With a heavy heart Dan Pinchback in an interview with Eurogamer and sharing in a personal blog post has announced that the doors to The Chinese Room will be closing, but not for good. The story begins back in late July when both creative directors Dan Pinchback and his wife Jessica Curry laid off their entire staff. While that at first sounds like cause for alarm for the twelve-person team, Dan and Jessica made sure those they laid off could get back on their feet before anything else.
The Chinese Room had seen critical success with games like Dear Esther and Everybody’s Gone to Rapture (it won three BAFTAS) and new title So Let Us Melt was in development. So, what happened? Due to a mix of situations, The Chinese Room just couldn’t support itself on its own anymore, Dan stating specifically the number of challenges the studio faced.
“To cut a long story short, the situation – between financial pressures, trying to keep the lights on for the employed team, the stress of end-of-development, health issues – just wasn’t a tenable thing anymore. It was time to take a break, recharge, recover and have a good think about the future.”
Layoffs were of course the hardest part, nobody wants to let people go, especially when they’ve worked so closely for years going through development cycle hell and back. The Chinese Room wasn’t just going to kick people out on the street though, they made sure to give tentative notice helping those they were laying off find stable work at other studios. It’s safe to say now, that all under their employ have found work with other studios.
“It didn’t feel fair to anyone, least of all people who had spent a year working on a project, to have its completion and release overshadowed by news about the studio closing, so we’ve held off on the announcement until we felt we were clear of all of that.”
Dan goes on to state in the blog post that this is not the end for The Chinese Room, this is more a temporary pause. All games are still on sale, merch, soundtracks even the Dear Esther tour they have planned. Things will continue to tick away just more toned back. They are still working on The 13th Interior (formerly Total Dark) just with no team, but they do plan on throwing a team at it when it’s ready. They even have plans and a bit of funding to push for a prototype period for Little Orpheus towards the end of the year. Things are moving, just really slowed down.
This will be a chance for Dan and Jessica to step back and look at what they have started, even if it was just two artist trying to make games who became development heads. That’s even more reason for them to step back though, Dan stating they need to focus on why they started making games in the first place. They both love it, but never intended to become development leads.
“We’re taking time to figure that out; how we get to be creatives, not managing directors. That’s a whole other job and skill set and lots of people do it really well and love doing it. But it’s not for us – it just led to stress and burn-out and a desperate need to actually make stuff again- whether that’s art, music, games, writing. So this break is a chance to reconnect with all of that, and we figure we’ve earned that time.”
While this is closing a chapter for The Chinese Room it definitely doesn’t look like the end. Dan and Jessica have created a wonderful company that has seen success where many indie studios wouldn’t, they’ve come out with how the work honestly and openly, at the end of the day that leads to a happier fan base and the games fans love.