Just off a wave of critical acclaim for Thatgamecompany's newest PlayStation Network title, Journey, big changes are afoot at the studio: As the studio begins work on a new game, co-founder and president Kellee Santiago departs.
Gamasutra sources say that other key staff departures may be forthcoming as well. Santiago declined to confirm or to speak to her colleagues' plans, but suggested future announcements are 'likely.' As for her own departure, it's entirely amicable, Santiago tells us, explaining that it's simply time to seek new challenges.
Santiago co-founded the studio six years ago with creative director Jenova Chen, but the two first teamed up even prior to Thatgamecompany. While they were University of Southern California students, Chen and Santiago worked together on an experimental game called Cloud, and launched the company based on a mutual vision to create new forms of expression through video games.
Thatgamecompany, which has enjoyed much support from Sony, has released PSN titles FlOw, Flower and Journey, and the most recent game is viewed by many critics and fans as the attainment of the style and vision for which the studio aimed through the first two.
"After doing these three games, I think it was a really great opportunity for all of us to look at what we've learned and what I've taken from that experience, and go forth and take it into new arenas," Santiago tells Gamasutra.
In addition to the learning experience of founding a studio and gaining exposure to all its inherent roles and responsibilities, Santiago had the opportunity to take a leading role in establishing an oft-publicized unique internal creative process the studio applies to all its games.
"On top of that, founding a company whose explicit goal was to do new types of game development really allowed me to be able to try out new processes for game development, to try out new ideas," she says. "So much of my work at Thatgamecompany was really supporting Jenova's visions for the types of games he wanted to make, and I felt like I have done everything I needed to do there, and that he's in a great place now to go on and continue with some of the other people at Thatgamecompany, to take that to a whole new height."
Chen and the studio support that perspective, suggesting that their path alongside their longtime colleague holds parallels to the narrative of Journey, which sees players explore trials to reach a metaphorical enlightenment. "After the hard struggle behind FlOw, Flower and Journey, we've finally reached our goal," says their statement. "Awaiting at the mountaintop are new enlightenments and new sets of milestones for our life."
Santiago isn't yet prepared to speak to her future plans beyond the fact that she wants broader challenges and opportunities: "My hope is that I can take what I've learned and use it to support more teams, more projects... and really, hopefully, help in accelerating the growth of video games as a medium," she says.
She also hopes to have future opportunities to work with her Thatgamecompany colleagues: "There's no way you can look at Journey and not see the value that every single person contributed to that project," she says. "And I think that's evidence in and of itself that I would be delighted to collaborate again with any of them."
"When we play through Journey now, it has a special meaning for us," Santiago reflects. "It makes me think about everything we've accomplished.... What I've appreciated about the way all of us at Thatgamecompany and the original team from FlOw has grown throughout the years is we've really grown in our own self awareness," Santiago says.
But just like leaving a long relationship with a significant other can be empowering, making the right career moves at the right time is just as important. "Being able to express that and talk about that with one another can be scary... it takes a lot of courage to be honest about the things that you want and recognize that that's okay. We can part amicably," she concludes.
Says Chen and the studio in its statement: "While we want to continue the path of Thatgamecompany, Kellee has found a new direction in her career. Though our path in the future may be different, as TGC begins our next project, we wish Kellee a good journey and that our paths may cross again."