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Homefront: KAOS Closed down
Written by Jock   
Monday, 13 June 2011

It was just last week that I was speaking with some devs at KAOS Studios. They were all looking forward to getting everyone's input on their new Homefront game. In fact, they had just announced this survey:

http://homefront.ideascale.com/

Much of the talk was positive and there was no hint that in a few days KAOS Studios would be shut down. Sure enough that is what happened today when THQ, Homefront's publisher, announced that it would be trimming operations -- and KAOS would be one of those studios trimmed.

Apparently there was a "strategic realignment within its internal studio structure". The upshot has been that Digital Warrington studio in the UK and KAOS in New York have been shut down.

New York based KAOS was mainly responsible for the single player side of Homefront. Interestingly, Digital Extremes (DE) of London, Ontario, the studio that built the multiplayer side of the game, were not directly affected by the closings as they are still an independent studio.

Strategic Vision

KAOS's Homefront game was supposed to send a message to the gaming industry that THQ was a major player in the industry. Unfortunately, KAOS' strategy of competing head-to-head against AAA-titles, was too optimistic. While Homefront was a good game on its own merits, when folks compared it against a billion-dollar franchise like CoD, it of course came out the worse for wear.  The game was criticized strongly when it was released - the inevitable result of a very strong marketing campaign that clearly over-hyped the game. One of the major issues was pointed out by average console gamers who found that Homefront had too short of a single-player campaign. That criticism was difficult for THQ marketing to counter and the game never found its footing after that.

KAOS tried to punch above its weight-class, but found that trying to produce a AAA-title, with only AA-financing caused only frustration for everyone involved.

Homefront 2 and the French Connection

Meanwhile, THQ announced at E3 that it wants to continue the franchise (source). Brilliant marketing (yes, I'm being sarcastic): announce a sequel and then tell the world you are shutting down the game's original studio. That'll boost consumer confidence!

As for the new Homefront 2 developer, a new studio is being formed in La Belle Province...Montreal, specifically. I believe that there are probably two reasons for the move. Money and um...money.

THQ will join Eidos and Ubisoft in getting huge subsidies for locating work in Montreal. The new studio will get big tax credits from the Federal Canadian government, but it will also get subsidies from the Quebec Provincial government (rumored to be over $3M).

Four hundred new Quebec jobs are being talked about. The new THQ studio that will take on Homefront 2 will be headed up by folks that used to be with Ubisoft. It is unclear if many from KAOS' New York studio will be asked to come up to Montreal. If they do, I hope they're not too shocked by the roughly 40% personal income tax rates that they will be facing or the culture shock in store for them (example).

Hard work

A normal business occurrence nowadays, it is always sad to hear that a gaming studio has to close. Think of all the hard working developers and their families that will be affected by the closing. For that reason, our hearts go out to the folks at KAOS. We really appreciate their incredibly hard work.

Hard work is actually an understatement. You might all remember the controversy over the quality of life issues that came up during the development of KAOS: source1, source2.  I remember reading about massive overtimes rates at KAOS a few months before Homefront's release. While overtime is not unusual in game releases, the fact that it was news told me there was something fundamentally wrong at KAOS. I remember thinking that here was a classic example of employee health being jeopardized as a result of massive mismanagement by their bosses.

So are we really surprised to hear that KAOS is closing down?

DLC and DEMOs

Shut down or not...KAOS will continue to work on Homefront for a couple of months - until the doors are padlocked. DLC is in the works and a planned Free Demo has been launched: the XBOX free Demo has been underway for a few days, a PC free demo date has not been provided, but I'm half-expecting it will be announced soon. A PC free demo would allow this game to be better known and that's exactly what it needs right now. The online game is currently moribund and a free demo would get new players to populate servers.

Good luck and thanks

The developers and artists at KAOS are talented folks.

Whether it was dedi-servers, or louder in-game footsteps, they all seemed to care about the game and about us. I am sure that they will all find great paying jobs in the industry and I for one will be looking forward to their contribution to gaming.

Good luck ex-KAOS devs!

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