Perfect Dark development 'painfully' slow, 'as much as half' the core team has quit, states report

Perfect Dark Dec 2020 Concept Art
Perfect Dark Dec 2020 Concept Art (Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

What you need to know

  • Perfect Dark developer The Initiative has faced a series of high-profile departures in recent months, including former game director Dan Neuburger and design director Drew Murray.
  • A new VGC report states "as much as half of the core development team" has quit, citing creative conflict which saw development progress at a "painfully" slow rate.

Microsoft's Santa Monica-based Xbox studio, The Initiative, has faced a wave of high-profile departures, with "as much as half of the core development team" having quit, according to a new Video Games Chronicle report. It comes as the Perfect Dark reboot lost its game director last month, joining a growing list of senior departures on the project.

The Initiative first opened its doors back in 2018, led by Darrell Gallagher, former studio head at Tomb Raider developer Crystal Dynamics. First internally pitched as its "AAAA studio" in the making, a lengthy hiring spree saw the developer acquiring talent from across the industry. That later saw a Perfect Dark reboot unveiled in late 2020, elevating the spy thriller into the current Xbox Game Studios lineup.

A new VGC report alleges that The Initiative is now less than 50 strong, with LinkedIn profiles confirming the departure of former game director Dan Neuburger, alongside the past design director Drew Murray and lead level designer Chris O'Neill. The report names several additional directors and leads on the upcoming Perfect Dark entry, each of who left the company in the past 12 months.

The Initiative E3 2018

Source: Microsoft (Image credit: Source: Microsoft)

Former The Initiative developers who spoke to VGC reportedly pinned the turnover on "frustration among senior talent over the direction of the project," citing a "top-down" approach to key decisions. Leads Gallagher and Neuburger reportedly maintained a "strong grasp on creative decisions," driving out many in other pivotal roles. "As a result, it's claimed that development has progressed "painfully" slow and a solid company culture never formed," VGC stated.

"In this journey, it's not uncommon for there to be staffing changes, especially during a time of global upheaval over the last two years, and there's plenty more work in front of us to deliver a fantastic Perfect Dark experience to our players," Gallagher told VGC in a statement.

Details on Perfect Dark remain thin since its initial reveal, host to a two-minute cinematic trailer confirming the return of protagonist Joanna Dark. The Initiative also entered a partnership with Crystal Dynamics last September, with the studio expected to provide additional aid on Perfect Dark while still "early in development."

Microsoft is still to announce a release date for Perfect Dark, although it's expected to hit Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S consoles, plus PC, with a day-one debut alongside the best Xbox Game Pass games.

Matt Brown

Matt Brown was formerly a Windows Central's Senior Editor, Xbox & PC, at Future. Following over seven years of professional consumer technology and gaming coverage, he’s focused on the world of Microsoft's gaming efforts. You can follow him on Twitter @mattjbrown.