There are people who have created – or at least had a major hand in creating – some of the biggest game franchises of all time, only to voluntary walk away from them soon thereafter. Here are some of the most famous examples of that (and the reasons why they did it).
Creator: Toby Gard
Creation: Tomb Raider
Though it hasn’t always been for strictly game-related (or G-rated) reasons, Lara Croft is unarguably one of the most famous and acclaimed video game characters of all time. And the franchise that she headlines has sold a combined 50+ million units, as well as spawning a movie franchise that grossed over $200 million. None of that would’ve been possible without Toby Gard, who not only designed Lara herself but was the key creative force behind the first game, animating the cut-scenes, building and animating the other characters, storyboarding the FMV sequences, and directly overseeing the level design team.
While it was Gard who ultimately decided to make Lara an overtly sexy character by giving her a huge rack squeezed into a painted-on tank top further accentuated by a teeny waist, he still resented his team at Core Design’s decision to make her and her physical assets the focal point of the game’s marketing campaign, playing up her breasts and cleavage and putting her into suggestive poses in print ads and on magazine covers. In spite of his perceived oversexualization of his character, he remained interested in continuing his work on the franchise as plans for a sequel went underway. However, with Tomb Raider and even Lara herself now established as massively successful brands, Gard’s input wasn’t deemed quite as essential by the rest of the company as it once was. Lara’s adventures and her boobs sold themselves no matter who was “in charge” of them, it was basically decided. Once it became clear that he wasn’t going to be in full creative control of Tomb Raider II and was being “out voted” by the rest of the team in terms of the direction the series was taking, Gard chose to leave the team – and his massively popular, multi-million dollar creation – behind rather than compromising his creative vision, having only done any measurable work on the first game.
Gard’s estrangement from Lara wouldn’t be permanent, however. As critical and commercial success for Tomb Raider began to flag following too many similar and increasingly dated sequels and capped off by the disastrous Angel of Darkness, publisher Eidos decided to take a step back and go about rebooting the franchise. They reached out to Gard to rejoin the fold after being completely separated from all things Tomb Raider for nearly a decade. Coincidentally, in all that time Gard only released one video game, the much-delayed (it was in development for nearly 7 years) and tepidly-received Galleon. Two years after that game’s release (and the closing of the team he founded following his departure from Core), he helped TR‘s new developer Crystal Dynamics create 2006’s Tomb Raider: Legend, which was a big hit and seen as a return to glory for the embattled franchise. He continued working with Crystal Dynamics on the proceeding TR titles Anniversary (a pseudo-remake of the first game) and Underworld, even being nominated for a Writer’s Guild of America award for “Best Writing in a Video Game” for his work co-penning Underworld‘s story. He is not officially involved in the current second reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise that began with the 2013 Tomb Raider game and continues through the upcoming Rise of the Tomb Raider, though some have suggested that he still serves as an uncredited “creative consultant” on the current series.
Creator: Alex Seropian
When Alex Seropian formed Bungie in 1991, still a college student, it was the very definition of do-it-yourself game production: for his first game, he not only created it himself but also wrote the disks and assembled the boxes on his own with money borrowed from friends and family. When his classmate Jason Jones joined the team, the duo began creating role-playing games and soon made a name for themselves by focusing primarily on the Mac platform and developing such cult classics as Minotaur: The Labyrinths of Crete and Pathways Into Darkness. They then created Marathon and its sequel, establishing themselves as an FPS and action game developer to reckon with. It was during the production of their game Halo – originally envisioned as third-person shooter, by the way – that Microsoft took notice and decided to acquire the company, having so much trust in Bungie’s talent that they positioned Halo as the marquee title to launch Microsoft’s first console: the Xbox.
Alas, blockbuster AAA game development with huge teams and under the eye of giant publishers didn’t feel right to Seropian, nor did the decision to move the company from his hometown of Chicago to the sunny shores of California. Seropian wanted to return to the days of small-scale, small-team, independent game development (and in the Midwest). So he left Bungie early into the development of Halo 2 in order to form Wideload Games. As we all know, it was with Halo 2 that the franchise went from solid, well-liked launch game for a fledgling system to a massive hit franchise on a now-established platform, and solidified its role as the Xbox’s signature property. The split between Seropian and Bungie was amicable, however, so much so that Seropian was able to use the Halo engine for Wideload’s first title: Stubbs the Zombie. Seropian also oversaw the development of the goofy party game Hail to the Chimp at Wideload before the developer was acquired by Disney in 2009, at which point Seropian became the head of Disney’s own in-house development team, Disney Interactive Studios.
