Starbreeze Studios

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Starbreeze Studios AB
Public company
Traded as First North: STAR
Industry Computer and video games
Founded 1998 (as O3 Games)
2002 (as Starbreeze Studios)
Founders Magnus Högdahl
Headquarters Stockholm, Sweden
Key people
Bo Andersson Klint (CEO)
Products Payday 2 (2013)
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons (2013)
Syndicate (2012)
Payday: The Heist (2011)
Revenue 180 MSEK (13/14)
110 MSEK (13/14)
Number of employees
~50 (13/14)
Subsidiaries Overkill Software

Starbreeze Studios is a video game development studio founded by members of the demogroup Triton, based in Stockholm, Sweden. The company was merged with O3 Games in 2002, and the name Starbreeze was retained. The company then went on to produce titles including Enclave and Knights of the Temple: Infernal Crusade.

In the early 2000s, cancellations of their projects due to conflicts with publishers, and a failed acquisition led Starbreeze to enter a severe financial crisis, resulting in a massive lay-off during the development of Starbreeze's fourth game, The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, which received critical acclaim and helped Starbreeze to establish a reputation of making good licensed game. The company then worked on The Darkness, whose sales was considered satisfactory for Starbreeze.

The company then partnered with Electronic Arts to develop a reboot to the Syndicate series, but it ended up being a commercial failure, and many staff members moved to rival company MachineGames, founded by Starbreeze's founders. As a result, the company shifted part of its focus to develop smaller games, such as Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. Starbreeze began expanding the company in 2012, with its acquisition of Overkill Software. Overkill's first title after the acquisition, Payday 2, helped Starbreeze to gain net profit after suffering an accumulated loss of $14.4 million since the company's establishment. In 2015, the company announced that they will start publishing video games from independent developers, and that they had begun the development of a virtual reality headset named Project Star VR.


Founding and merger[edit]

The company was founded by a Swedish programmer named Magnus Högdahl and designer Gustaf Grefberg. He was a former member of the PC demoscene group Triton, specialized in making tech demos, and decided to left the company after his project, an action role-playing game named Into the Shadows get cancelled due to publishing troubles.[1] He then decided to found his own studio and began crafting his own game engine.[2] He then actively recruited his acquaintances to join his company and the studio was officially established in 1998 in Härnösand.[3]

Högdahl served as the company's head and tech lead. He was also responsible for creating a new game engine for their future games, and looking for publishers that were willing to help publishing their game.[2] At that time, the company had only about five people,[2] and they created a prototype for a video game and pitched it to publishers at E3 1998.[1] Gremlin Interactive agreed to publish the game, and the deal was finalized in late 1998. At that time, the company had around 11 staff members. The game was a first-person action role-playing game named Sorcery. Set in a high fantasy setting, the game featured 3D visuals and its gameplay was similar to that of Diablo and Quake.[1] However, Gramlin Interactive was acquired by Infogames in 2000 and the partnership between them broke, resulting in the game's cancellation.[4]

O3 Games was founded by Lars Johansson, who also worked at a demoscene company. Their first game was The Outforce, a space real-time strategy game that was successfully released in 2000 and subsequently became a success for the company. O3 needed to expand so that they could continue video game development.[5] After Sorcery cancellation, Starbreeze entered financial troubles. Unable to support themselves financially, they needed to merge with another developer so as to continue their business.[2] The two companies then organized a conference in Uppsala, and were merged together shortly afterwards, retaining the name "Starbreeze Studios".[5]


After the merger, the company began working on Enclave, originally a multiplayer-only video game inspired by Team Fortress set at the Medieval Times. The game would also became their first game that covered an international market, and they had partnered with various publishers including Swing Entertainment, Conspiracy Entertainment and Vivendi.[5] However, Swing Entertainment faced bankruptcy at that time, and decided to turn the game into a single-player action-adventure video game with the goal of sending it to the market as soon as possible.[2] The game was released in 2002, and Starbreeze had to lay off staffs after the game's release.[4] Enclave II was also in development. The sequel was said to feature a more elaborate story, 28 different maps, 10 playable characters, and an improved fighting system.[6] However, these features were axed when they get into legal troubles with the publisher, resulting in the game's cancellation.[2] Their another game, Knights of the Temple: Infernal Crusade, was successfully released with help from publisher TDK Mediactive. Its sequel, nonetheless, was shifted to another develop.[2] The studio also attempted to acquire another studio, Rock Solid Games, but the agreement between them fell apart and brought both companies financial problems.

