Ruffian manhandling Crackdown 2?

What we heard: After it went on sale in February 2007, Crackdown became a hit for a variety of reasons. One big draw was that its Dundee, Scotland-based developer, Realtime Worlds, was founded by Grand Theft Auto co-creator David Jones. Another was the fact the title's GTA-esque open-world gameplay was slated to proceed Grand Theft Auto IV by eight months. Following a subsequent delay, Crackdown beat Rockstar's game by over a year. Finally, the initial shipments of the game came with a code that allowed players to access the beta test of Halo 3.

As a result of these factors, Crackdown went on to become a solid hit, selling over 1.5 million units worldwide. According to the NPD Group, some 750,000 of those were in the US. So why hasn't a sequel been announced? That was the question raised by Larry "Major Nelson" Hryb in a podcast last week. Speaking with Microsoft Game Studios head Phil Spencer, the Xbox Live director of programming pronounced, "I'm here to say on behalf of the community, we need another Crackdown." Spencer concurred wholeheartedly, saying the game was "one of his favorites" but offering no new information.

Since nature--and the Internet--abhor a vacuum, speculation has rushed in to fill the cracks opened up by Hryb and Spencer's comments. This week, the online edition of UK-based Edge magazine weaved several skeins together to form a compelling narrative about the possible development of a Crackdown sequel.

The rumor train starts with a Flickr photostream set titled "Office Viewing" spotted by, a regional business site. Posted under the name "Ruffian Games," the stream streams' caption reads "Gaz, Billy, and Barry viewing units in the Vision building with a view to one of them being our permanent HQ."

Putting two and two together, Edge indentifies "Gaz" as Gaz Liddon, CEO of the Xen Group, a game-development consultancy group which provided "core technology for rendering and physics, artwork, design, and managerial resources" for the original Crackdown.

The "Billy" in question is tentatively ID'd by Edge as Crackdown lead designer Billy Thomson, rumored to be involved in a startup studio named Ruffian. Indeed, outside the office viewing set, the photostream features a Ruffian Games logo (pictured).

"Barry" is not identified, but the circumstantial evidence was enough for to offer up a theory. After promising readers that "We never, ever deal in idle gossip," the site does exactly that, saying Ruffian's first project is "said to be the sequel to a best-selling sandbox game, also created in Dundee." US-based trade site GamaSutra quickly jumped on the bandwagon, saying it had confirmed with "unconfirmed sources" that Ruffian was indeed working working on a Crackdown follow-up.

The official story: "Microsoft does not comment on rumors or speculation."--Microsoft rep.
Bogus or not bogus?: The combination of Edge, GamaSutra, and makes for a compelling "not bogus" argument. However, by mid-afternoon, the plot had thickened. Britain-based got in touch with Realtime Worlds studio head Colin MacDonald, who said that his shop was engaged in "ongoing discussions" to work on a second Crackdown.

Though MacDonald conceded that no deal has yet been signed, he did express skepticism "that Microsoft would harm an otherwise fruitful existing development relationship by gambling on funding Crackdown 2 with a startup on RTW's doorstep, for obvious reasons." He went on to contend that if Microsoft did go with another developer, it would likely be an established one. Whether his words are insider information or PR spin to help move along a deal have yet to be seen.