Developing Journey Bankrupted thatgamecompany Says Founder

By Ishaan . February 11, 2013 . 11:00am

Journey development studio, thatgamecompany, drove themselves to bankruptcy working on that particular game, reveals company co-founded, Jenova Chen.


In an interview with Polygon, Chen shares: "I wouldn’t say that the development of Journey was a successful example of game development. We bankrupted the company."


This is despite the fact that Journey was incredibly well-received as a PlayStation 3 download title. The game was pushed back by two years in order to achieve its vision, and while Chen is thankful to Sony for their support and allowing thatgamecompany to delay the game, he also feels that being on a single platform limited its success.


Because of this, Chen wants his next game to be a bigger commercial success, so that he can prove the viability of working on artistic games.


"I run into a lot of lost and frustrated students who study games to work on great art, but then find there is no place for them," Chen shares. "I feel responsible for them because I showed them that is possible, but there is no place for them."


As a result, thatgamecompany’s next game will not be exclusive to any one platform. The new game, which has not yet been detailed, but like Journey will focus on forming a connection between players.


"Journey was focused on connection," Chen ssaid. "I think we are trying to do one level above that with this game."


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  • Wake

    This was my favorite game last year. I’m glad that it all worked out in the end for them.

    • AnimusVox

      I agree with both statements.
      And dat soundtrack

  • Letiumtide

    I would have to agree that there is very little art left in video games, certainly such games do exist, but for the most part the industry puts making the game something artistic in and of itself as a very low priority.

  • Lightthrower

    I can’t see how they went bankrupt with Journey. Best downloadable title from 2012 and on a console that has minimal piracy so they should’ve sold a lot just based on that (I bought a copy).

    • Zeik56

      I believe they went bankrupt while working on the game, before actually releasing it. It seems to me it was successful enough to bring them out of bankruptcy. Otherwise they probably wouldn’t be making more games.

    • CirnoLakes

      My last comment seems to either have been deleted or not posted by disqus. So I’ll write it again.

      “console that has minimal piracy”
      Even if it weren’t true that they were bankrupt before the game was released, not after. Studies seem to show otherwise about piracy.

      I get the feeling that these facts are unpopular and offensive enough that my comment might have been deleted. But it is generally true that there’s a strong correlation between piracy and improved sales that has been studied.

      What I’m saying, is though thegamecompany went bankrupt before the release of the game and the title is selling fine. There is nothing about its lack of pirate-ability that is helping the sales of the game.

      And if my comment is being deleted, please don’t delete my comments for having a controversial statement about piracy. I didn’t say anything trying to justify piracy or copyright infringement, or promote it. Just state that studies tend to show high piracy rates tend to correlate with higher sales.

      • M’iau M’iaut

        And more than one company in more than one place within our niche has also publicly stated piracy has impacted their practices. Things can become an endless loop. It’s a fine line issue and we have mentioned that in the past.

        “What I’m saying, is though thegamecompany went bankrupt before the release of the game and the title is selling fine. There is nothing about its lack of pirate-ability that is helping the sales of the game.”

        A point like this can be made without adding the “high piracy = higher sales” studies which have nothing to do with the interview.

        • It’s not surprising that in general “high piracy = higher sales”. If a game is more wanted, more people will get it (some illegally). If these studies are trying to suggest this means that piracy is a good thing, they really need to learn proper application of logic. Just because sales and piracy numbers seem to have a relationship does not mean that one is driven by the other. Far more likely that they are both driven by an outside factor like the quality (or hype) of the game in question.

          Also, people that try to justify piracy are deluded. If you think you’re entitled to it: you’re not. If you think you’re not hurting anyone: you probably are. If you don’t want it badly enough to pay for it: don’t play it. Or my personal favourite, you think the anti piracy makes it worse than a pirated copy: fine – buy a legitimate copy and then download the pirated version if you must (or just don’t play it)

  • OUCH… It’s really sad when things like that happen to developers who make unique, remarkable games. As much as I support idealistic approaches to games, the current market just isn’t kind enough for them… Money talks louder than it should in some cases.

