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Take-Two Interactive Reportedly Poached Staff and Kerbal Space Program 2 From Developer Star Theory

Star Theory games has reportedly ceased operations after Take-Two Interactive canceled its contract with the developer for Kerbal Space Program 2, and taken most of its staff.

Bloomberg reports that developers at game studio Star Theory received unsolicited messages via the professional social media platform LinkedIn on December 6th, 2019. In the message, staff at Star Theory were propositioned to work at Take-Two Interactive in order to continue working on Kerbal Space Program 2, despite Star Theory already working on the game.

One of these messages were obtained by Bloomberg, sent by Michael Cook; an executive producer at Private Division. Private Division is a subsidiary and publishing label for Take-Two Interactive. Cook’s message allegedly said the following:

“This was an incredibly difficult decision for us to make, but it became necessary when we felt business circumstances might compromise the development, execution and integrity of the game. To that end, we encourage you to apply for a position with us.

[…] We are offering a compensation package that includes a cash sign-on bonus, an excellent salary, bonus eligibility and other benefits.”

Shortly after the messages were received by staff, Star Theory founders Bob Berry and Jonathan Mavor told employees (on December 9th, 2019) that they had been in discussions with Take-Two Interactive to sell their company, but refused their terms. The game had been cancelled.

In addition, the meeting had the founders (in Bloomberg’s words) “trying to clarify royalty terms, which were unclear in their contract, they told employees.”

Five people who were allegedly at the meeting told Bloomberg that Berry and Mavor that the company still had enough money, and could attempt to sign other deals. The pair also encouraged employees to stay with the company.

The breakdown of the deal supposedly could have been the impetus for the alleged poaching of Star Theory’s employees. Over the next “few weeks” more than a third of staff (including the Studio Head Jeremy Ables and Creative Director Nate Simpson) were poached.

Star Theory was originally contracted to develop Kerbal Space Program 2 for Take-Two Interactive after they purchased the rights to the series from indie developer Squad, who created the original.

The team seemingly moved onto Take-Two Interactive’s new studio; Intercept Games. A spokesperson for the new studio (Brian Roundy) told Bloomberg that they contacted “every member of the development team” at Star Theory to work at Intercept Games.

“More than half of the team is now at Intercept Games,” Roundytold Bloomberg. “In doing so, we are empowering our deeply passionate and talented team to focus on quality, and we are thrilled with the progress that they are making on the game.” Bloomberg reports that Berry and Mavor did not respond to requests for comment.

Star Theory Senior Engineer Patrick Meade reportedly turned the offer down. “I was at a small studio, where the work I did had a massive impact on our success. When I see myself at any large corporation, that is fundamentally not true.” He also stated that (in Bloomberg’s words) “he wouldn’t have the same degree of influence or financial benefits if the game were a hit.”

After the loss of “about a dozen” of Star Theory’s 30 strong team, those remaining had planned to brainstorm and build prototypes for two months, to show off at the Game Developer’s Conference (GDC) and pitch to publishers for more funding. This idea was ruined by the coronavirus pandemic, and the postponement of GDC.

After the loss of half their staff to poaching, the loss of the contract for Kerbal Space Program 2, and the coronavirus pandemic, Star Theory has reportedly ceased operations on March 4th. This would also mean the third developer diary posted on the official website in April would have been done by Intercept Games.

Each remaining worker reportedly received a month’s pay and two month’s health insurance. “A few” joined Incercept Games after that.

In a recent blog post on the official site for the game, Take-Two Interactive introduced the new development team for Kerbal Space Program 2 without a single mention of their previous affiliation with Star Theory.

With the way the development of Kerbal Space Program 2 was transferred, it would allow Take-Two Interactive to bring the development of the title in-house, while completely circumventing any kind of deal with Star Theory.

Between the poaching of their staff, the revocation of their contract (and thus only game in development as far as we know), and the current economic instability caused by the coronavirus pandemic and more; it is little wonder that Star Theory has reportedly decided to shutter.

We shall reach out to Take-Two Interactive for comment.

In August 2019, Take-Two Interactive sent private investigators to the home of a YouTuber who leaked information about Borderlands 3, after Twitch accounts used to simulate multiplayer for a livestream exposed more content.

Kerbal Space Program 2 launches Fall 2021 for Windows PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

Image: YouTube

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A basement-dwelling ogre, Brandon's a fan of indie games and slice of life anime. Has too many games and not enough time.