From Lear Canada, To Graphic Design, To Video Games
I remember my dad always getting laid off from his job back when I was a geeky teenager. He was a union man who worked for Lear Canada as a welder for 24 years. Lear Canada was a huge, historical, manufacturer right in the heart of Kitchener, Ontario, that produced seating components for the automotive industry. I have fond memories of driving to pick him up after his shift on numerous occasions.
My sister even spent a short time working there after high school…the money Lear paid was good back then and attracted a lot of teens – many of which who didn’t finish high school because, well, let’s face it, why would they need to when Lear Canada was offering such a good wage (that was the thinking back then of course) – but much to their dismay, my dad’s and every other blue collar worker there, multiple lay offs, year after year was the reality.
Lear Canada finally shut down at the end of January, 2016. Volatile industry number one.
As for myself, I’ve only been laid off once. I first became a production artist for Watt International back in 2007. Watt is a leading consumer brands and retail agency in Toronto. I started out as a freelancer, eventually became full-time, then let go later in 2009 due to the company not having enough work, and re-hired back as a freelancer because new work had surfaced and Watt was now understaffed to deliver.
This type of “recycling” of employees was very similar to what my dad went through with his job. When work gets slow, you get let go, but when it picks back up, you’re called back into action. The only difference is that with graphic design (or production) you can be a little more prepared for it because as a freelancer you know when you’re contract is going to end…most of the time. There are some cases when you don’t. Volatile industry number two.
Watt is where I learned that the graphic design industry also has it’s own ebbs and flows. Watt is still doing business, as far as I know – I no longer freelance for them and have since moved on to work for other companies – but I know of many graphic related companies that have suffered the same fate as my dad’s.
So what’s the common denominator here? What do these delightful tales from my past, about Lear Canada and Watt International, have to do with United Front Games? Well, they’re all companies that had some sort of impact on my (working and gaming) life. Their layoffs and/or shut downs have caused some temporary setbacks, but I feel that it is my sworn duty to showcase just one of these companies, in a way that a gaming worker like myself only knows how. By doing a series of let’s plays, courtesy of United Front Games: a developer that has regrettably gone to that great, big, checkpoint in the sky, but they won’t be forgotten.
Another Good Studio Bites The Dust
It comes as no surprise that another game developer has closed it’s doors for good. In an industry so unpredictable, many developers (and publishers) struggle to maintain operations. It’s a game of hit-or-miss that these very talented group of individuals have to play, and every once in a while developers end up missing the mark.
When you’re an independent developer your game has to be a smash hit. It’s that plain and simple. Your game has to sell millions of copies or you’re business is dead. I’m no expert, but I’m starting to realize that this has to be incredibly tough to do when there are so many types of games already floating around, and new ones being announced every single year. With all of the great Triple A games already out there, not to mention the indie ones, developers have to figure out where their games fit in and what makes them stand out.
But even if you have the perfect formula for the perfect game, there are no guarantees that it’s going to sell. If you launch your game within the same window as another big game, that will almost always kill your chance to penetrate the market. If your game gets delayed and/or takes too long to develop, that could kill the momentum. If an influential YouTuber, or credible game journalist, gives your game a bad review, that could certainly impact sales as well. There are just too many variables. But even if none of these plausible scenarios affect game sales, there’s still the fact that the market is super-saturated with games that consumers are already satisfied with.
For example, if a fraction of all gamers are exclusively playing Call of Duty, and another fraction of them are playing Destiny, and another fraction of them are playing Overwatch, and so on, who’s left to play anything else? There are only so many gamers to play these games. There’s too much supply and not enough demand because there’s just not enough people. Sorry, I’m going off on a tangent here. This is a brand new topic (about the state of game sales) that I should revisit…perhaps in the new year. I need to get back to the point.
United Front Games released a smash hit four years ago, so that wasn’t the issue. The issue was that they didn’t follow it up with a sequel. Now I won’t pretend to know why it took them so long to start working on, and announce, Sleeping Dogs 2. As the overseeing publisher (with all the money), Square Enix must have had their reasons. Maybe the sequel was in early development and Square decided to put it on hold. Whatever the reason it’s always saddening to hear about another developer shutting down, but it’s even more sad when I hear that the developers are Canadian.