    Really glad to hear they’re not totally out though. Best of luck for their next project!

  • Wtv

    I don’t like when people start to make these elitist claims about art. I don’t know what they consider art, when any human creation should be defined as such. It’s not like writers, designers or composers on more commercial games don’t put effort doing their creations.

    Anyway, I just hate how only abstract and not-enough-commercial things are considered art sometimes.

    • drproton

      I think those arguments generally fall upon the intent of the art. Nominally, I agree that all games are an artistic endeavor, but that doesn’t make them equal. It’s clear how you wouldn’t evaluate a microtransaction-rich iphone pet terrarium or a flavor of the month yearly cash-in the same way you would a game that clearly differentiates itself artistically. It’s just like summer blockbuster films versus art films, or a airport romance novel versus classic literature. I don’t intend to disparage those things, but a line between art and entertainment exists, though it is subjective. Journey clearly had artistic vision and something to express. Spec Ops: The Line is another game from last year that was artistic in a very different way from Journey. But what they had in common was that what they expressed inherently tied to the game mechanics. The reductionist stance that all of the visual arts and music and writing and design that go into a game make the game art as well certainly applies, but creating something that goes beyond what those individual components provide is what makes a game “artistic” to me.

    • The difference is that a game like Journey is art first and a product second. Most games are products first and foremost (ie. they exist to make money). You could argue that most game designers want to create art and I would probably agree with you. The problem is when the investors start making design decisions or push to release things before they’re ready. If you want to argue that games like that are still art, that’s fine. Money hungry investors tend to be bad artists though.

  • TiredOfMyOldUsername

    They took to long to develop the game that might be why they have gone bankrupt during development.
    I’m sure they could have finished the game much faster then 4 years

    • Wake

      “I’m sure they could have finished the game much faster then 4 years”

      Man please don’t say that. It’s an insult to the devs.

      It reached a point where thatgamecompany had a choice to release the game as is or ask Sony for another year to develop the game. They chose the latter, and even that wasn’t enough time. They even had to fund the game from their own pockets. They went through hell just so their vision won’t be compromised. These guys need to be applauded. We’ve already seen too many games released that shouldn’t have been.

      • The argument still stands.
        The longer you employ a team of developers, the more money it’ll cost in the long run. If they had somehow managed to finish the game faster, they wouldn’t have gone bankrupt.
        The fact that they had to pay expenses out of their own pockets may be pitiful and sad, but this is what happens when things go wrong. Maybe they should have employed more than just 12 people? Maybe Chen’s language difficulties were too big of a hinderance? Who knows!
        Thankfully the end result turned out beautifully. But you can’t deny that something went wrong.

        • d19xx

          Exactly! Someone has to say it. From the sound of things, there’s some mismanagement on their part.

          Sure they could have sold more if it wasn’t exclusive to the PS3, but that may also be the only reason why they were able to finish it. Heck Sony even got Santa Monica to help them, that won’t be the case if their game is multi-platform…

        • Wake

          You need to remember that they’re an indie studio. Indie studios don’t have the same luxuries or budget as big studios. I’m not denying that “something” went wrong, that’s a given. The point I was making was thegamecompany didn’t take the easy way out. They probably could have made the deadline, but the final product wouldn’t have resonated as much as the game we have today. Saying that “They could have made it faster” or “They should have hired more people” and things like that somehow trivializes what they had to go through. Do you honestly think they didn’t want to make it as fast as they could? They stuck to what they believed in and did what they could with their resources. Are you really going to penalize them for that?

          • They obviously already penalized themselves by using their own money to finish the project. But I’m not putting any emotional value on the whole subject. I’m merely speculating that either a mismanagement was going on where they didn’t use their resources reasonably (i.e. not hiring more people to finish everything asap), or that they made a bigger mistake in the process and had to scrap a big section of their work. This is what I suspect. I’m also still suspicious about Chen saying his English isn’t good enough to communicate his instructions properly to the point where he will insist on doing things himself. This, combined with him calling himself a control freak, could possibly be disastrous for a team.
            They’re an indie studio alright, but this was not their first title and they had kinda already made a name for themselves at that point in time. I don’t know how much funding they received but I imagine it was probably more than some other (kind of) comparable indie surprise hits like Braid or Fez. So you could expect them to know how to plan ahead a little better.

