Doing business in the massively multiplayer online role-playing game space is tough going, unless you happen to be Blizzard Entertainment or have a game called World of Warcraft. Since those two names go hand in hand, you probably don’t. Cryptic Studios doesn’t, though the team there has plenty of experience with MMOs thanks to their fine work on releases like City of Heroes/Villains, Star Trek Online and Champions Online. Unfortunately, experience doesn’t always mean big subscription numbers, and the same losses that led to embracing a free-to-play, microtransaction-based business model for Champions are now prompting parent company Atari to sell off Cryptic.
The news comes in the publisher’s just-released earnings report, which reveals that its interest in the studio is being divested and that, as of March 31, the Champions dev is officially a “discontinued operation” (via Gamasutra). Support will be maintained for current Cryptic releases — including the developer’s ongoing work on a new Neverwinter game planned for a late 2011 release — while Atari seeks a buyer.
Hopefully this won’t lead to a situation like the one Activision had with Project Gotham Racing and Geometry Wars dev Bizarre Creations earlier this year. The publisher sought to sell the ailing studio, but no one stepped forward. Ultimately, the team was dissolved. While talent is talent regardless of who the employer is, Bizarre did some great work as a group and fans were sad to see it go.
Cryptic could be heading in a similar direction. The company, which was founded in 2000, has worked almost exclusively on hardcore gamer-focused MMOs since its inception. There’s just not a huge demand for such efforts right now, what with Warcraft continuing its dominance and Electronic Arts and BioWare‘s Star Wars: The Old Republic soon to be vying for attention. Neverwinter features online play but descriptions peg it more as a story-driven co-op RPG, but it could also turn out to be the studio’s swan song if a buyer fails to step forward.