Swedish game studio Starbreeze had a good run in the early 2000s with two very solid Chronicles of Riddick games and a criminally underrated Syndicate reboot. These days, though, it’s probably best known for the co-op crime shooter Payday 2, which remains firmly entrenched in the upper half of the Steam Top 100 concurrents list despite being eight years old.
A sequel, Payday 3, was announced in February 2017, although the studio warned at the time that a launch was not imminent. “This is our single most important brand today and the cornerstone of our business and we will treat it accordingly,” a Starbreeze rep said at the time. “Updates in the near future might be scarce and far between. You simply don’t rush Payday 3.”
The situation grew more complicated the following year, when Overkill’s The Walking Dead launched to poor reviews and tanked hard enough to force the studio to look for ways to cut costs. Shortly after that, it filed for reconstruction in order to avoid bankruptcy, its CEO resigned, and its offices were raided by Swedish authorities investigating allegations of insider trading. (Allegations which were eventually proven, by the way.)
Overkill’s The Walking Dead was removed from Steam in 2019 over a contract dispute with Skybound Entertainment, after which things went from bad to worse: Starbreeze was forced to sell off publishing rights to various games, sold an entire studio to Rockstar, and eventually laid off 25 percent of its workers. At one point, it looked like the studio was likely to close.
Despite appearing to be trapped in a death spiral, things appeared to turn around somewhat in 2020. A return to active Payday 2 development paid off—then-CEO Mikael Nermark said the resurgence of Payday 2 “confirms the interest in a future release of Payday 3 and lays a stable foundation for continued efforts”—and the studio began looking for a publishing partner for the sequel. One year later, it looks like the turnaround is almost complete.
“Our Payday franchise and ‘games as a service model’ really showed their muscles during the year with several successful releases of content for Payday 2,” acting CEO Tobias Sjögren said in the company’s latest quarterly financial report. “By late December , Payday 2 had become the biggest game community on Steam, with 7.1 million members. We have executed two capital raises during the year and paid off a large proportion of our debts, strengthened our financial position and thus enabling the continued successful development of Payday 3 in 2021—all key steps in putting Starbreeze back on the map as an industry leader.”
Starbreeze aims to continue expanding Payday 2, “not only in terms of games sold but also in daily activity among our gamers,” while it continues to move toward Payday 3. A search for a publisher is still underway, but according to Sjögren, the company now has “a stable platform that supports the continued successful development of Payday 3.”
“We are standing strong and confident in our efforts to close a publishing agreement with a partner that is as passionate about games as a service as Starbreeze is and ready to join us in the successful launch of Payday 3,” said Sjögren. “Starbreeze is a much stronger company today than it was one year ago. We are hugely confident, thirsting for revenge and thrilled to be able to focus to the max on developing our IP with Payday front and center.”
Very little is known about Payday 3 at this point, beyond the fact of its existence, but Starbreeze said in October 2020 that it will use the Unreal Engine, and also hinted very strongly that it will continue to follow the criminal adventures of shady dudes in ridiculous masks. A possible launch target wasn’t announced, but I’ve reached out to ask if they’ve got one in mind and will update if they do.
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