From Despair to a Shrug, Our Top Five Ways to Look at MMO Layoffs

By Jeff Francis
Top five ways to look at mmo layoffs

The virtual worlds of online games offer players both enjoyment and a welcome respite from the mundane reality of the real world. While gamers look upon online games as a source of fun, they are actually businesses in every sense of the word. A lot of people work on such games, and their continued employment is determined by how successful the game is as well as some other factors. Just like in the traditional business world, the realm of online games does regularly suffer layoffs. When gamers hear about mmo layoffs occurring, the first reaction is that the game is shutting down. However, there are other ways to look at such instances. Let's examine the top five ways to look at mmo layoffs.

The first of the top five ways we should look at mmo layoffs is to feel sympathy for those affected. Younger players (teens and those in college) don't know the sting of being let go from a job or feel the pressure of having to support a family. The world of mmo games is notoriously brutal in terms of job longevity. Our first reaction to hearing about mmo layoffs is to feel bad for those who have lost their job and hope that they find a new position soon. The best of a bad situation is that the developers being let go are told a good bit of time in advance of what is going to happen and that they get a decent severance package. The worst-case scenario is being unexpectedly fired. One of the most infamous mmo layoffs occurred a few years back where all the employees of a game company were told to assemble in the parking lot for a meeting. Once everybody was outside, management told them that the company was folding and that everyone was fired. (The fired employees weren't even allowed back into the building to grab their personal items.)

The second of the top five ways we should consider mmo layoffs is that it's a normal part of the development cycle. It takes a lot of developers to create a game and get it ready for launch. Once a game launches, it takes far less personnel to maintain the game and create future content. It's extremely common for a lot of developers to get a pink slip once a game successfully launches. While players may freak about hearing about developers being let go at such a time, it's a standard practice that everybody in the industry fully understands. There's no need to hit the panic button in these instances.

That being said, there is a time when it's okay to hit the panic button, which brings us to the third of our top five ways to look at mmo layoffs. What we're talking about here is when a game begins its descent into eventual cancellation. If a game company suffers multiple rounds of mmo layoffs or a single layoff impacts a large percentage of the workforce, then it's time to begin considering about finding a different game to play. Games like Pathfinder Online and Firefall have shut down or ceased development after having most of their staff fired. Personally, I'm surprised that WildStar is still up and running after going through several bouts of mmo layoffs. While there are valid reasons why gamers shouldn't worry about some contraction in the game company, the reason for such instances are often not good. A single round of layoffs can stabilize the bleeding somewhat by cutting expenses, but then player confidence is shaken, possibly leading to an exodus. This can start a vicious cycle of further cuts being needed, which causes more players to leave and a perception of the game failing, which then leads to more cuts. If there's been little new content added to a game in the last six months or no concrete release schedule for future content, then you should really begin to worry if a layoff happens as it does bode ill tidings.

The next item on our list of the top five ways to look at mmo layoffs is far less gloomy than our previous topic. A layoff could be just a cost-cutting measure to allow a company to consolidate its operation or remove some redundant positions. This normally happens when a game company buys another one. The parent company already has their own workforce in place, and it stands to reason that a number of them will be overseeing aspects of the newly bought company. This means that there will be an overlap of too many personnel for specific tasks, such as directors, designers, and project managers. The most recent example of this happened to the developer of Gigantic after they were picked up by Perfect World Entertainment. This particular type of mmo layoffs could also be used to trim the payroll as the company realized that it would run out of cash before the game launched. They may realize that a smaller workforce could still get the game launched, and even a small delay could mean far less cost with a reduced payroll. In such a case, the game's foundation is usually pretty solid and the developers are just looking to put some polishing and minor tweaks into place.

The last of our top five ways to look at mmo layoffs is to just shrug. Layoffs are going to happen, but they do not mean that it's a given that a game will be shutting down. Quite a few games have continued to operate even after suffering multiple rounds of mmo layoffs. The developer of Tera, En Masse Entertainment, has let people go and the game continues to do well. Turbine had suffered several rounds of mmo layoffs, yet but both Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons and Dragons Online were released to a new game company and have plans to run for years. The reality is that layoffs do happen, but that does not mean that our favorite game is going away. A new infusion of cash, a more streamlined operation, or a switch in revenue modes can re-energize a game completely.

The first reaction that gamers get when hearing about mmo layoffs happening is to panic a bit and worry that their game will be shutting down. While people getting laid off is never good news, it does not mean that an online game will be ending for good. Layoffs can occur due to the game launching and no longer needing a large workforce, or they can happen due to one company buying another one. Of course, it can also mean that the end is nigh. The one true takeaway is that real people and their families are affected by mmo layoffs, so we should keep those impacted by such events uppermost in our thoughts.


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