Hyenas’ Cancellation Needs To Be A Wake Up Call For The Industry

Hyenas has been cancelled by Sega before it even had the chance to launch. Regardless of how you felt about it – and I imagine the vast majority of you feel nothing in particular – it’s hard not to feel cynical about the state of modern gaming. Hyenas was a game made by corporate mandate to appeal to trending demographic paradigms, written off on a corporate whim. It was loved by no one, created for no reason, and killed pointlessly. It is a sad day for how disposable video games have become, but there is a silver lining, if you look for it.



I have spoken to Hyenas’ creative director Alex Hunnisett twice now, and it’s clear he had a lot of passion for Hyenas and its small but dedicated community. When I say it was loved by no one, I don’t mean that those who made the game phoned it in or didn’t care. But like many modern online games, it didn’t feel like anyone’s baby. It didn’t ever seem like someone had rushed into the office one day and said, “I have this great idea for a video game, it’s an online shooter where you raid vaults to get Sega branded merch”. Hunnisett’s explanation, that post-currency we will cling to nostalgia, made sense enough in an interview, but it never felt present in the game itself.

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I described it after my hands-on preview as ‘charming’, like there was an attempt to be something more. But underneath it all, this was a game that began life on a whiteboard, on a pie chart, on a spreadsheet. It came into the world not as an idea, kicking and screaming and gasping for breath, but as lifeless numbers, calculated coldly to generate profit. It was a game made to appeal to demographics, and the team did their best to make it feel like something more, but it was a far cry from the days of a bunch of friends sitting around and saying, “You know what would be cool? There’s this woman right, and she raids tombs.”

Sonic Keychain on gun in Hyenas

There’s no joy to be found in kicking Hyenas when it’s down. I said in the above preview that I was rooting for it, and I am sure the team worked very hard on this product. But there is logic in separating ‘the team worked hard and it is upsetting that their work will not see the light of day’ from ‘making a game based around market share and demographics alone is a harmful idea to our artform’. It always felt like a Sega product, not a Creative Assembly game.

The obvious problem here is Sega’s meddling and number-crunching not allowing developers freedom to create games to their fullest potential. A clear lesson to take from this would be to trust the teams working on the games themselves far more than is currently done, but unfortunately it seems instead that redundancies and mass layoffs are coming next. When you look at why the plug is being pulled, it’s clear that all the blame lies with the suits, not the developers.

In its statement about the cancellation (in which other unannounced projects were unceremoniously canned), Sega notes a root cause as “lower profitability of the European region”. Europe is a huge market for video games and is not typically considered a risk for a game like this. Pre-Ichiban Yakuza? Sure. But not an online hero/extraction shooter. This is a safe genre. The fact Europe is outlined suggests the problem lies with Europe’s tighter regulation around loot boxes – it was never clear whether Hyenas’ future lay as a free-to-play title or a full-price game. Originally it seemed the latter was planned, before it became clear that it would not get the install base it wanted. Making it free would fix that and earn less scrutiny on profitable loot boxes. But with regulations eating into these profits, Sega has decided the best option is to cut the losses and leave town.

The downsides of this decision are obvious – developers, testers, PR, consultants, and everyone else attached to Hyenas have worked very hard on this game, and that work has been thrown out. The team were informed this morning, just as the public found out. Video games should not be this disposable when they take years of effort to produce. Nothing that I have written here should suggest that I am glad the game failed, or place any blame onto the developers. But there is an upside that is worth seeing.

Sega wanted to make a soulless online shooter, and ensnared Creative Assembly into giving it a soul. Now it has realised that making a game with the single ambition of profit leads to failure, and therefore, losses. We have improved regulation, higher standards among players, and a market that continues to embrace high-quality single-player experiences these days. Free-to-play may no longer be a viable cash cow for midrange games. Maybe companies will move away from forcing these sorts of games upon us and give developers a little more freedom to develop with their hearts as well as their calculators.

Ballerina character in Hyenas holding a Rubik's Cube

The money gaming makes these days, and the costs involved in triple-A titles (they’re too big and too expensive, but that’s another issue) means it will never truly go back to ten mates in a room making the coolest thing they can think of. But if nothing else, I hope Hyenas can be a lesson for other corporate suits, and mark a changing of trends across the industry. Rest in peace, Hyenas team. I hope your sacrifice is not forgotten.

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