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How did the studio behind Bulletstorm end up making a shooter with Square Enix?

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The CEO of People Can Fly explains the company’s return to independence

Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition characters People Can Fly/Gearbox Publishing

People Can Fly, the same developer behind Bulletstorm and Gears of War: Judgement, has casually announced its next project. The studio formerly known as Epic Games Poland is working on an entirely new piece of intellectual property — a AAA-quality shooter to be exact, published by Square Enix.

The detail was buried at the bottom of a lengthy post on the People Can Fly website, touting an expansion into two new offices. CEO Sebastian Wojciechowski tells Polygon that fans should expect the same level of quality that his team has been cranking out since 2002.

People Can Fly has had its fair share of change in the last decade. In 2012, the studio was sold to Epic Games and several key members of the team broke off to create another studio called The Astronauts. But in 2015 came the surprise announcement that Wojciechowski himself had bought the company back from Epic.

“Today there are 30 shareholders of People Can Fly,” said Wojciechowski. “All of them are working here at the company. Developers became the shareholders, and we started our own journey.”

Since 2015, the team has continued to work closely with Epic Games and has contributed to projects such as Fortnite and Spyjinx. But at the same time, Wojciechowski said, it has also been working on a prototype for this new game. Now, as it looks forward to entering full production, the studio is expanding.

“When we split from Epic, we were a 40-developer team,” he said. “From day one, we started ramping up to be able to get to the situation that we have right now. Right now we have 160 people in the development team spread between three different studios. [...] It’s much much bigger than we were. We grew four times.”

The irony is that now People Can Fly, a Polish-owned company, has opened offices in the United Kingdom. After years of depending on other international companies, it’s finally in a position to be the one creating jobs overseas. According to Wojciechowski, it’s all about finding a larger pool of talent to allow his studio to grow.

“If you compare the money you have to pay for really senior developers in Poland,” he said, “it’s not much different from what I have to pay in the UK. Obviously, the talent pool in Poland is smaller than in the UK. This is also kind of driving up the prices [here].

“Poland has multiple, very successful studios that were able to create great games that sold well,” he said, referring to studios such as Techland and CDProjekt Red. “This is creating a completely different competitive situation than it was probably a few years ago. And, from that perspective, it’s much easier for me to imagine our studio growing and attracting senior people in the UK than can actually happen in Poland. So the reason that we opened in Newcastle is that we were looking for the hop that will enable us to get this access to senior, talented developers and, at the same time, also give us a good place that we can actually relocate people from other countries to.

“We have gotten to the point where we can now actually do things that [other international companies] did in Poland for the last 25 years. It feels great from that perspective.”

I pressed him multiple times, but right now Wojciechowski said he isn’t able to comment on what the project actually is. He was also unable to say if it’s connected with Square Enix’s commitment to develop multiple new games in Marvel’s Avenger’s universe. He said that People Can Fly will not have a formal presence at this year’s E3, but we now know that Square Enix will. In fact, Square has scheduled its own high-profile public briefing in the same mold as Nintendo’s pre-recorded livestreams from years past. With luck, we’ll know more after that goes live on Monday, June 11, at 10 a.m. PT.