Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Pandemic job cuts

It seems the rumor about Pandemic closing was largely true. About 200 Pandemic employees are being laid off today.

It's unclear right now what exactly EA's plans are for Pandemic. Apparently, some senior Pandemic employees will be transferred to EA's studio in Los Angeles. EA claims this is not the end of the "Pandemic brand", so those folks may get their own studio within the existing infrastructure there in LA.

Three questions seem to be repeating among my friends in reaction:
  • Is this really the end of Pandemic?
  • How does this reflect on EA?
  • Should I still buy The Saboteur?

First, assuming Pandemic remains in some form as EA suggested, what can we expect in regard to quality of future Pandemic games? I expect the same.

The sad fact is that high turnover is the norm all across the game industry, with few exceptions (Infinity Ward's Robert Bowling recently cited their good employee retention as a factor in the quality of their work). One might excuse this as the inevitable consequence of any project-based work or condemn it as something fiscally unnecessary, but it is the industry norm.

My point is that most of the development companies you admire switch out junior staff all the time. It is the leadership of senior staff and management which define each company's reputation. If Pandemic's leadership transfers relatively intact to LA, then I expect their high standards to transfer as well.

By the way, I mean no disrespect to the junior employees at Pandemic who have lost their jobs. The Saboteur seems like a great game, and that level of quality is not possible without talented and dedicated workers from top to bottom.

Next, how does this reflect on EA?

Many gamers think of EA as a giant, evil corporation that gobbles up the little guys and likes to churn out endless sequels to games that were once great. Five years ago, that might have been a fair reputation. But in the past year, EA's leadership changed, and I believe they've done a good job of improving the company.

Look at what John Carmack of id Studios had to say:

"I think there really has been a major intentional corporate cultural change there that came down from on high, that said, 'We're going to change the way things are done here.' "

Or just look at EA's recent games: Dead Space, Mirror's Edge, Spore, The Saboteur, etc -- fresh, quality games. I wouldn't call Mirror's Edge or Spore great games, but they certainly excel in some ways and broke new ground. Some forget, but the studio that made Dead Space was called EA Redwood Shores when the game was released, not Visceral Games like it's called now. An EA studio was also responsible for a game I consider to be one of the best of all time, LOTR: Battle for Middle Earth II (the PC version puts the console version to shame).

Of course, EA could always return to their old ways, especially given a catalyst like our current struggling economy. I expressed worry a week or two ago on Twitter when EA made some remark about placing more emphasis on established IPs to protect themselves from the economy. It's hard to begrudge them that, considering Dead Space and Mirror's Edge certainly didn't sell as many copies as they had hoped. Anyway, I learned long ago that even the most reliable organizations can falter and the weak ones can grow stronger. I just accept them as they are.

Finally, should today's Pandemic news affect your decision of whether or not to buy their latest game, The Saboteur? I'd advise no.

Whether or not EA's mass layoffs were avoidable or even selfish, I have no doubt that the developers involved in The Saboteur want to see that the game they made is appreciated by gamers. If the game was shown lots of love on forums but no in sales, it just wouldn't be the same. That would raise questions about its quality, don't you think? The best way you can appreciate the fired developers is to buy their game.

Myself, I wouldn't buy it solely for that reason. I'm not saying go out and buy it to support those Pandemic folks even if the game doesn't interest you. I'm just saying, if it does look like a game you'd enjoy, don't let this Pandemic news stop you from buying it.

And, of course, you could also appreciate these folks by paying attention to the game credits and following their careers as they move to other positions and companies.

Anyway, what do you think? Does that all sound fair enough?


  1. Not sure what I'm going to do about buying Sab'. The news is a little shocking, plus I have loads of other titles to get through.

    Maybe I'll defer my purchase until the new year.

  2. LOTR: Battle for Middle Earth II's PC version is by far one of the better RTS games I've played.

    In this recession, which is still taking place btw no matter what Obama might be spouting from the mountain tops, it figures that some companies are just not going to be able to survive.

    And with all things, I'm sure the core of Sab is in tact, but I would wait till its out and put any ideas of a pre order out of your mind for now.


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