"The company was shutting down around us. This is something I'm not very proud of, but [the Riddick team] actually cut ourselves off from the rest of the company. We moved to the third floor...we knew that people were getting fired upstairs and everything. But we just sort of closed the doors, we didn't talk about it, and we just stayed focused on finishing the game

— Jens Andersson, lead designer of The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay

Another project being worked by Starbreeze at that time was The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay. Set in the The Chronicles of Riddick movie universe, the game was published by Vivendi. The team took inspiration from films such as Escape from Alcatraz and video games such as GoldenEye 007 and the Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell series.[7] However, the company was downsizing due to financial problems and the number of employees dropped from 80 to 25, and the entire development team moved away from the main Starbreeze floor to prevent themselves from being affected by low morale, and allow them to focus on the game's development. The game enjoyed an 18-month development cycle, which was significantly longer than typical licensed games. A PlayStation 2 version of the game was also in development, but was ultimately cancelled as the then head of Vivendi's publishing division, Michael Pole, ordered its cancellation to "make his mark". Universal Motion Pictures intervened and kept the game's Xbox version. Escape from Butcher Bay received critical acclaim upon launch, with many critics regarding it as one of the best licensed games ever made. Its gameplay element including the puzzle-solving mechanics and the stealth segment, and its ahead-of-time visuals, also received praise from critics.[2] Despite receiving critical acclaim, it was not a commercial success for Starbreeze.[4]

After the release of Escape from Butcher Bay, Starbreeze entered financial problems again due to not having significant royalty payment from Vivendi. They sold part of their motion capture and animation department to a British company named Centroid.[4] However, the game helped set Starbreeze's reputation as a studio that is capable of making good licensed titles. With the help of Union Entertainment, an intermediary company, Starbreeze signed an agreement Majesco Entertainment for a new title set within the The Darkness universe owned by Top Cow Comics on July 16, 2004.[8] Mid-way through the game's development, Majesco underwent restructuring, suffered from financial troubles, shifted its focus and dropped the game.[9] 2K Games stepped up and acquired the publishing rights. 2K extended the game's development cycle, and told Starbreeze to develop a multiplayer mode for the game. The Darkness was released in 2007. It fared worse than the team expected critically, but its commercial performance was satisfactory for the company, selling more than 1 million copies worldwide.[2]

After working on two different licensed games, the team had the intention of making their own intellectual properties. A game named Kano was developed, which involves mind-reading, but its development had never completed. After the release of The Darkness, the company signed with a two-project contract with Vivendi. One of the games included in the contract is a new property known as Polaris. As a game set in a post-apocalyptic environment, players are tasked to overcome snowstorms and defeat terrorists and monsters cooperatively with other players. The game failed to convince Vivendi and promoted it to adjust the contract to simply one project, a remake of Escape from Butcher Bay, The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena. Vivendi originally named the game Riddick 2 but Starbreeze protested as they thought it would bring an immense amount of expectation that the remake may not be able to deliver.[2] Vivendi's subsidiary Sierra Entertainment was set to publish the game.[10] After the merger between Activision and Vivendi, the new company began streamlining Vivendi and put the game, along with Brütal Legend, Ghostbusters: The Video Game for sale to other publishers.[11] Atari eventually acquired the publishing rights and the game was released in 2009.[12]


Starbreeze then partnered with Electronic Arts for two different games, one was known as Project Redlime, while another was an action-adventure video game set within the Bourne universe. The Bourne game, titled The Bourne Ascendance, was cancelled as a direct result of Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass not participating in the fourth Bourne film.[13] Project Redlime had a larger scale than the Bourne game. It was said to be a reinvention of one of Electronic Arts' franchises.[14] The company shifted from a technology-orientated company to focus more on core gameplay mechanic of their new project. Syndicate was announced in September 2011.[15] The game suffered from a troubled development, with Starbreeze completely reworking the game one year after the game's development.[16] There are also lots of creative differences between the developer and the publisher, and the two companies suffered from an unharmounious relationship. During the game's development, 7 senior members of the company, including Högdahl, left the company to form their own smaller studio, MachineGames, to work on their own original games.[2] Having a budget that was less than other typical AAA video game. Syndicate received average reviews and was a commercial failure.[17] Grefberg left the company after the game's completion,[5] and 25 employees were laid off.[18]

Many employees left Starbreeze when MachineGames recruited. The then CEO Johan Kristiansson also stepped down, and was replaced by Mikael Nemark. Nemark brought the studio to a new direction that besides focusing on AAA video games, they would also allocate resources for smaller, downloadable game in order to broaden the company's portfolio of games. These new games will no longer use the engine created by Högdahl. In 2011, Starbreeze announced that they were partnering with Epic Games to use their engine, Unreal Engine for their first new small titles. In 2012, Starbreeze announced Cold Mercury, a free-to-play video game and a project codenamed P13.[19] Prior to that, Josef Fares, an award winning Swedish director, was pitching game ideas for several Swedish developers but was rejected. Starbreeze, at that time, was in need of a new original properties, and accepted Fares' pitch.[20] P13 later became Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. Focusing on creating an emotional and "personal" experience,[21] Starbreeze partnered with publisher 505 Games to publish the game. It was released in 2013 to critical acclaim and received numerous awards and accolades.[22] The rights to the Brothers intellectual property was later acquired by 505 Games in 2015.[23] After the success of Brothers, Fares announced that he had established a new studio named Hazelight and is working on a project with Electronic Arts.[24]

