The decision to shutter Wolfpack Studios came as a surprise to most of those working there. When Ubisoft made the announcement on April 1 that the Austin, Texas-based developer of Shadowbane had six weeks of life left, community manager Sean Dahlberg said he wasn't sure right away if it was an April Fool's joke.
It wasn't. Just a month past Shadowbane's third birthday, and two years and change since Wolfpack's acquisition by Ubisoft in February 2004, the publisher had apparently decided to refocus on its console offerings. After a disappointing launch and two expansion packs, Shadowbane seemed like a low priority.
And yet it was the game that brought the team together. As Dahlberg tells the story, not long after the announcement came, Wolfpack Studios general manager Frank Lucero made the rounds of the 30 people working at Wolfpack at the time. He wanted to know if they would be willing to stick together as an independent studio and stay in Austin.
“One by one, pretty much everyone said yes,” Dahlberg said.
By the time May 15 rolled around, the financial backing for a new studio was secured. Marketing themselves as a ready-made team and experienced in massively-multiplayer games in a way that few are, those on board with the new team took a two-week vacation after Wolfpack Studios officially closed, only to come back to the same offices in northwest Austin on June 1, with a new name: Stray Bullet Games. This week, Stray Bullet announced their newest addition, CEO Mark Nausha, most recently director of development at Sony Online Entertainment with credits at development studios owned by Sega and Interplay.
Hungry Like the Wolf
Wolfpack Studios was founded in 1999 as an independent studio, though the last of the founders departed after selling the company to Ubisoft (two of them, Todd Coleman and Josef Hall, helped found King's Isle Entertainment not far away, employing several former Wolfpack employees). Its product, a massively-multiplayer game that would come to be known as Shadowbane, was released in the spring of 2003 after a series of mishaps that included being dropped by what would have been its North American publishing partner, Gathering of Developers. Several GODGames principals claimed this was a decision by their parent company, Take Two Interactive, and moved to Hong Kong to found En-Tranz Entertainment, Shadowbane's Asian market publisher, before it eventually closed.
Though the promise of purposeful combat between in-game "guilds" of players who could build their own cities and lay siege to those of their enemies was an early draw for many aggressive MMO gamers, post-release bugs and design inadequacies proved too much of a strain for player patience. Behind the scenes, Wolfpack Studios attempted to acquire new licenses and development deals, but nothing was sustainable. Within a year, Ubisoft moved to acquire Wolfpack and Shadowbane outright, moving it under the purview of its other notable development property, Red Storm Interactive.