The story behind a video game in development hell for 11 years
It took 11 years, but they did it: 2006’s raved-about sci-fi first-person shooter, Prey, has a sequel! Well, not really.
Prey‘s development history is littered with gaps of time where people were/weren’t working on the game or did/did not own the IP. Almost everything about the history of Prey has never been agreed upon by everyone involved. It’s about as juicy as this industry gets.
The story starts with 2006’s Prey, developed by Human Head Studios. It was a unique, intelligent, and beloved sci-fi shooter (that underwent its own development hell, actually). It had a Cherokee protagonist with supernatural powers, with a trippy sci-fi plot to go with its original first-person shooter gameplay.
The game was such a success, it prompted an announcement of a sequel in March 2008 by the Radar Group — a brand-management company co-founded by Scott Miller, CEO of 3D Realms, the company that originally contracted Human Head Studios to make Prey (though he made some weird rumblings a few times before that).
After three-years of relative inactivity on the development of Prey 2, the Radar Group purchased the Prey IP. Then, within a month, Radar Group sold the IP to ZeniMax Media, parent company of Bethesda Studios.
Under Bethesda, Human Head Studios was allowed to keep working on Prey 2 for another two years. In 2009, more serious development took place and a demo of the game was shown at E3 in 2011. Bethesda was reportedly happy with the demo’s performance at E3, and gave Human Head Studios another six months to work on the game. It was slated for a 2012 release. Things were looking good.
Then things stopped looking good. At the end of 2011, Human Head Studios stopped working on the game. There was no official reason why, but a series of rumors from IGN sources surfaced in 2013 that said Bethesda was trying to acquire Human Head Studios, and Human Head Studios was not interested. There were intense negotiations, and eventually a strike. Human Head refused to work on the game, and after their contract with Bethesda ran out in 2012, the IP was back in Bethesda’s hands. Pete Hines, VP of PR and Marketing at Bethesda, denied these claims.
In 2014, Bethesda (by way of Pete Hines) announced that Prey 2 just wasn’t up to their quality standard, and that it was no longer in development.
It had now been six years since the original Prey, and a nearly-finished sequel had no studio to finish it. That’s when rumors about Arkane Studios’ involvement started to surface, rumors later confirmed in a Kotaku article (that has since spurred some…infamous phrasing). The article confirming the rumors through insider sources featured an email leak in May of 2013 revealing that Arkane was working on the new Prey title, at that point referred to as Prey 2.
Back in 2012, Arkane had split into two teams to work on two different projects. One was Dishonored 2, and the other was presumably what either was or would become the new Prey. In 2016, the new Prey (2017) was officially announced at an E3 press conference, thereby abandoning ideas of a direct sequel.
Since the announcement of Prey (2017), Raphael Colantonio — CEO of Arkane Studios — and Pete Hines have said several times that the new Prey has no relation to the original franchise, and that this new game was instead a “reimagining of the IP”. There has been buzz about why Arkane and Bethesda decided to call this game Prey, and both Colantonio and Hines have offered similar reasons for the decision.
Colantonio said, “First of all it’s hard to find a name for a game, and it’s a good name—sounds good. I think the association that people have about Prey is that it’s about aliens on a space station…”
In an interview, Pete Hines doubled down on this “good name” reasoning saying, “We talked to Arkane, and they were like, ‘Look, if we can just treat this as a reimagining, and sort of distill this IP down to its very basics, and go nuts with it, and make it our very own, we’re totally on board with just doing Prey.‘”
So, though it’s not explicitly confirmed, it seems that there was a game Arkane wanted to make, and a property Bethesda needed to divorce itself from, and Prey (2017) solved those problems. There’s surely a lot more to the story than what’s already been revealed (or leaked).
Check out our brief summary of the events of the last decade in the video our video producer, Matt Kline, and I put together.
Prey is finally out today, and you can play it on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.