Caen on Interplay: "We're still here."

Controversial CEO points to an actively trading stock as evidence of the publisher's existence; meanwhile, office-closure chatter increases.

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Earlier this week, rumors began to swirl that Interplay, the once-mighty publisher of the Fallout and Baldur's Gate games, was closing down its Irvine, California, headquarters. Numerous reports from sources around and inside the company said that employees had been advised to collect their personal items, either by the end of the day Tuesday or by the end of the week.

Later, more-detailed reports began to surface, many saying Interplay employees had gone without health insurance or paychecks for weeks. The Orange County Register echoed these allegations last week in an article about two former employees who sued the company after their paychecks bounced.

As far as Interplay's response to these allegations goes, the silence was deafening. E-mails to the company were bounced back. The voicemail systems at the publisher and the American offices of its French parent, Titus Interactive, worked off and on all week. When an actual person was reached at the Interplay offices, he would not confirm that he even worked there. Instead, calls were passed along to the personal voicemail inbox of CEO Herve Caen, who has been nowhere to be found all week.

That is, until now. Last night, GameSpot talked with the surprisingly affable Caen, who denied the end was nigh for Interplay. His proof? "You can see our stock is trading, so we're still here," said Caen.

But when asked whether or not Interplay was facing eviction from its Irvine, California, offices or was laying off staffers, Caen's answers grew less direct. "I can't comment one way or the other," he said. "I'm bound by disclosure rules because we're a publicly traded company, so I can't say anything outside of press releases or official SEC filings." When asked when the next official SEC filing would be, Herve said, "I can't answer that. If I tell you, I'll have to tell everyone."

When asked why closure reports were coming from within Interplay, Caen demurred, saying "The Internet--it's a wild place." He did, however, say there would be some sort of announcement in the near future. "We're working on a lot of deals--a lot of solutions. You'll hear from us soon."

On Thursday, visitors to the Interplay offices found the doors locked, but some employees were lingering outside the back. While expressing optimism about the company's prospects, the workers admitted they hadn't been paid in weeks and had heard that there was a chance that Arden Realty, Interplay's landlord, was going to padlock the offices by the end of the week.

Meanwhile, online chatter about the closure of Interplay's Irvine offices grew louder. No Mutants Allowed, the Fallout fan site that acquired the first--and only--Fallout 3 screenshots and broke news of several high-profile departures from Interplay's Black Isle Studios, said it has received reports from several staffers that Interplay's offices were padlocked Thursday evening. Other reports said they would be padlocked at the end of the day Friday. Calls were answered only by Interplay's voicemail system, which had been down all day Wednesday.

More public verification of Interplay's troubles came from Sean K. Reynolds, prolific fantasy author and former lead designer at Interplay. On the forums of his official Web site, Reynolds said Interplay hadn't "been evicted yet" (emphasis in the original) as of Tuesday, June 1.

That same day, Reynolds officially quit, saying "Right now I'd rather be done with Interplay than sit around seeing if the upper management can salvage the situation." He said most employees expected the company's demise to be in 2004 but not so soon. "We just thought it wouldn't happen until August, rather than April." He also tacitly confirmed Interplay employees' paycheck woes, saying, "Apparently, you can file [for unemployment] if you quit, because you aren't getting paid."

Reynolds also acted unsurprised when he was told of the alleged closure of Interplay's offices. "Doh! Good thing I got all my stuff out already," he said.

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