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United Front Games: Indie games developer shutters Vancouver studio

The shuttering of the funky Yaletown studio, which left its 150 employees out of work, was abrupt but not necessarily unexpected.

“It was one of the last, or one of the few last, independent gaming developers,” said Julien Lavoie of the Entertainment Software Association of Canada, of which UFG is a member.

“Whether it’s signalling a larger trend, it’s a hard one to really predict but there were quite a few of these independents six or seven years ago and that segment has been really whittled down.”

He said the “triple-A” or high-quality production games designed for multiple players on consoles, are now almost exclusively produced by the large industry players, such as Electronic Arts and Warner Bros.

“There used to be a number of studios and now the publishers are producing the games in their own in-house studios,” said Lavoie.

Smaller independents can’t compete because the production costs are high, he said.

UFG ended production on a game called Triad Wars before it was ready for sale and lost a Disney contract in the past 12 months, which were “two huge blows,” said Victor Lucas of, which covers the games industry.

“It’s an indication that a lot of publishers are now producing their own games and they’re swallowing up the little ones,” he said. “It is indicative of the high cost of producing this type of video.”

Like most of the early users of Smash & Grab commenting online about the game, Lucas said the quality of the game was high, with lots of variety and diversity.

“They are an incredible group of people and I wish them all great success with the change,” he said.

The company described its latest game as “an underground competition where gangs of the future battle it out for loot, weapons and infamy inside a corporate urban dystopia.”

Players could create their own characters to “fight, loot and craft your weaponry to come out on top.”

“Ahhchoo” called it “a game that makes you wanna call out for work or miss school or stay up all night. It’s like once you start playing you really don’t wanna stop. The customization for the characters are pretty cool. There is no dull moment during the match and the matches aren’t overextended or longer than they need to be.

“This game looks and feels promising. The developers are communicating with the community and keeps everyone informed. For a $17 to $20 game it is worth every penny. Happy looting!”

And from “6ixflow”: “Is this game a must have? Sure, if you like to kill people, co-operate with your teammates, rob, vandalize and so on. Big thumbs up, you guys did a gorgeous job.”

But RADN3TAR didn’t recommend the game, labelling it “good concept, bad execution” because of unresponsive controls, boring gameplay mechanics and poor graphics.

“To throw this out in a free weekend at this state feels bad, man,” he posted. 

The shuttering of the studio seemed sudden. As recently as Oct. 5, an S&G developer named Sulli on invited feedback on the early access version, and a Jeff O’Connell, head of production at UFG, in an online interview with posted this week said the company had been working on Smash & Grab for couple of years.

United Front Games was created in 2007 by former employees of Electronic Arts, Radical Entertainment, Black Box Games, Rockstar Games, Propaganda Games and Next Level Games, according to Polygon, an industry website.

Industry watchers said the employees should have no trouble finding new jobs because of the shortage of talent in the industry.

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