Former Dead Cells lead designer Sébastien Benard is none too chuffed about publisher Motion Twin’s decision to end development of the well-regarded roguelike Metroidvania. A few days ago, Motion Twin announced that the 35th major Dead Cells update, aptly titled The End Is Near, would be its last. Benard feels this is a betrayal of both the game’s community and its current development team, Evil Empire, a spin-off studio who took the reins in 2019.
To be specific, he thinks calling time on Dead Cells is an “asshole move” and “a one-way strategy that leaves people behind” and is designed to clear the decks for Motion Twin’s forthcoming Windblown. Benard initially posted about the news when asked for his thoughts on Discord. Here’s what he wrote, via Eurogamer.
“Since you’re asking me, I’d just say MT did the worst imaginable asshole move against Dead Cells and EE. Having seen first hand the actual situation behind the scene, I can honestly say I’m glad to not be part of this anymore. The official statement is total marketing bullshit, the way this situation happened is on a whole different level. I never imagined my former coop studio would turn out to be such greedy people. I wish the absolute best to EE for their next things, and hope people working there will survive this sudden economic cut.”
Benard has now apologised for his “blunt words” in a blog post and offered a longer clarification. The blog post begins by recapping how Dead Cells development shifted to Evil Empire, following the game’s launch in 2018. “While Motion Twin retained the IP, Evil Empire, created by former MT associates, continued the hard work and released 22 new major updates and DLCs, for about 5 years,” Benard notes. “They hired 50 people during that period of time.”
The decision to stop releasing updates for Dead Cells has “left the player community quite speechless”, Benard goes on. He points out that “Evil Empire (EE) had official content plans for at least 2024 and 2025”, as reported by Push Square in June 2023.
For Benard, the abandoning of Dead Cells (which will still receive bug fix and quality of life updates) is in keeping with what he characterises as Motion Twin’s short-termist handling of their previous browser and Flash games, like Eternal Twin.
“To put it shortly, Evil Empire did a tremendous job at keeping the game fresh and alive, while taking great care of their players,” he writes. “On the other side, I’ve seen first-hand how we, Motion Twin, considered our player base, years before Dead Cells even existed. Back when we were making dozens of Browser/Flash games.
“Our short term strategy was: release, update a bit, drop. It’s not some confidential information, it’s basically what our old player base, from the pre-Dead Cells era, know. I have obviously been part of that, but as a cooperative company, decisions were taken together, and I had my share of disillusion on that topic.
“Obviously, when Dead Cells became the success we all know, MT decided to instantly ignore all of its past web-era player base. Fun fact, our former loyal players even waited more than 4 years and hundreds of requests to get the source code of long dead web games, mostly because MT didn’t care much. Thanks to their incredible love and dedication, some of our old creations were brought back to life (see Eternal Twin).”
Benard speculates that there’s a similar mindset at play behind the decision to wind up Dead Cells. He adds that “most of the true original team members are now gone” – as such, “the only true Dead Cells team is now basically Evil Empire that managed to carry the flame for so long, with a true love for the franchise.” Bernard credits Evil Empire with the vast majority of Dead Cells sales to date.
As for why Motion Twin are calling it quits right now in particular, Benard thinks it’s all about creating space for Windblown, and may have something to do with “panic” at Motion Twin about Evil Empire being perceived as the “true architects” of Dead Cells (which, incidentally is getting an animated series adaptation at some point this year).
“The kind of obvious reason for all this fuzz is certainly to leave room for Windblown, the upcoming dash-dash-dash rogue from MT,” he argues. “As the press slowly started to realize that the Dead Cells true architects were now EE, I can easily see how the panic happened at MT. If you check the recent articles about Dead Cells, EE was mentioned more and more as the actual authors, which was honestly quite fair, given their supportive pedigree. But I can imagine MT didn’t like the fact that people started to realize that.
“I kind of understand the MT strategy: it’s a rather logical marketing stunt. Get rid of Dead Cells to leave room for Windblown,” Bernard concludes. “But as Motion Twin always did, it’s a one-way strategy that leaves people behind: both loyal players and employees at EE. Nothing really new, unfortunately.”
I’ve asked Motion Twin for comment. For want of anything more insightful to say, the whole thing makes me rather sad. I like Dead Cells, am enthused by what I’ve seen of Windblown, and have great respect for Motion Twin as one of gaming’s more celebrated worker cooperatives. Here’s hoping the warring parties find a way to reconcile.