In mid October it was reported that United Front Games was shutting down. (I’m very much dialled into gaming news, so when I see a headline about another studio closing, I read as much as I can on the matter. Especially if it’s a studio that I know and love.)
I’ve dedicated a few of my filthy casual, PS3 gaming moments to Sleeping Dogs back in the day (when it was free on PlayStation Plus). Awesome game…didn’t finish it though – quelle surprise – but I knew that I wanted to get back to it one day. Looks like that day has finally arrived, but before we get to that, here’s what was also truly surprising about this latest development for UFG.
The two pieces of information that took me completely by surprise, about the now defunct developer is that, one: they’re based in Vancouver, and two: they’re the studio that actually worked on the Marvel Battlegrounds play set for Disney Infinity 3.0. How did I not know? Avalanche Software (who shut down back in May) was the lead developer – they created all of the toys and video game assets – but United Front Games was the studio that Disney Interactive (also defunct) chose to work on Battlegrounds.
I had no idea that this game that I loved so much was outsourced to UFG, nor did I realize that they were Canadian. I feel like the post I did back in August is incomplete now that I’ve stumbled upon this new information. So I’m writing this post to provide clarity and pay homage to a great Canadian studio that is no longer with us. There are a few other notable studios that closed this year, but United Front Games is the one that resonates with me the most. Ok, time for some let’s plays!
1️⃣ Marvel Battlegrounds (Disney Infinity 3.0)
This game needs no introduction. I love Marvel – you know this – and this awesome, toys-to-life, brawler is the closest game I’ll ever have to Super Mario Smash…I like to call it Marvel Smash (or MASH). I now have all of the mini figures – “Thank you Amazon!” – so when my family and friends come over, it’s a no-holds-barred blood sport!
⬇️ Please click on the image to watch the Marvel Battlegrounds Let’s Play
2️⃣ Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition
This is, undoubtably, the game, the smash hit, that United Front Games is best known for. Sleeping Dogs should have gotten a sequel – maybe then things would have worked out differently – but instead they tried to give us Triad Wars: the ambitious, online, open-world, Sleeping Dog spin-off for PC. Now I’m not going to lie, Triad Wars looked pretty dope, but clearly it just didn’t gain the traction it needed to keep it’s development going. Triad Wars was cancelled on January 20, 2016 – “Talk about reading the tea leaves!” Here’s hoping Square Enix can find a worthy developer to continue the actual Sleeping Dogs story.
⬇️ Please click on the image to watch the Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition Let’s Play
3️⃣ Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition (Xbox One)
Without question, Tomb Raider is one of my favourite games on PlayStation! Now it appears that UFG were the devs responsible for porting this game to Xbox One – “Blasphemers!” – but due to the nature of their tragic demise, I’ll allow it. Tomb Raider is a special game, and I love the way the controls feel when you pull back, aim and shoot, with your bow and arrow! I did my first Tomb Raider let’s play two years ago – here’s the next installment (finally)!
⬇️ Please click on the image to watch the Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition Let’s Play
And last, but not least…
4️⃣ ModNation Racers
Don’t let the cute and cuddly, Powerpuff-like, characters fool you – ModNation Racers is a masterclass create, share, and play, PS3 game! Even though I didn’t spend a fair amount of time racing (back in the day) – I did mess around, quite a bit, with the creation tools – this game definitely deserves an honourable mention. I created a pretty basic racetrack six years ago, and if I had stuck around a little while longer, I would have pushed myself to be more creative. Still, there was fun to be had even though it was short-lived. I now know that I’m not much for these creation-type games, but this one by United Front Games made an impression. The online community for this game is still active, believe it or not. It’s small, but it’s there. Another reason (perhaps) not to sleep on this game, but you’d better act fast before this community vanishes into thin air.
⬇️ Please click on the image to watch the ModNation Racers Let’s Play
To The Talented Developers Of United Front Games
It’s very sad to see (yet) another studio succumb to the (sometimes) harsh and unjust realities of the games industry. May each of you bounce back swiftly, and I wish you all the best in your future endeavors.