Surgeon Simulator developer Bossa has suffered a round of redundancies as its co-founders target a fresh start for the studio in 2021.
Bossa confirmed to Eurogamer that initially 13 positions out of the 85-strong London company were at risk, but this figure has reduced to 10 and could be lower by the time the consultation period ends.
A source at the studio told Eurogamer Bossa had suffered a number of internal issues throughout 2020 as the company shifted to work from home and then crunched in the months leading up to the August release of comedy physics game Surgeon Simulator 2.
Surgeon Simulator 2 launched as an Epic Games Store exclusive, and failed to have the same impact of its predecessor, which was a 2013 Steam hit. However, in an interview with Eurogamer, Bossa co-founder Henrique Olifiers denied the performance of Surgeon Simulator 2 had anything to do with the round of redundancies. Rather, "it's more to do with how we see games evolving and the competencies we will need and won't need in that new landscape."
In a prepared statement, Bossa's management admitted some at the studio were unhappy with the company's new direction:
"The other thing about fundamental change is that not everyone agrees with it, and that's alright," reads the statement, "the world would be a much more dull place if we all agreed on everything. A small number of people are unhappy with these changes, and as unfortunate as that is, there's little we can do other than be candid about our motives and support them as much as possible. They have the right to feel the way they do about these decisions if so they chose to, and criticise us for it. That's just the way things work."
Surgeon Simulator 2 launches on non-Epic platforms in 2021 once Bossa's exclusivity deal with Epic expires, and Bossa remains committed to that release, Olifiers insisted.
"We're still updating the game," Olifiers said. "We have a team working on it, and we're going to launch the game on three platforms in August next year. So we're still heavily invested in the game, keeping it going. If the game didn't perform as we expected, we would wrap it up and focus on something else. We are not big enough to support something that is not performing."
One person at Bossa, who asked for anonymity because they were not authorised to speak on the record to press, described tension over recent decisions as well as management's involvement in day-to-day production.
Olifiers said the Bossa co-founders have always been involved with game production throughout the studio's 10-year history.
"We are a small-ish studio - not tiny, right?" Olifiers said. "We're not indie any more. 85 people is considerable. We've always been involved with game production. All our game ideas come from a game jam, and every single person in the studio takes part in those game jams that generate those game ideas. So from day one, management is involved. I am a game designer, not a business guy. I have been a producer, a coder, a game designer and so on. And so has everybody else in the team. So we are involved in the day-to-day. Of course at times there are creative differences, and we solve that in the best possible way, as far as I can tell.
"The teams usually have a lot of latitude to make decisions they think are right. Traditionally management, and by management I'm talking about myself and the other three founders, we are involved with the day-to-day of every game we make."
Eurogamer understands some people at Bossa crunched - that is, worked longer hours than they should have - for a period of two to three months leading up to the August 2020 launch of Surgeon Simulator 2, which had a negative impact on those involved.
Bossa's QA team bore the brunt of this crunch, Eurogamer was told, in part because of the challenges faced with the four-player online multiplayer component for Surgeon Simulator 2 (you can play through all of Surgeon Simulator 2's campaign in up to four-player multiplayer).
In our interview, Olifiers confirmed this period of crunch had happened at the studio - and confirmed QA was hit hard by it.
However, Olifiers insisted Bossa does not have a crunch policy, and management do not ask staff to crunch. He also insisted that historically crunch is not something that has happened at Bossa. But things got out of control with Surgeon Simulator 2 after the studio shifted to work from home in March.
"We lost track of a few people doing extra hours," Olifiers said. "QA was broadly on the receiving end of this because it [Surgeon Simulator 2] is a multilayer game, there was a lot of demand on QA. So it's fair to say that leading into launch, there were people who were working too much on Surgeon. I wouldn't deny that. But we don't ask people to do that. At times it happens and we try to correct it after the fact, like we did this time around."
Olifiers said that after Surgeon Simulator 2 launched in August, Bossa asked staff how many hours they put in and either paid them overtime or gave them time in lieu. Most people took a mix of both. Bossa will now keep on top of the hours staff are putting in, in order to flag issues.
"But the fact remains that they did [crunch] and when we found out some of these hours were too much, the best we could do was to go back and say look, at least here is extra time for what you have put in, financial reward, and if you want to take some time out because of that to recover, etc. do so now," Olifiers said. "It's the best we can do.
"But I accept we should have been more diligent when people were pulling in these hours and found out, but since March things are changing under our feet quite a lot. It's very easy to take the eye off the ball, especially when people are not around you anymore.
"A lot of our culture hinges on the fact we all work at the same place. We used to walk around, talk to each other, we know what's going on. Since we went remote, that all became far more complicated. But it's not policy. We don't like crunch. We don't like long hours. We don't ask people to do it. But it can happen up to launch.
"We don't always get it right. The thing is, we try a lot to get everything we can right. I don't want people to be compromising their work and life and their personal life. So we do as much as we can for people to understand that and to preserve that."
While Bossa is undergoing the current round of redundancies (it hits QA and marketing, mainly), Olifiers said management is looking for a "fresh start" for the company in 2021. It is a big period of change in the studio - two senior members of staff recently left, and Bossa's marketing operation is being "rebooted" into a publishing function. Meanwhile, I Am Fish, the sequel to I Am Bread, is in development. And a brand new game is set to enter production in February.
Olifiers said Bossa is now rethinking the kind of games it makes to take into account changing consumer trends and new industry platforms, such as subscription services.
"There's a lot changing in the games industry. A lot," Olifiers said.
"We thought this would come to a head in 2022, maybe 2023. But it's here now. We have games for instance, like Among Us that didn't change anything in the past two years, but all of a sudden became a success. The industry and the players changed - not the game. So we are faced with this new reality, that people want more shorter experiences, more social experiences. And a lot of the stuff we had been building was different from that. When we see the future of our games succeeding in systems like subscription services, like Apple Arcade or Game Pass or PlayStation Now, they're very different games from what we build today - just put it on Steam with a price tag and go for it.
"So, we are excited, especially because of the new games we're going to make next year. I Am Fish is looking great. We're still launching Surgeon next year. And we have a new game starting in February. All this is super cool for us.
"Once we finish this transition and we are in the right shape, in January, literally we speak in terms of a fresh start. I just hope that fresh start is as good as we think it should be. We never know. But internally people are motivated. They are happy. But the people who are affected by these changes are going through something very personal that the best we can do is to support them."