Inside Pulse 12

Electronic Arts Conducts “Seasonal Roll-Offs” On Canadian Employees

There are times when reporting the news makes me angry. This is one of those times.

Joystiq has confirmed with Electronic Arts that the company has “rolled-off” – that’s “fired” in corporate whore-speak – jobs for the third year in a row, as part of what company spokesperson Jeff Brown terms “team size adjustments”.

“As you know, seasonal roll-offs that follow game launches are common and vital to maintaining a healthy business. Because so many of our games ship in the holiday quarter, the team size adjustments tend to follow in the same timeframe. However, EA is growing and several of our studios are looking to hire talented people.”

Oh, so firing people just before Christmas is routine, eh? I guess that makes it better!

Shacknews cites an unnamed source that states that “as many as 100” employees were let go at EA Canada (responsible for the NHL, FIFA and NBA Elite series) and the remnants of EA Black Box (Skate, Need for Speed: World), both based in Vancouver, BC. This follows 600 layoffs in 2008, and 1,500 layoffs in 2009. We don’t even know if this is it yet, either; there are unsubstantiated rumours that more layoffs are coming, possibly affecting the EA Active team, and we won’t know the full damage until EA’s financial call on November 2nd. In the meantime, development of the indefinitely delayed NBA Elite ’11 has been moved to Tiburon, which isn’t the first time a major franchise has been moved to Tiburon after a failure to release, as 1UP points out.

So… where to begin?

First off, this affects games that are currently out. Long-awaited patches for NHL ’11 and FIFA ’11 (review coming either Friday or Monday) are still not out, and cutting staff certainly isn’t going to help things along in that regard. By the time we get patches that fix game-breaking bugs, NHL and FIFA ’12 will probably be out, and just as broken.

Secondly, with NBA Elite moving to a new team and likely being started from scratch, I am fairly confident we can put off any thoughts that Elite ’11 will even come out. This is unconfirmed and purely speculation, but I’d put money on Elite not coming out until the 2011-2012 NBA season. You know, if they have a season with the threat of a lockout coming.

Finally, I don’t know what’s more infuriating: the timing, or the reason. The timing sucks; it’s October 27th, and the holidays begin in earnest around American Thanksgiving. Now, at least 100 people – a number that is very likely to grow in the next week – have to go home and go “Hi, honey! I’m unemployed!” at a time when people need their jobs the most, and in the case of NHL and FIFA, right after release of the game, which almost always involves 100 hour weeks to get the game pushed out. Regardless of how the end product turned out – in the case of both sports games, they were buggy as hell – it certainly wasn’t for lack of effort; these cats work their asses into the ground. EA used – and consistently uses – these guys, then dumps them as if they were corner whores. But to me, even that isn’t the most shocking part of this. The action is bad, but the *reason* is worse: the timing of the layoffs – just before the financial call next Tuesday – is specifically intended to make the numbers look better to investors, at a time when EA’s stock has taken a beating. That’s all this is: creative accounting, with the minor consequence of blood on some suit’s hands. It’s shocking, it’s insulting, it’s brutal on the people that are now employed in the second most expensive city in Canada to live in, and only proves that there are consequences to our $60 games, especially when the company that publishes them is publicly owned.

One last note: I’m seeing a lot of people killing Jeff Brown for this, as if he was the person that made these decisions, and especially for the last line, stating that EA is growing and hiring at other company owned developers. Try to keep in mind an anecdote my boss at Trumbull High School – where I was a varsity coach – told me from before he became an English teacher. He was a company spokesman for the company he worked for at the time, and tells the story of how he would have to blatantly lie to the press about his company’s intentions. Why would he do this? Simple: a wife and two young children. It’s easy for us to say “pride before the fall!”, but try to say that when you’re feeding young mouths. Bear that in mind before angrily reacting in comments towards him.

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