Ninja Theory was founded in March 2000 by Tameem Antoniades, Nina Kristensen, and Mike Ball, but not under its current name. The studio, based in Cambridge, England, actually began life as Just Add Monsters. The company was acquired by the now-defunct Argonaut Games later that year. In 2003, Just Add Monsters launched its first title, a Microsoft Game Studios-backed 3D fighting party game Kung Fu Chaos for the original Xbox to generally favourable reviews from critics. According to Tameem
, the game "tanked at retail," due to lack of ads and support, saying he was amazed that Microsoft would "invest so much in a game and then send it out to die."
While Kung Fu Chaos was in development, the team began working on a sequel called Kung Fu Chaos 2, but Microsoft declined to fund it due to the first game's poor reception. Soon after, Just Add Monsters began developing a new IP called Kung Fu Story (Microsoft retained the IP rights to Kung Fu Chaos) but soon realised that players and publishers wanted games that were more realistic and had high production values. The team expanded the scope of the game and renamed it Heavenly Sword. Around that time, Argonaut Games went into administration, but after securing funding, Just Add Monsters managed to buy back the company from Argonaut and subsequently reestablished itself as Ninja Theory.
Heavenly Sword was eventually picked up by Sony and would become a PlayStation 3 exclusive that launched in 2007. The hack-and-slash action-adventure game was received well by critics but sadly wasn't a commercial success — Ninja Theory didn't even recoup its development costs.
Over the next several years, Ninja Theory released the excellent Enslaved: Odyssey to the West and the superb DmC: Devil May Cry
for consoles and PC. Enslaved was met with rave reviews from critics and fans alike in 2010, but as Tameem Antoniades notes, the post-apocalyptic action-adventure game "came out with little fanfare and disappointing sales," which he puts down to the fantasy elements of the game being a turnoff, the gameplay mix, and the lack of visibility.
Just before Ninja Theory finished developing Enslaved, the studio was given the go-ahead from Capcom to work on a spin-off Devil May Cry game that was set in a parallel universe to the mainline series. DmC: Devil May Cry was released in 2013 and again saw top marks from most reviewers for its visuals, gameplay, and its flowing combat. DmC also topped sales charts in the US, Europe, and Japan.
After DmC: Devil May Cry's release, Ninja Theory developed an on-rails VR shooter for PS VR and PC called Dexed and took on contract work, supporting development on Disney Infinity: Marvel Super Heroes and Disney Infinite 3.0. The team had the idea of an "independent AAA" business model that would have Ninja Theory retain its IP and publish games itself. Ninja Theory believed there was a middle ground between low budget indie development and AAA projects, with games that would have high production values but were sold at a lower price. A team of 15 people at Ninja Theory got to work on Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice
, which launched in 2017. The third-person action-adventure was hailed a success, with reviewers praising the game for its depiction of psychosis and other mental illnesses. It also sold well, shipping over half a million copies in three months
, generating $13 million and picking up numerous industry awards.
The following year, Ninja Theory was acquired by Microsoft. In a YouTube video
, Antoniades explained the acquisition meant that Ninja Theory could be "free from the AAA machine and make games focused on the experience, not around monetisation," with Microsoft promising full creative independence.