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People Can Fly returns, no longer owned by Epic Games (update)

Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

People Can Fly, the Polish game studio behind Gears of War: Judgement, Bulletstorm and the Painkiller series, has regained its independence from Epic Games. In a press release issued today, the studio, known as Epic Games Poland since 2013, announced that ownership of the company "has returned to the local leadership."

"We, as a People Can Fly team, are extremely excited about new possibilities ahead of us," said studio director Sebastian Wojciechowski. "We're going to work on a new game, while continuing to partner with Epic and use Unreal Engine 4."

The transition of ownership back to the Warsaw-based team, from North Carolina-based Epic Games, is a move that "Epic supports" the release says. People Can Fly will continue to work on the upcoming game, Fortnite, being made by Epic Games.

The phrasing of the press release was unusual though, and details of the transition of the company back to independence are unclear. Polygon has reached out to Epic and People Can Fly to find out more details of how this transfer of ownership was accomplished.

In 2007 Epic Games made a majority investment in People Can Fly. In 2013, the studio became Epic Games Poland. That same day, its founder, Adrian Chmielarz, left the company to commit to his new team called The Astronauts and make The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. Polygon has likewise reached out to Chmielarz for comment.

Update  1: Adrian Chmielarz said the news today came out of nowhere.

"The news surprised me," Chmielarz told Polygon. "I had no idea this would happen.

"It’s good to see so many familiar faces in the photos on the new People Can Fly website. Many of the old crew left the studio when we started The Astronauts, while others joined several Polish studios like CD Projekt or Techland, or Western studios like Naughty Dog or Machine Games. Those who stayed at PCF are still a tight team of talented, hard-working veterans. I’m sure they can cook something sweet for us all. Cannot wait to hear more on their new project, and what the reborn PCF’s identity is going to be!"

Update 2: People Can Fly's Sebastian Wojciechowski reached out to clear up some details of the change in ownership.

"The transaction was a simple MBO (management buy-out)," Wojciechowski said, "but we want all PCF employees to become PCF shareholders. Present and future employees.

"The desire to create our own game was stronger than all the benefits of being a part of Epic group. We are lucky that Tim Sweeney as well as Epic’s board and its executive team members are fair and honest people and allowed us to reach for our dreams and gave us amazing opportunity to become an independent developer again."

While their new game is currently unannounced, some outlets have been reporting that People Can Fly purchased the Bulletstorm IP back from Epic. That's not necessarily true, Wojciechowski said.

"The Bulletstorm IP has been always with PCF," he said. "We didn't have to buy it. PCF owns this IP."

Update 3: Adrian Chmielarz says that early work on Bulletstorm 2 was done a long time ago.