Today marks another miserable moment in 2012′s trail of tears. This year has seen a terrifying and tragic number of studio closures, including Sony Liverpool, Radical Entertainment, Rockstar Vancouver and, of course, Big Huge Games. Beyond that, there have been mass layoffs at En Masse Entertainment, Popcap and Funcom, just to name a few. One of the most underhanded of these came during E3 keynotes when THQ slashed staff at their San Diego studio just moments after it was revealed that their UFC license had been transferred to EA.
If the struggling publisher and CEO Brian Farrell thought they were going to avoid the scrutiny of the press, they found out quickly how wrong they were. Now, it seems that two other companies have tried to succeed where THQ failed. Today, Battlestar Galactica Online developer Bigpoint announced the elimination of 120 jobs and the termination of development in the United States. While those layoffs should not be minimized, the bigger news of the day involves Zynga.
During the Apple event announcing a host of new products, the free-to-play chop shop known for liberally “borrowing” from other developers reportedly started laying off staff across the country. As is the trend lately, we found out about the staffing tumult first on Twitter. It wasn’t until Gamasutra received first-hand confirmation though, that this story moved beyond “troubling rumor.” Between the hard facts presented there and additional information gleaned by Joystiq, it seems that over 100 at Zynga’s Austin studio (responsible for the lawsuit-plagued The Ville and other titles) are without work at this time. Additionally, the entirety of Zynga’s Boston location has been eliminated.
This isn’t our normal story about layoffs. This one is much worse. Zynga didn’t only try to hide the sweeping terminations behind another company’s major event. If the multitude of reports are correct, the company wanted the entire affair done with before press even exited the auditorium to report on the iPad mini. The company allegedly gave terminated employees a scant two hours to clear out.
This tactic of burying miserable news behind someone else’s flood of coverage didn’t work for THQ. It’s slimy and devalues the contributions of staff even more than we typically see in an industry where job security is rarer than a unicorn. Shame on you, Zynga, and shame on any other employer that would even consider this approach.
You want to see how the good guys tackle the tragedy of necessary layoffs? Take a lesson in humanity from Popcap’s John Vechey. Our hearts go out to those who find themselves without employment in the wake of today’s events. For those remaining, we urge you to get your resumes in order. Your employer has revealed that they are willing to sink to deplorable depths. There are plenty of great developers sharing positions on Twitter right now.
Kotaku has gotten their hands on an email sent to Zynga employees by Marc Pincus. You can read the entire communication here. The important points are that the overall workforce has been reduced by 5%, the Boston office is closing and 13 older games are being wound down toward termination.