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Goodbye Roll7, you deserved so much better

A cherished font of bright new ideas, closed for good.

A bright and colourful piece of cartoon-style artwork for OlliOlli World, showing a young skateboarder with a wrist in plaster cast standing atop a huge wooden ramp.
Image credit: Roll7

I was stunned this morning to read about the sudden closure of award-winning British studio Roll7 by parent company Take-Two, as I'm sure so many of you were. It hasn't been officially confirmed by either company yet but there are reports out there and people talking in all-but-confirmation tones on social media. It seems beyond doubt.

But it was barely a blink of an eye ago - November 2023 - when I was sitting with studio co-founder John Ribbins, and creative director Andreas Yiannikaris, to talk about 15 years of Roll7 and what was coming next. They were each excited about new games they were directing there, with Ribbins hopeful we'd learn more about his one this year. But those games, I expect, are now cancelled. To me at the time they looked as comfortable and content as anyone in game development could be. Belonging to a big company like Take-Two, via its publishing label Private Division, looked good on them.

It makes me cringe to think we even talked about the layoffs ravaging the games industry, which have evidently continued well into this year. I didn't put this quote in my piece but it's pertinent now: when asked about layoffs and whether they'd affected Roll7, Ribbins said, "I don't think anyone feels safe, but I feel very fortunate that we became part of the Take-Two family when we did, and also very fortunate that they still back what we want to do. Obviously there's stuff we're doing we can't really talk about at the moment, because it's early, but to be in a position where that is happening when lots of places around us are struggling - in a position to keep doing what we're doing with the people that were doing it with: we're really lucky to be in that position."

That doesn't sound like someone who foresaw this, and it must be such a blow. It goes without saying that our thoughts at Eurogamer are with the team and everyone affected.

It's a double-blow because of what Roll7 represented and which we're now apparently losing. Roll7 made startlingly original games, and it brought a sense of independent experimentation and imagination to a high-end market. You only have to look at 2022's OlliOlli World and Rollerdrome to see what I mean. Both games are dazzlingly bright and creative. OlliOlli World took the 2D skateboarding concept pioneered by the studio to fever dream-levels - to alien worlds and bright pink colour-drenched playgrounds. Rollerdrome was even wilder: a rollerskating game but also an arena combat game, with a trick mechanic that slows time so you can aim at enemies, and that reloads your guns. These aren't just new games, they're new ideas. That's the output we're losing here.

What's galling is that it's this kind of game, and the perceived value of it, that Private Division and Take-Two are apparently OK with sacrificing. Of all the games and studios on their books, these are the ones that can go. Granted, Roll7 games might not have been money-spinners like Grand Theft Auto Online is, but is that all that matters? Rollerdrome passed over a million players just last month. And we're not talking about the latent drain of a huge team here too - we're talking about 60 people, which is how big Roll7 was when I spoke to Ribbins and Yiannikaris at the end of last year. I bet that kind of expenditure barely registers next to Rockstar's - or next to some of the compensation packages received by Take-Two's leadership. The top two executives split compensation packages worth $72m last year.

Moreover, the rug has been pulled at a time when it looked like working within publishers like Take-Two might be a feasible option for a small studio in 2024. It seemed like a place where that kind of operation might be nurtured and supported. Ribbins seemed enormously positive - even relieved - when I spoke to him about the kind of stability and security Take-Two had offered since purchasing the company in 2021, and made it sound vastly preferable to the relentless pitching and fight to survive Roll7 had faced as an independent studio. There was private healthcare, benefits - all things Roll7 hadn't been able to offer staff before. Yet here we are, reminded of the dangers of being part of a big company and the cold way it can "percentage cut" a vast staff force and reduce people and their work to numbers and little more.

The Rollerdrome BAFTA win was only a year ago. The studio was highlighting it on social media the other day.Watch on YouTube

Roll7 wasn't just a company making games, it was a no-crunch-toting, skateboarding, down-to-earth collection of people creating things only it could create. Strange as it feels to say now, we didn't have 2D skateboarding games before Roll7 came along and made OlliOlli, and delighted us all with it. Laser League was a new idea. Not a Hero was a new idea. Rollerdrome was a new idea. Even the iterations of OlliOlli were notably different from each other. New ideas were Roll7's business. The closest you could get to linking it all together was in talking about the "flow state" the studio's games were played with - that's a buzzword they loved. This was a studio whose output you couldn't predict, and it was so exciting because of it. Neither of the new games were going to be OlliOlli-related, it sounded like, so what were they going to be? It's nearly impossible to guess, and that's priceless. We'll probably never see those now because who else could make a Roll7 game?

Roll7 was - and I still can't accept the use of past tense here - a games studio that led by example, providing an example we could cling to in a turbulent time. But that run, like a glowing run in an OlliOlli game, has now been abruptly ended, all that award-winning history stopped, and I doubt the people who made the decision at Take-Two will bat an eyelid about it. The hope is Roll7 might somehow find a way to roll again, of course, if not by that name then by another. But in a market of closed doors and tightened belts, it's hard to see where the opportunity might come. I hope somewhere there's a door ajar and that someone sees the value in what's being lost, though, because games will be a less colourful place without Roll7. Their loss is our loss. It's a great shame.

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