H1Z1 dev Daybreak announces layoffs after apparent ties to Russian oligarch surface

By Sherif Saed
27 April 2018 12:55 GMT

It’s been a hell of a week for H1Z1, and PlanetSide 2 developer Daybreak Games.

It all started earlier this week when the U.S. government froze assets owned by several Russian oligarchs said to be involved in “destabilising activities” in the U.S., most notable of which is interference with the country’s 2016 elections.

Viktor Vekselberg, one of the businessmen targeted by these sanctions, owns Renova Group, a subsidiary of which is Columbus Nova, a company long believed to be the owner of Daybreak. It has long been reported that Daybreak’s parent company is Columbus Nova, which bought it off Sony when the latter sold it in 2015.

Following a report from Massively OP, Daybreak released a statement denying any affiliation with Columbus Nova. Instead, the company says that its owner, Jason Epstein, is a “former member of Columbus Nova.”

“Jason Epstein, former member of Columbus Nova, is and has always been the primary owner and executive chairman of Daybreak Game Company (formerly Sony Online Entertainment) which he acquired from Sony in February 2015,” said Daybreak.

The statement is bizarre to say the least, because former president John Smedley specifically mentions Columbus Nova as the investment firm that acquired Daybreak, formerly Sony Online Entertainment, back in 2015.

However, according to Daybreak, the initial 2015 announcement had some errors, most notably pertaining to Columbus Nova’s involvement.

“It was current executive chairman Jason Epstein, former senior managing partner of Columbus Nova that acquired Daybreak, not Columbus Nova itself. That distinction was never corrected in the past, so we are correcting that now,” the company said in a followup statement.

The original press release is no longer available on Daybreak’s website, but Twitter user @DkTanic managed to find references to Columbus Nova in Daybreak’s privacy policy – which has also been removed from its website. In the document, Daybreak refers to CN as its parent company.

That document was updated in 2015 at the time of Daybreak’s acquisition.

Two days after these allegations surfaced, Daybreak announced big layoffs. The company did not give an exact number for how many were affected, but it looks like studio veterans and others in major disciplines have been let go.

The studio’s brand manager Ry Schueller, operational engineering manager Steve Melton, and community manager J. Goldberg among others have been hit.

Daybreak responded to news about the layoffs, calling it “workforce realigning”.

“Daybreak confirms we are realigning our workforce to better position our company for the future. Because of this, we have had to make an extremely difficult decision to part ways with some of our employees across various disciplines at the studio.

“We are doing everything we can to take care of each affected individual by providing them appropriate transition assistance,” the company said in a statement.

“Daybreak remains focused on publishing and developing large-scale online games and will continue to service our existing and long-standing games and franchises.”

Daybreak has only just announced a PS4 version of H1Z1, an open beta of which is due to start May 22.

Though these may not look like the actions of a company ready to release a game on a new platform, there’s always the chance the PS4 release itself was sort of a last-ditch effort to get things back on track. As we’ve seen with the recent shutdown of Marvel Heroes developer Gazillion Entertainment, releasing a new version of a game may not be enough to ward off closure.

It’s no secret that H1Z1 has waned in popularity since the release of PUBG, its main competitor. H1Z1 had at one point attracted over 200,000 concurrent players daily, a far cry from its current ~7,000 players, despite going free-to-play.

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