Layoffs in Gaming are Unfortunate (and Unfortunately Nothing New)

Amidst the news of developer Telltale Games laying off 25 percent of their staff, I feel motivated to be more mindful of the layoffs within the video games industry and their implications.

Layoffs are incredibly impactful, regardless of what line of work that they’re apart of. With Telltale joining the lengthy list of companies letting go of staff as of late, my heart goes out to all the incredibly talented workers that recently lost their positions there and at companies like CCP, Harmonix, Volition and Motiga, among others.

Layoffs are nothing new in video games. Some major studios over the years like LucasArts, THQ and even Irrational Games of Bioshock fame have closed down for a variety of reasons, and these are only a few companies that went down this path. Especially with these larger companies, keeping shareholders happy is a necessary part of the business. Perhaps projects get cancelled, or financial burdens get the better of companies in the midst of poor game sales.

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We saw with EA’s closure of Visceral Games the shift from single-player experiences to an area of growing popularity: games as services, similar to Destiny 2. Patrick Söderlund, Executive Vice President of EA noted this in a blog post, and while some may suggest that it was much more than just a shift away from single-player (I highly encourage you to check out Jason Schreier’s fascinating article surrounding the matter), another fallen Star Wars game is salt to the wound first cut by the cancellation of Star Wars 1313.

It also isn’t uncommon for developers to hire additional staff as they ramp up production shortly before the release of a new title. When that game releases and the developer sees a reduction in their overall workload, it isn’t surprising for them to downsize to adapt to reduced demands. With so many variables involved in trying to keep a company successful, or even afloat, the industry demands that they be vigilant in maximising their efficiency. This high instability and fluctuation is undoubtedly stressful for all parties involved, and when this comes at the cost of the jobs of hard-working individuals, the results are disheartening.

In a statement, Telltale Games’ CEO Pete Hawley expressed the need to evolve and adapt to the changing climate in video games, doing so by “reorienting our organisation with a focus on delivering fewer, better games with a smaller team.” Given their track record recently – working on Batman: The Enemy Within, Minecraft: Story Mode, Guardians of the Galaxy, and the final season of The Walking Dead, for starters – one might think that the developer is stretching itself a little thin.

Perhaps a growing portion of the gaming community is becoming fatigued from an abundance of interactive adventure games. I see this as an opportunity for Telltale to regroup as a company, recognise what made their earlier titles (The Walking Dead: Season 1 as a noteworthy standout) so beloved, and to find a way to evolve that formula into something even greater.

And greatness is seen in the video game community as it comes together to support those struggling as the result of change. In these times, I often see statements and posts on social media from other developers reminding people that they are hiring and for those laid off to reach out. Hell, parent company Take-Two Interactive hosted a job fair after closing down Irrational. It isn’t hard to imagine that some of the staff at these companies understand the hardships that others are currently going through – perhaps even from first-hand experience. Seeing the community come together in moments like this is genuinely heartwarming for me, and I would love for nothing more than those in need to be welcomed with open arms to new companies and new, exciting projects.

It’s in the prospects of these new projects where I manage to find optimism and hope amidst the misfortune, as the shuffling of developer talent from one company to the next creates new collaborative opportunities and the sharing of exciting new ideas. Given the nature of video game development, layoffs like these are unlikely to go away anytime soon.

Like Telltale, I hope that all those involved are able to evolve and adapt with the industry, finding ways to support themselves when it may seem difficult to do so. New job opportunities mean new ways for developers to flex their creative muscles in new environments, and hopefully this results in them (and their new games) flourishing. While these fluctuations continue to persist within video games, we can continue to hope that the future holds promising new opportunities for those involved, and that those within the developer side of the community continue to band together in times of need.