In 2012, Starbreeze also announced that they had acquired the developer of Payday: The Heist, Overkill Software, granting them rights to all of Overkill's propriety technology and intellectual properties.[25] Overkill at that time was working on the game's sequel, Payday 2, a game that was set to "broaden the Payday template".[26] The game was a massive commercial success, and was profitable from pre-order sales alone.[27] Payday 2 also became Starbreeze's best selling game of all time, and help the company to gain net profit after suffering an accumulated loss of $14.4 million from 1998 to June 2013.[28] The success of the game also prompted publisher 505 Games to invest $5 million in Starbreeze in March 2015 to continue to improve and develop additional content for Payday 2 for 20 months.[29] The game was ported to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One under the title Payday 2: Crimewave Edition.[30]

Starting from 2014 the company began broadening their business. On 25 September 2014, Starbreeze Studios announced that they acquired a LA-based studio called Geminose for 7 million. The studio is currently working on a toys-to-life game.[31] In May 2015, Starbreeze Studios announced that the company will start publishing video games from independent developers. The first independent title set to be published by Starbreeze is Raid: World War II, an upcoming four-player World War II shooter in development by Lion Game Lion.[32] During E3 2015, Starbreeze Studios announced Project StarVR, a virtual reality headset, which is currently under development by InfinitEye, which was acquired by Starbreeze on the same day.[33] The company also acquired Payday Productions and the film rights to Payday in July 2015.[34] Project wise, their subsidiary Overkill was working on Overkill's The Walking Dead, which is set to be released in 2017 with the help of publisher 505 Games,[35] and Storm, which was merged from Starbreeze's own Cold Mercury.[36] Starbreeze is also set to publish a John Wick game developed by WEVR and Grab for virtual reality platforms.[37] The core Starbreeze team also received investment from Korean publisher Smilegate to develop a new first-person cooperative game set within the Crossfire universe.[38] Starbreeze also announced that they will be publishing Dead by Daylight, an asymmetrical multiplayer survival horror game developed by Behavior Interactive.[39]


Year Game Publisher Platform(s)
PS2 Xbox Win GCN X360 PS3 XBO PS4
2000 The Outforce[A] Strategy First No No Yes No No No No No
2002 Enclave Conspiracy Entertainment No Yes Yes No No No No No
2003 Knights of the Temple: Infernal Crusade TDK Mediactive Yes Yes Yes Yes No No No No
2004 The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay Vivendi Games No Yes Yes No No No No No
2007 The Darkness 2K Games No No No No Yes Yes No No
2009 The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena Atari Inc. No No Yes No Yes Yes No No
2012 Syndicate Electronic Arts No No Yes No Yes Yes No No
2013 Payday 2B 505 Games No No Yes No Yes Yes No No
2013 Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons 505 Games No No Yes No Yes Yes No Yes
2015 Payday 2: Crimewave EditionB 505 Games No No Yes No No No Yes Yes
2017 Overkill's The Walking DeadB 505 Games No No Yes No No No Yes Yes

A The game was developed by O3 Games before O3-Starbreeze merger
B The game was mainly developed by Starbreeze's subsidiary Overkill Software


We don't even talk about games any more at the studio... We don't talk about games, we don't talk about genres, we just talk about building the best experience, whatever that means for that particular project.

— Mikael Nermark, former CEO of Starbreeze Studios

According to Starbreeze, the studio is keen on making intellectual properties and licensed projects which allow them to have creative control. According to Starbreeze's CEO Johan Kristiansson in 2008, the company did not wish to recruit lots of employees as a lot of time is needed to integrate them into the company.[40] After the departure of many employees around 2012 and the disappointing commercial sales of Syndicate, Mikael Nermark, the company's CEO in 2012, decided to shift the company's focus from producing standard licensed games to creating new and original intellectual properties. He stated that he strongly believed Starbreeze's ability of making games games that are more than typical AAA games, and that Starbreeze members would consider making games as their "daily work", taking ownership for their projects.

As an independent company, Starbreeze believes that in addition to developing AAA games, they must develop some smaller-scale projects like Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, or free-to-play games like Cold Mercury to survive. Nermark further added that he is confident that the studio is capable of bringing their "style" to all genre and business model, and that gameplay innovation is considered one of the most important elements while developing a game.[41]


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