EA Layoffson February 22, 2013 at 12:01 am
So I was about to type up my latest in a series of commandments about writing for videogames when I got the news that EA was laying off people from EA LA and Montreal where I have friends. Then I made the mistake of reading the comments on some websites, and came across some of the typical regurgitations lauding the firings and studio closure of Visceral Games with comments like “good” and they “deserved it.”
My first response was less than kind. My knee jerk reaction was vitriolic. Then I reconsidered and spoke to Jean, the man behind the scenes at Get Stuffed here, and he echoed what I already knew. Insulting people leads nowhere. It dilutes and obfuscates the arguments. Look at politics. Look at how fast you can derail a rational argument with insults.
Fact is regardless of how you felt about any of these companies that closed recently, from THQ to EA, the loss of jobs is bad news for everyone. Everyone. That includes me, you (the consumers), and even the people who cheered the studio closures. Why, because when an industry, any industry, gets hit with the whiff of cheese, they amputate. Or in the case of entertainment, they shy away from innovation. Innovation is scary, innovation is untested. More importantly, there are no numbers to quantify the impact of innovation outside of technological advances.
Remember when I mentioned how everyone has an idea for a videogame? Everyone? Every? One? Well, there was another point I forgot to mention why companies aren’t enamored with story ideas, and that’s because they cannot ascribe a value to those ideas. Invent new tech, and they understand immediately the implications of that tech. Tech has a dollar value, tech has longevity for a handful of games. Tech can be made part of the intellectual property’s identity. But, an idea for a story is a one-shot thing that can’t be quantified in dollars.
So, when a studio shuts down, the industry gets jittery and eschews original ideas. Suddenly you meet with sequels to sequels, and re-envisioned properties. Why? Because a company can bank on about 75% of the previous installment’s returns (using movies as a baseline), and that’s something a company can show the jittery investors.
When people get fired, it’s far from good because the industry doesn’t flock to innovation as salvation. It avoids it. Like the plague.
But let’s move away from the business aspect of this and talk about the more important element. People lost their jobs, and for every decision-maker who was cast to the wind, I bet you at least ten to twenty men and women in the trenches followed. Think about it. Who are the companies going to lay off? Wars don’t throw their generals at the enemy, and neither do corporations. Blaming the men and women who got fired for bad games is like blaming WWI soldiers in the trenches for not winning the war when it’s their commanding officers who keep sending them over the wall into the gas and bullets.
The people who got laid off were your friends. They spoke your language. They played your games. They fought for you. They argued with their supervisors over decisions you eventually echoed after the game’s release. Nobody goes into games because they have no options left. They don’t sacrifice health and family for brutal overtime because they don’t believe in what they’re trying to do. They have children. They have partners. They have mortgages and car payments and meals to put on the table. And they live for the moment when a fan sends in a letter saying ‘thank you.’
These are the people who lost their jobs. They deserve better than “good.”