18/02/2010 - 00:00

Interzone cruels hopes of local gamers

18/02/2010 - 00:00


Save articles for future reference.

IT could have come from the pages of a Hollywood thriller – protesters in the streets, claims of corporate sabotage and the stealing of lucrative intellectual property.

Interzone cruels hopes of local gamers

IT could have come from the pages of a Hollywood thriller – protesters in the streets, claims of corporate sabotage and the stealing of lucrative intellectual property.

Now it seems only liquidation and lawsuits will result from the tens of millions of dollars invested in what one company co-founder has acknowledged as a “risky’’ venture, leaving employees searching for answers.

Once a multi-million-dollar international company with 160 staff across four continents, computer games developer Interzone now faces collapse, struggling to service its global debts to government tax offices, and past and present employees.

Western Australian police were called in three times last week to deal with Interzone staff who were protesting outside the company’s offices calling for unpaid wages, superannuation and their personal belongings (which remain locked inside Interzone offices at Bentley’s Technology Park).

Staff were also concerned Interzone executives would remove all the intellectual property (IP) from the site, including the latest games development data and computer servers, then return to the US and complete the project with another team of developers, leaving Perth staff with nothing to show for their past 18 months’ work.

Last Friday, WA Business News reported online that Interzone had closed its lead development studio in Bentley owing more than $1.5 million in unpaid wages, superannuation and taxes.

All of the many employees contacted by WA Business News claimed to have significant monies owed to them, some as much as $20,000, including superannuation and unpaid wages.

An email received by WA Business News from QF Tang of Guangzhou, China in response to the online story (claiming to be the former manager of Interzone’s 60-staff office in China, which closed late last year) suggested Chinese staff were still owed $US450,000.

Interzone producer Felix Wai said while he was owed about $13,000, some of his Perth colleagues, whose numbers fell from 50 to 15 during the past 12-18 months, were far worse off.

“I don’t know how they are surviving,” he said.

US-based Interzone chief executive, director, co-founder and majority shareholder, Marty Brickey, confirmed debts to local employees of about $500,000 and about $1 million to the Australian Tax Office.

The due date for the ATO bill was last Friday and Mr Brickey said that, despite his best efforts to raise further capital privately to pay the debt, this would not occur before the weekend.

While the ATO cannot comment directly on individual cases, chapter eight of the ATO Receivable Policy for collections states: “Formal legal action, up to, and including, the liquidation of companies” may be appropriate if “a debtor does not respond to a notice calling for payment of the debt.”

Mr Brickey said he had personally invested $8 million in the company, as part of about $30 million in capital required to launch and maintain the Interzone business for the past four years.

He said paying local employees and the ATO was his top priority and, after failing to raise capital privately, the only way to meet these debts was to complete the current project ready for global publishing, which would open up further funding of about $15 million.

As such, Mr Brickey said he had organised “outsource studios in multiple locations” to complete the project utilising the IP secured from the Perth offices.

“From my discussions I’m confident that the game can be ready for publishing within 60-90 days,” he said.

Mr Brickey said he would guarantee payment to Perth employees if the game was ready to publish within 90 days.

He believes the key reason behind the lack of employee payments leading to Interzone’s Perth office “being placed on standby” was the collapse of Nationwide Payroll, which went into liquidation and took $400,000 that was intended for employee wages and superannuation.

“We wanted to finish the game in Perth but it was impossible to do it with a lack of resources and we couldn’t recover from the payroll company going under,” he said.

“If we had paid them (employees) there was no more money for operations.”

In March 2007, Interzone received $500,000 in state government funds as part of a three-year deal announced by the then industry and enterprise minister, Francis Logan.

But Mr Brickey said this had not been paid in full, claiming to be owed more than $120,000.

However, after what’s occurred during the past 12 months, he said he would be happy to never return to WA.



Subscription Options