In a big interview with Swedish tabloid paper Aftonbladet, the founders of Grin, brothers Bo and Ulf Andersson, point a damning finger at Square Enix and their role in the chain of events that led to the studio’s bankruptcy in August 2009.
In 2008, GRIN was a financially successful company. They had expanded with studios in Stockholm, Gothenburg, Barcelona and Jakarta, and employed 300 people. There was some concern about the growing financial crisis though; they realized it could hit an independent developer hard. However, there was a solution to this.
A GRIN-developed game concept known as “Fortress” (art pictured below, and possibly still in development) was doing the rounds and garnering a lot of enthusiasm behind the scenes in the gaming world (the article does not go into specifics about what exactly it entailed). Square Enix boss Yoichi Wada himself came to the studio and was convinced that Fortress should be the basis of a reimagining of the Final Fantasy series. It was specifically said, that they liked the Nordic style of the game.
An agreement was made but then two months passed without GRIN seeing any money from the Japanese publisher.
“We wanted to come in and revolutionize Final Fantasy, which is exactly what they need,” Bo Andersson says. “The latest one sucks, as you know.”
In the beginning the brothers did not feel suspicious. It was common that publishers slacked off on payment. More months went by with no money showing up.
Behind closed doors, Square Enix apparently was getting cold feet. The critical and commercial performance of GRIN-developed Wanted: Weapons of Fate and Bionic Commando sewed doubt. Six months went by and still no payment. GRIN closed every office but the Stockholm one to remain in business.
In the court case that followed, it was disclosed that there was an agreement according to which Square Enix should have payed GRIN for reaching certain “milestones” in the project, which the former began claiming had not been met.
Andersson denies that this was ever an issue during development: “There had never been a problem. We had delivered a number of milestones. That we had gotten approved per mail by a producer.”
Right until just before the bankruptcy, Square was sounding enthusiastic: “No no, we’re not abandoning the project, everything is really good, we’re very pleased.”
Then suddenly the tune changed. Andersson says they now demanded that everything be faxed to them. Including music files.
“It’s as stupid as it sounds. It’s an impossible demand. You can’t send ascii- og binary code through fax. It’s retarded. Really retarded. It’s almost criminal behavior.”
Square Enix also claimed that the milestones hadn’t been sent to the right person and that they also had to be sent to the publisher’s legal department.
“I have made ten productions and I’ve never been a part of anything like it. Nothing was good enough. Square Enix didn’t think the Nordic style of the game fitted Final Fantasy anymore.”
In the end they sent over a picture taken from Final Fantasy XII. The answer came: “It doesn’t look like Final Fantasy.”
“Then we understood that whatever we did, they’d made up their mind.”
Then finally a person with a guilty conscience at Square Enix rang and admitted that the publisher was pulling out without paying. The brothers considered legal action but realized they couldn’t afford a prolonged legal battle.
This whole affair has taken its toll. It was after all what felt like losing a life’s work when the company went under. “I suffered from revenge feelings”, Andersson states. “Going bankrupt is like contracting cancer. It goes quiet on the phone, people don’t want to talk about it.”
Luckily for them the brothers came through the bankruptcy proceedings without losing a lot of money, even if they are still in debt “that can be felt”, and with no employees left hanging in financial trouble. They have now started a new company and are ready to reveal their latest project at E3.