Seropian left Disney three years later to form Industrial Toys, a developer focused on mobile gaming. The company’s first title, Midnight Star, was released in February of this year, and is a – wait for it – sci-fi-based first-person shooter. He may have gone the longest of anybody else on this list without making a similar game to his abandoned creation, but they all seem to inevitably revisit it sooner or later.
Creator: David Jones
Creation: Grand Theft Auto
This one is going to require a bit of explaining. For starters, DMA Design’s most successful series as DMA Design was actually Lemmings. It wouldn’t be until DMA became Rockstar North and Grand Theft Auto entered the third dimension with GTA3 that the series really became a hugely successful, multi-million dollar success on the level of a Mario or Street Fighter. And Jones actually remained with the series for two core installments and two expansion packs, hardly “shortly after” the creation of the series. Still, given his departure just before the franchise went from “successful” to “massive worldwide blockbuster record-breaking industry-changing successful” is still much in the spirit of the other people on this list, especially in terms of the money and recognition he left on the table by leaving GTA behind at such a critical juncture.
These days, when you think about GTA and Rockstar you probably think about the Houser brothers (Dan and Sam), who have been directly steering the core franchise since part 3. And they certainly deserve a huge share of the credit for making GTA what it is today. The fact remains, however, that the original concept for the game came from Jones’ “Race’n’Chase” cops and robbers game idea, only it was flipped to having the player control the “robbers” rather than the other way around and having the game have more attitude and subversiveness than Jones had originally intended. Still, most of the aesthetic (including the iconic overhead view) and the basic gameplay systems stemmed from Jones’ original concept, and he still did the bulk of the design work on GTA himself. He remained the primary creative force behind the series through the two London expansion packs of the first game and development of the second. However, DMA Design’s business path through the latter half of the 90’s was extremely tumultuous, with the developer being sold three times in two years before finally getting acquired by Take-Two Interactive in 1998. That was when DMA Design became Rockstar Games (later evolving into Rockstar North once “Rockstar Games” became a publisher that oversaw multiple developers. Confused yet?).
That was also when David Jones had had enough. Tired of the bureaucracy of all of the buying and selling, as well as steadily increasing tension with the Houser brothers over the directon of GTA, Jones decided to leave the industry all together for a time. He only took a little over a year off before returning to video games with the founding of his new company Realtime Worlds in 2002, much of which he staffed with members of Rage Games that he had purchased specifically for that reason. Realtime would spend 5 years creating their first title, the critically-acclaimed Crackdown. In a lot of ways, Crackdown felt like what GTA would’ve evolved into had Jones remained in control of the series, with its more lighthearted tone, comic book-style aesthetic, focus on fun and emergent gameplay over story and set-pieces, and returning to the original concept of Race’n’Chase by having players control the cops rather than the crooks. In spite of Crackdown‘s popularity and strong sales, publisher (and rights holder) Microsoft wasn’t pushing for a sequel, and instead of campaigning for one, Jones and Realtime moved onto a completely new project called APB: All Points Bulletin (Microsoft would eventually go forward with Crackdown 2 with a different developer). Unfortunately, APB ended up being one of the biggest disasters in recent gaming history, with development costs soaring past $100 million but debuting to slow sales and negative press. Servers for the online-only game were shut down less than a year after the game’s launch, and a later relaunch as a free-to-play title didn’t do much to renew interest in the fledgling property. There are currently plans to revive the game on the PS4 and XB1, however, so APB might still have a shot – though it isn’t being handled by Realtime Worlds, which was forced to shut down following the massive financial losses suffered by APB‘s failure.
So what is David Jones up to now? Heading up development of Crackdown 3 with his new team, Reagant Games (with tech help from cloud processing company Cloudgine…which Jones also co-founded, by the way). The title is slated to hit the Xbox One in 2016. It’s going to be a good long while before Grand Theft Auto 6, so what better way to pass the time until then with the latest open-world game by the grandfather of the GTA franchise?