            Of course it’s still a good thing that they eventually pulled it around. The question is, could they have avoided all these hardships? I say: Maybe!

          • Wake

            Journey’s scale compared to their past games is obviously different. It’s an ambitious project for a small team, so mistakes were bound to happen. Anyway, I don’t want to argue anymore on whether they were justified with their mistakes or not. So let’s just drop it. In the end we were left with a wonderful game and I’m just thankful that we got to experience it.

  • Wow, my goodness. I hope they recovered from this.

  • Tails the Foxhound

    I thought they only had a 3 game exclusivity contract with Sony in the first place?

    • Armane

      That’s right. But maybe Sony offered them another exclusivity contract and they rejected it.

  • gamefreak86

    Sorry but it isn’t the ps3s fault. people that are interested in it bought it, many people that own a ps3 own a 360 as well so don’t give me that crap. its just niche, like all art.

    • Where did he say that it’s the platform’s fault? He said being on a single platform limited its exposure to audiences. He was even thanking Sony for their support. Read carefully first, please.

      And whether many PS3 owners also own a 360 or not has no bearing on the topic.

  • Raharu95

    So there really is not place for art in the game industry? or did I misunderstood the message :(

    • If you want a bit more optimism, I take it as “They could use more support than they generally get contemporarily”.

      • Raharu95

        I’ll take that.

  • Bloodios

    It’s just really challenging to create this kind of games while trying not compromise their artistic, unique values, isn’t it? thatgamecompany was on the edge of bankruptcy, while Team Ico is still trudging through the mud, trying to push their game along the intended direction, all the while soaking up a whole lot of the development budget, no doubt… As much as I adore these games, I’m not sure how long they are going to be around. Technology is constantly evolving and the community’s expectations just keep on rising higher and higher with each new generation of consoles. In turns, development budgets just keep getting larger and larger to match those constantly growing expectations. It might eventually reach a point where the development costs for a game is so high that even the most supportive publisher of niche titles might start become more reluctant to publish these games. I can only hope that before we reach that point, this kind of games would’ve already gained a more stable popularity and supports, because otherwise… man, that future is looking grim…

    • Or perhaps some companies will just have to draw a line that they’re not going to spend unnecessarily big budgets for their projects – like a midway between indies and AAAs. I wouldn’t say there’s no risk in doing so (at least in the beginning), but between that and downsides of overspending, it doesn’t sound like that bad an idea. Of course, this is still a costly industry for those who don’t want to skimp out on resources…

  • heartless141


    or put out a “support TGC edition”, double price tag and an extra like an exclusive theme or avatar or something. i’d buy that.

  • Adol Christin

    I just their next title isn’t for the iOS or Andriod platforms….

  • Immortal1

    Can’t say I’m surprised Jenova Chen thinks he was the first person to produce an “artistic game.” Any auteur designer seems to get that way after they make a certain game. Kojima kind of got that way after MGS1, the result was a completely bonkers MGS2 (I still like that game). David Cage got that way after the success of Heavy Rain, etc. The guy who made Braid, Jonathan Blow and especially the creator of Fez. Thankfully, I’ve forgotten his name. On the other hand, Pixel (Cave Story) and Fumito Ueda seem very humble.

    • Armane

      MGS2 was only bonkers to those whose familiarity with Kojima’s work began and ended with MGS. Ever since though, Kojima has been phoning it in and it shows.

      Most successful creators are narcissistic in the first place, they don’t get that way suddenly because they had some successes.

  • CirnoLakes

    That’s really sad. I can only hope it has ridiculous amounts of sales to make up for it.

    This game really is a masterpiece.

  • Göran Isacson

    So, are they STILL bankrupt? Or did the games sales actually manage to pull them back from the brink?

    • Considering they mentioned a “next project”, I assume they barely got by.

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