this design model, but it was there.

Not everybody likes this kind of freedom in a game. But for those who do, the games that Warren Spector has worked on (Ultima Underworld, System Shock, Deus Ex) or inspired (Thief, BioShock, Dishonored) are -- along with Bethesda's open-world games -- among the best that computer gaming has to offer.

Kujel Selsuru
profile image
@Lars: I thought all the ultima games were MMOs so I guess I learned something new today. As for System Shock, I doubt I will ever try it, I heard Bioshock was a spiritual successor to SS2 and I was very disappointed with Bioshock (it seemed like a pretty generic shooter to me).

@Bart: I really loved Theif awesome game, as I said to Lars I was disappointed with Bioshock, and I'm playing through Dishonored right now (it's a decent game but not very good in the stealth department sadly).

My hat is off to Mr. Specter for encouraging things in gaming I really enjoy but for what ever reason the games he works on I seem to not enjoy.

David Navarro
profile image
"I know fans of the first Deus Ex will call me a blasphemer for this but the only Deus Ex game I actually thought was good was Invisible War (the second game) and the other two greatly disappointed me"

I'll reserve the word "blasphemy" for more important issues than personal taste in videogames, but it's certainly a strange and minority view.

Chris Melby
profile image
@Kujel,

If System Shock was an excellent meal... BioShock is the stool that came later. ;)

System Shock is by far one of the most immersive games I've played; my absolute favorite to this date. No other game has come close for me, as putting me into a mindset where as I felt like I was part of its world, and where as I felt I made a difference after completing it -- yes, sad on my part.

There should have never been a sequel to System Shock, it ended in such a way that one was not needed...

Syste Shock 2 was never meant to be a Shock, but was shoehorned into the title when EA got their grubby hands on the situation. This game's flaws ruined it for me, as it was completely unbalanced when comapared to the first game with lots of poor descisions -- like super fragile weopons and monster respawn. Having said that, SS2 is still a better game than most of its type.

I'm with you on BioShock. Outside of its name, it really has little in common with the prior games -- which were fps/RPGs -- and not even as good as SS2 IMO, which is not in the same league as the first; which as noted, is where the Shock series should have ended.

Anyways, SS's visuals are poor now days and its controls tedious, but it does so many other things right. Like Underworld, it was way ahead of its time. I have both games on my Android tablet. :)

Bart Stewart
profile image
Chris, can I assume you would join me in welcoming a remake of the original System Shock to give it improved graphics and modern (WASD+mouselook) controls? ;)

System Shock Portable accomplishes some of this, but it's still pretty clunky. It would be great to see this seminal game in a format that today's gamers could enjoy -- that way they could see why we rave about it....

Kujel Selsuru
profile image
@Chris Maybe I'll try System Shock 1 at some point, I'm not that concerned with visuals as I play games from the 80s still cause their game play still stands up to todays games.

Chris Melby
profile image
@ Kujel,

If you can get past the first part on System Shock -- which is a bit rough, it's so worth the time playing it IMO.

+++ +++ +++

@ Bart,

Hell yeah! If you're serious, as long as I'm up on my living expenses, I'd absolutely love to work on an updated version of SS. I'll check back, because now I'm excited and normally I only visit this site about once day. :)

Bart Stewart
profile image
Ack. Chris, I apologize if I gave the wrong impression -- I wasn't talking about me personally working on a remake of SS1, but just that I'd be glad if today's gamers were able to play a proper remake.

Sorry for the confusion!

Eric Adams
profile image
Can money be made in the console market with a kid (6-12yr) focused game and IP these days? It just seems that families are not buying in the quantity need to sustain higher production kids' titles. In theory, Epic Mickey 2 had a world wide addressable market of 150+ million consoles. With Disney, Mickey, and Warren, the game should have sold at least 5%, perhaps even 10% of that market. To some extend THQ's demise resulted from consumers not supporting that market segment. Consumers may be killing off the kids game market...which is a shame.

Ian Fisch
profile image
Warren spector wanted to make games based on mickey and ducktales.

These were popular ip's in my day (and his day), but what modern kid has watched a mickey cartoon or an episode of ducktales?

If he really wanted to appeal to kids, he'd make a game based on Ben10 or Yu-Gi-Oh or something. But I dont' think that was ever his real goal.

Craig Timpany
profile image
Strange question to ask when Skylanders is kicking ass left and right surely?

Kujel Selsuru
profile image
Sadly a lot of kids rather play age inapproriate games rather then age appropriate ones and many parents just want them to stay out of their hair and give them what ever game they want :(

Bob Johnson
profile image
Never thought Mickey was a hot gaming property to begin with. And doing a sequel? .....I didn't feel the demand for it.

Jay Anne
profile image
It might have been considered a hot property in 1993. Now it seems to be a property mostly driven by nostalgia. Mickey Mouse hasn't starred in a feature film since 1940.

I have the deepest respect for Warren Spector and his games, and I thought Epic Mickey was a fun game. But the whole thing felt like Michael Jordan trying to play major league baseball.

Chris Hendricks
profile image
Maybe there was some jealousy regarding how well-received the Kingdom Hearts series has been, and Disney wanted their own piece of that.

wes bogdan
profile image
Terrible news so what does that mean for WayForward which i believe disney also bought shortly after marvel?!!

Patrick Roeder
profile image
This makes me seriously question If I want to keep pursuing a job in an actual studio. Right now I teach it, and have worked in an indie virtual studio for several years.

Martin Jakob
profile image
I hate to be the party pooper here but does anyone realizes that Mickey Mouse is a character that appeals to one and two year old children ie toddlers, and hence toddlers do not play games as they are not developmentally ready yet to do so why make a game that kind of target audience.
Any Mickey game is a waste of time unless it teaches nursery rimes....?


none
 
Comment: