Starbreeze Told Devs Walking Dead E3 Demo Was a Hit Despite Nobody Wanting to Play It

Starbreeze Told Devs Walking Dead E3 Demo Was a Hit Despite Nobody Wanting to Play It

"You can't solve an issue if you don't admit you have one."

Starbreeze has had a rocky couple of months. While the company has been suffering quietly for years, the public came to learn of Starbreeze's financial problems around the release of Overkill's The Walking Dead, which may have had a massive hand in bringing the company down. Communication on The Walking Dead's development was so bad that a part of its E3 demo was canceled due to its poor performance and nobody bothered to tell the developers.

A new report from Eurogamer recounts the troubles at Starbreeze, best known for the Payday series. Starbreeze's problems extends far beyond its most recent title, Overkill's The Walking Dead, but development on that title accelerated the problems the Swedish company was already facing.

Starbreeze originally signed a deal with Skybound Entertainment in 2014 to license The Walking Dead series for a new video game title. The promise was that Starbreeze could make Payday meets The Walking Dead, but the pitch later evolved into a live-service title that could be on par with Bungie's Destiny.

Originally slated to be developed on the proprietary Diesel engine that powers Payday, Starbreeze spent about 73m SEK in shares (about 8 million USD) to purchase a new game engine called Valhalla. This new engine was going to serve as the basis of all Starbreeze games going into the future, including The Walking Dead. The problem was, as one Starbreeze developers says, "It was impossible to use."

After years of struggling to develop The Walking Dead on Valhalla, Starbreeze gave in and announced in April 2017 it would move development to Epic's Unreal Engine. This proved just as problematic as years' worth of work on The Walking Dead on Valhalla was now obsolete. Starbreeze developers now had a year-and-a-half to basically remake the game completely in Unreal. To make matters worse, the company intentionally kept developers in the dark about reactions to The Walking Dead. At E3 2018 developers were told that everybody loved the demo, despite middling press coverage.

"We said, 'don't worry about the negative people. It was not like this. We can assure you on the booth, people loved the game,'" recalls one Starbreeze source. "But we had guys on our team who were there who said, 'no that's not true. We had to cancel one demo because people didn't want to play that level because that level was not good or fun.' But they never said that to us. You can't solve an issue if you don't admit you have one."

Overkill's The Walking Dead eventually shipped on November 6, 2018 to poor reviews and worse sales. But according to the developers, this was expected. "This is why the game feels so alpha," says one developer. "It's because it is. It's a year-and-a-half in. It's a beta game because we made it in a year-and-a-half."

The full report recounts a series of financial missteps by Starbreeze CEO Bo Andersson. The company spent millions into opening costly studios in the United States, and investing heavily into VR technology, including development on an unreleased VR headset. In December Andersson was fired as CEO, and in the same month the company was raided by Swedish authorities over an investigation into insider trading.

The fate of Starbreeze is yet unknown. Though there's apparently some mention of a buyout, Starbreeze has millions in debt that needs to be repaid by a potential buyer. Starbreeze is currently in the hands of managers deciding the best course of action for the company, and there are 200 jobs at risk if Starbreeze goes under. For the full report check out Eurogamer.

Sometimes we include links to online retail stores. If you click on one and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. See our terms & conditions.

Matt Kim

News Editor

Matt Kim is a former freelance writer who's covered video games and digital media. He likes video games as spectacle and is easily distracted by bright lights or clever bits of dialogue. He also once wrote about personal finance, but that's neither here nor there.

Read this next

Starbreeze Hit With Massive Layoffs as It Fights for Long-Term Survival

The Swedish developer will layoff 60 employees by the end of the year.

Overkill's The Walking Dead Canceled on Consoles, PC Support Ending

That which was once dead truly dies again.

Rune 2 Publisher: Bethesda's Closure of Human Heading Studios is "Shocking News"

Publishing partner Ragnarok LLC says it learned of studio's closure at the same time as everyone else.

Here's Why Pokemon Fans Should Take the #GameFreakLied Claims With a Grain of Salt

Sword and Shield might reuse assets, but model wireframes aren't the end of the argument.

Several Big Google Stadia Features Won't Go Live Until 2020

Family sharing, Android compatibility, and more are missing the launch window.

Pokemon Sword and Shield's Director Has a Pretty Simple Explanation for Why Exp. Share is Always On

The new game's director explains why one feature is locked in the On position.

More News

Rune 2 Publisher: Bethesda's Closure of Human Heading Studios is "Shocking News"

Publishing partner Ragnarok LLC says it learned of studio's closure at the same time as everyone else.

Here's Why Pokemon Fans Should Take the #GameFreakLied Claims With a Grain of Salt

Sword and Shield might reuse assets, but model wireframes aren't the end of the argument.

Several Big Google Stadia Features Won't Go Live Until 2020

Family sharing, Android compatibility, and more are missing the launch window.

Pokemon Sword and Shield's Director Has a Pretty Simple Explanation for Why Exp. Share is Always On

The new game's director explains why one feature is locked in the On position.

More on PC

Rune 2 Publisher: Bethesda's Closure of Human Heading Studios is "Shocking News"

Publishing partner Ragnarok LLC says it learned of studio's closure at the same time as everyone else.

Rockstar is Promising Imminent Patch for Red Dead Redemption 2's Stuttering Woes

PC players with Nvidia gear have been hootin' and hollerin' for a fix.

AOC Reveals Her League of Legends Ranking, Which is Actually Higher Than Rick Fox's

Let's get an exhibition match in Summoner's Rift going.

A Massive Stardew Valley Update is Dropping Very Soon

The free 1.4 update is just around the corner for PC players.

Xbox X019 Could be Where All of Microsoft's Shiny New Studios Start to Bear Fruit

It looks like the many, many studios of Xbox will have some news to share.

Bethesda Starts a New Studio Around the Original Prey Development Team

Human Head also worked on Prey 2 for Bethesda prior to its cancellation in 2014.

Shovel Knight's Final Expansions Are Coming Next Month

They'll mark the end of Treasure Trove, but not for our brave blue Knight.

More Action Games

Rune 2 Publisher: Bethesda's Closure of Human Heading Studios is "Shocking News"

Publishing partner Ragnarok LLC says it learned of studio's closure at the same time as everyone else.

Rockstar is Promising Imminent Patch for Red Dead Redemption 2's Stuttering Woes

PC players with Nvidia gear have been hootin' and hollerin' for a fix.

How to Get Small Game Arrows in Red Dead Online

We go over how to get the smallest arrows as quickly as possible.

How to Repair and Recharge Vehicles in Death Stranding

Increase your vehicle's durability with these simple tips.