When the news broke just over a day ago that Rummikub owner Goliath had bought Funko’s board game and puzzles assets, much of the initial industry talk focused on the decision by the financially-troubled Funko in getting rid of one of its only growing business segments.
Discussions of how Funko’s well regarded tabletop game design team Prospero Hall could be boosted by Goliath’s stewardship quickly faded, however, as accounts began to appear suggesting the vast majority of the 30-plus strong team were set to be let go as part of the deal.
Goliath itself has said nothing beyond its initial press release, which celebrated its purchase of a “highly regarded brand that includes hundreds of board games” – but made no mention of the people who have made that brand what it is today.
Prospero Hall, a Seattle-based game design collective, has put out some well-admired designs in recent years, including Disney Villainous in 2018, Horrified in 2019 and Pan Am in 2020, as well as pop culture tie-in games including Jaws and Rear Window – being praised for its ability to create IP-centred board games which went far beyond just a pasted-on theme.
BoardGameWire put a list of questions to Goliath’s press office about the situation on January 17, but was told that a “hectic day” yesterday meant they were unable to provide answers in time for today’s story.
Several sources within Funko Games did speak to BoardGameWire on condition of anonymity, however, painting a bleak picture in which employees have been working for months amid huge uncertainty about their future.
One team member said, “Rumors began about a potential Funko Games sale both internally and externally around Gen Con last year.
“As the months went by, employees began to suspect more and more that something was happening, but there was little to no communication with the team at large.
“Some team members were brought into the conversations because their jobs required them to assist with specific tasks related to data transfer and logistics.
“The vast majority of the studio came in on Wednesday without the knowledge of the sale and/or layoffs. Some folks had expected an announcement of some sort or may have been tipped off about an announcement, but when the meeting was called it was a surprise.
“Of the roughly 30 employees, there are approximately five or so that are being offered roles with Goliath, (although they are unclear what those roles may be) another five or so that are being offered roles at other parts of Funko, and about five or six that are being given an opportunity to interview with Goliath and perhaps be a part of a transition team on shorter-term contract basis.
“Everyone else was told their last working day was yesterday (Jan 17), and they will be receiving two more weeks of pay, in addition severance and their 2023 bonuses.
“There are two game developers with interviews today, unclear what they may be offered. As it stands, the graphic designers, artists, and game developers that made up that game invention side of the Prospero Hall brand are no longer there.
“Most of the roles retained are administrative and project management. Which isn’t to say they weren’t integral to the success of Prospero Hall, but might not be the ones most closely associated with the games we made.
“The mood is anger, disappointment, and some relief. People have been working for months in unclear conditions and there is a sense of relief in at least knowing what is happening.
“There is also a sense that Goliath will be a much better shepherd for the games than Funko was, and the people that were let go, while upset, will eventually find themselves in better positions elsewhere.”
Another unnamed source told BoardGameWire, “We were never told a sale was coming. I had sort of intuited that something was happening based on things going on in the office.
“Earlier in the year Funko higher ups assured us we were part of the “core business” and that there were no plans to sell us off or do further layoffs. I was lucky enough to get out before this happened so I’m better off than most folks.
“The mood in the office varied person to person. In general, people who were still in their first year or two with the company were pretty optimistic.
“Those of us who had been there a while were a lot more jaded. On my last week we all talked about this eventuality occurring in the game designer office, and some people hoped a buyout by a company that actually made games and knew what to do with them would be a blessing.”
Several staff have also taken to Twitter to announce they were laid off from the company, although BoardGameWire understands those fired had to sign “non-disparagement clauses”, so are limited in what they can say about the situation.
Funko Games and Prospero Hall’s game development lead Chris Rowlands, who has been part of the team since 2017, said, “After getting a chance to share some tears and some drinks with some friends last night, I can make a post.
“I was laid off along with the vast majority of the studio as part of the Goliath acquisition of Funko Games yesterday.
“Having the opportunity to make amazing things with some of the most talented minds in our industry is not something I take for granted.
“We changed the landscape of the aisle, took fearless risks, and always put 110% in everything we did. Every game deserved our best, because players deserve nothing less. Prospero Hall was different, and quite likely will never be replicated again.
“I’m optimistic for the future. Far too much talent was in the building to expect anything but amazing work wherever we end up.
“No regrets. I stayed true to myself and my team until the end, lived my core values of empathy and optimism the best I could, and made some amazing things along the way.
“My only source of sadness comes from knowing that we only reached a fraction of the potential we had.”
Associate game producer Estefania Rodriguez, who joined the team in 2021, said in a Twitter post, “A chapter closes today as I am one of the many people at Funko Games who got laid off because of the Goliath acquisition.
“I worked at Funko Games as a Game Producer for almost three years and was able to be a part of lots of amazing projects including Jurassic World: The Legacy of Isla Nublar, Star Wars: Rivals, Disney’s Kingdomania, and many more!
“Most importantly though I got to work with some incredibly talented people who I will miss dearly and love forever!
“Currently, I am looking for anything related to game producer/project manager/art producer/art director so if you have any leads, please let me know!”
Many industry players provided messages of support for the fired team members. Sushi Go and Barenpark designer Phil Walker-Harding, replying to Chris Rowlands on Twitter, said, “Prospero Hall is one of my heroes!
“Approachable games with a huge fun factor. Product design that let you know the creators love the IP as much as you.
“Thanks for all your hard work, and especially for somehow getting a Rear Window game made in this century.”
Netherlands-headquartered Goliath, which was founded in 1980, has owned the 50 million-selling Rummikub since 2014 when it picked up veteran US games maker Pressman Toy Corporation.
It specialises in toys and games for families and young children, including classics like Backgammon and Checkers to more modern design such as Fire Tower.
Goliath’s deal also includes assets from Funko’s board game development studio, which was known as Forrest-Pruzan Creative when Funko bought the company in 2019 as part of a push into board games.
Forrest-Pruzan has been involved in designing games including Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle, Ramen Fury and Jurassic Park: Danger!
As well as taking control of Funko’s board game assets, Goliath has also agreed an multi-year agreement to become the exclusive worldwide distributor of Funko’s current catalogue of games and puzzles, and has agreed to collaborate with Funko to develop and distribute new products in those segments.
Goliath CEO Jochanan Golad said in the press release on Jan 17, “Funko Games is a highly regarded brand that includes hundreds of board games recently created as well as a great portfolio from Forrest-Pruzan.
“We look forward to bringing the Funko brand and style to the game aisle in new and innovative ways. With Pressman’s 101 years and Goliath’s 43 years of selling games, we believe we’re a perfect fit to partner with Funko to develop and distribute games on a global level.
“We plan to commence marketing several key games around the world immediately. We’re especially thrilled about our plan to bring to market a new and exciting game called Bitty Pop! Chase, which includes Funko’s popular Bitty Pop! miniature collectible characters.”
Goliath added that it plans to showcase many of the Funko board games at the upcoming 2024 toy fairs in London and Nuremberg at the end of January.