Of all the development studios working for Activision, Toys for Bob is the one that has perhaps demonstrated the greatest amount of passion and creativity through its projects. Formerly the main team behind the massively successful Skylanders franchise, Toys for Bob earned plenty of goodwill from fans as of late for its work on the Spyro Reignited Trilogy and Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time, two high-quality revivals of beloved fallen intellectual properties. Unfortunately, Activision seems to have had other plans for the studio; Toys for Bob is now being repurposed to provide support mainly for Season 3 of Call of Duty: Warzone and a notable portion of the studio’s employees have reportedly left the company. To say that this is an unbelievable waste of talent would be an understatement. This decision severely hamstrings the developer’s creative potential, and although there are conflicting statements as to what exactly happened with Toys for Bob and what its current role is, signs are not pointing toward a positive direction.
What Made Toys for Bob What It Was
Toys for Bob was a skilled development studio well before its recent takes on the Spyro and Crash franchises, but it was with those titles that the developer’s mastery of its craft was on full display. Spyro Reignited Trilogy was an ambitious project for Toys for Bob, to the point where it’s evident the studio bit off more than it could chew. Remaking three massive PS1 platformers from the ground up in a relatively short timeframe could not have been easy, and the pressure that this herculean task placed on the team unfortunately shows in the final product, with the third game in the collection being noticeably less polished than the others. This did not take away from the impressive work on display, though; the art team provided longtime fans with stunning reinterpretations of the classic characters and environments, and the perfected controls and overall game feel demonstrated a real understanding of 3D platformer fundamentals. The team was clearly passionate about remaking these classics, and that passion shines through even if the end product was not perfect.
But it was with the release of Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time where Toys for Bob really knocked it out of the park. Crash 4 brought back Crash’s linear platforming gameplay and infused it with an immense degree of polish, and it was taken in fascinating directions that had never been seen in the series before. The solid art direction seen in Spyro Reignited Trilogy was taken a step further, as Crash 4 boasts some incredibly stylized and detailed environments as well as expressive character designs and animation. The game’s story was written with clear reverence for the past titles, featuring a dizzying number of callbacks and developing long-established characters in bold yet tasteful ways. On top of all this, Toys for Bob went out of its way to infuse the game with a high degree of challenge rarely seen in the 3D platformer genre. The game was an uncompromising love letter to the Crash series, and the fact that Toys for Bob was able to get the game shipped in its current state despite the fact that it bucked many AAA gaming trends is a testament to the studio’s sheer dedication to its work.
A Shift in Direction
With the announcement of Toys for Bob’s restructuring, it appears that the studio will not be able to pursue its creative vision to the degree it did with Crash 4, at least for the foreseeable future. Not only is the studio relegated to working on Activision’s biggest money-making franchise, a series of games known for churning out yearly releases, but it is seemingly devoting much of its resources toward a single title that has already been out for over a year. In addition, numerous other teams have already been working on Call of Duty: Warzone—in fact, according to Andy Robinson at Playtonic Games, “virtually every studio at Activision is now working on Call of Duty.”
Of course, Activision has made this decision because Warzone has been enormously successful, amassing over 100 million players and making millions of dollars off of microtransactions. But if anything, this shows that the game does not need much more support than it’s already getting. Call of Duty will survive with or without Toys for Bob’s help, and that security should ideally free the studio up to work on its own, more creatively fulfilling projects. Unfortunately, Activision has seen Warzone’s overwhelming success as an opportunity to work more cogs in the machine, and although Toys for Bob obviously will not be stuck working on Warzone forever, it’s nonetheless disheartening to see the developer burning through resources and manhours on updates to a battle royale game rather than a full project.
All of this being said, the full picture of the situation is still somewhat murky, at least partially due to some conflicting statements. A tweet by character designer Nicholas Kole, who worked on both Crash 4 and Reignited Trilogy, implied that a number of developers at Toys for Bob were laid off. But a statement by Activision said that Toys for Bob was not experiencing layoffs, and a tweet by former Toys for Bob designer Blake Maloof said that everyone who left Toys for Bob were on good terms. Kole could have meant that freelancers who worked at Toys for Bob did not have their contracts renewed, resulting in their leaving the company. Regardless, Activision’s statement does little to assuage concerns that Toys for Bob will be stuck working on Warzone for the time being.
The statement ends with the following sentence: “The studio is excited to continue supporting Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time, and more recently provide additional development support to Call of Duty: Warzone.” Nowhere in this statement does it say that Toys for Bob will be free to develop additional projects, and the mentioned continued support of Crash 4 will likely only come in the form of bug fixes and other similar updates. It does not outright confirm Kole’s tweet stating that Toys for Bob is relegated to working on Call of Duty at this time, but it doesn’t necessarily contradict it, either. It is clear, judging from tweets made by these former Toys for Bob developers, that they are concerned with the direction Activision is taking the studio, which doesn’t bode well for Toys for Bob’s creative endeavors.
To be fair, Toys for Bob’s most recent successes were entirely achieved by working with established brands, so it is not like the studio has been a juggernaut of originality. But it was nonetheless a prime example of a developer with a clear vision toward its projects that had the talent and commitment to see that vision through to the end. To see that energy-constrained and directed toward a season pass for a Call of Duty title is unbelievably disappointing, and it is a decision that contributes further to the stifling of creativity in the games industry. Hopefully it will not take long for both current and former Toys for Bob employees to find their voices again.