It's a tough time for one of the game industry's more creative studios. The Chinese Room, the developers behind award-winners like Everybody's Gone to the Rapture and Dear Esther, has revealed that it's "going dark" for the months ahead. The company isn't shutting entirely, but it quietly laid off its team after finishing its new title So Let Us Melt and won't be a "fully active" firm "for the time being." As co-founder Dan Pinchbeck explains, it's really a combination of factors that prompted the decision.
Pinchbeck makes no bones about Chinese Room's bottom line: there were "financial pressures" that included keeping the full team running. Add Pinchbeck's own health concerns and the usual stress of wrapping development on a game (many studios are all too familiar with crunch time), and it was clear that it was time to have a "good think about the future."
Right now, just three people are working on upcoming titles like The 13th Interior and Little Orpheus. It's not certain exactly how the move will delay those projects, but it's reasonable to say they won't be ready all that soon.
The news is unfortunate, but it's not entirely unexpected. While "walking simulator" titles like Rapture receive heaps of critical praise for their storytelling and rejection of video game tropes (they're more like dramas with a dash of non-linear narrative), they're seldom commercial successes. A game like Firewatch is more the exception than the rule, and it's still not going to be a blockbuster hit the way Call of Duty might be. Like it or not, these teams are bound to face uncertain futures.