If you've ever wondered why layoffs seem to be part and parcel of most triple-A development cycles, former Halo developers Marty O'Donnell and Jamie Griesemer, now heading up their own studio, Highwire Games, have offered an answer.
Speaking to Playboy in a wide-ranging interview, O'Donnell and Griesemer explain that, for better or worse, layoffs are simply "part of the budget," suggesting that the real problem is the way studios treat those they're about to let go.
It's natural for a studio's talent pool to swell as a project nears its end, says O'Donnell, who implies that most companies know they'll need to let employees go - they simply don't tell them.
"As you’re screaming to the deadline of post-production on a game you keep sucking all these people in that should be on the next project already," says O'Donnell. "Then at the end, it’s like, oh, now we need to fire you because we have nothing for you to do. We never spent the time figuring it out nine months ago."
According to Griesemer, layoffs wouldn't necessarily be seen as a problem if studios communicated with their employees. Those conversations, though, never seem to happen, and that's a huge issue.
"[The studios] know it’s coming, they just don’t tell their employees until the game is in the box. And to me, that’s kind of treating people like cogs, like a resource," adds Griesemer.
"If you bring somebody in and say, look, we’re not going to be able to pay you after the project ships, so you should be reaching out [to find future projects], but please do stay and help us ship the game. Ninety-five percent of the industry would do the right thing and stay until the game is shipped. And then they’d already have something lined up."
The other solution is to use contractors to finish up a project, which is exactly what O'Donnell and Griesemer plan to do at Highwire. Aside from allowing for transparency, it's a strategy that allows the studio to stay agile while creating new opportunities for others.
"I think some places are doing better at [using contractors], And [Highwire] is depending on it," says O'Donnell.
"[If] we get to a point where suddenly we know we need, say, ten times more environments than we have the capability of doing [in-house], we hire an outside environment art studio that’s really good and respected, and those people have a job."
Find out more about Highwire, including new info on the studio's debut VR title, Golem, over on Playboy.