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'Small Number' Of  Boom Blox  Devs Laid Off At EA
'Small Number' Of Boom Blox Devs Laid Off At EA
March 3, 2010 | By Kris Graft

March 3, 2010 | By Kris Graft
More: Console/PC

Electronic Arts confirmed Wednesday it laid off an undisclosed number of employees at its EA Los Angeles location. Those affected were developers of the Wii-based Boom Blox franchise, video game blog Kotaku reports.

"This is a routine event and not in any way related to EA's announced restructuring," said a company spokesperson, referring to a November initiative to lay off 1,500 workers by April this year.

The company rep said the layoffs were business as usual. "Moving projects to leverage development strengths is common in global studio organizations," said the spokesperson. "In this case, a small project has been moved from EA Los Angeles, to the EA Bright Light Studio in Guildford, UK, where the Harry Potter franchise and several of the Hasbro properties are developed. A small number of employees were impacted by the decision."

The rep added, "All eligible employees will receive severance and outplacement assistance. EA remains fully committed to maintaining its EALA studio which is the headquarters for the mobile division as well as for development of franchises like Medal of Honor, Command & Conquer and others."

Boom Blox launched in May 2008 as part of a collaboration between EA and film director Steven Spielberg. In July 2008, EA said the first game sold 450,000, enough to warrant the sequel Boom Blox Bash Party. The company didn't respond to inquiries about what the layoffs mean for the Boom Blox franchise.

[UPDATE: The long-running games website Blue's News said it spoke with Jeff Dixon, a former lead programmer at EA LA who lost his job as part of the cuts. He said that the 14-person Boom Blox team was laid off in the middle of working on a launch title for Microsoft's Project Natal. "I strongly believe in the future of Natal," he said.]

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Paul Reynolds
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Glad to see EA finally admit that layoffs are a "routine event" for them. Lovely.

Russell Carroll
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Sad to see in relation to Boom Blox.

I was lukewarm on the original, but loved the sequel (online, level-creation, new types of physics in underwater and space, and being able to knock the animals off of tall buildings!).

Sad to see it not generating enough sales to avoid layoffs.

I am not surprised to hear that some of the team was working on a Natal project (Boom Blox Natal?)

Ron Alpert
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This isn't unexpected, did't EA project something like 1500 layoffs from last fall thru next month? I'd hope with doing "rolling layoffs" like that, they would give some advance heads-up to people that their jobs would be ending soon (traditionally uncommon, but not unheard of in the current climate).

At any rate, these days if you are employed at a studio where you know things are (well-publicized) iffy, it's in your best interest to be looking out for yourself. Things like this are seldom sudden.

Also, a shame to hear that about Boom Blox - I LOVED the game - but it's never been a big seller (esp. right out of the gate), and therefore it makes sense if it's going to be one of the first things to get the kibosh during these belt-tightening times, unfortunately.

Thomas Lo
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Great game. Mediocre sales. Conclusion? Wii is fool's gold for talented developers.

Merc Hoffner
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If the 14 members really did constitute the entire dev team then your comment seems really quite silly. A quick look at vgchartz (the only international metric publicly available), reveals that while the second game underperformed at only around 200,000 copies sold, the original passed the million mark (I'm sure Spielberg's name carried some weight). A million sales from 14 guys on a simple little marketed game? Dante's Inferno should be so lucky. It was a slow burn, and early on EA stated they were dissapointed, but in the long run it proved the exact reverse of your point. I don't really see how they could have lost money on that. I don't really see how they could have lost money on the sequel either. Clearly they were doing well enough to warrent a sequel, and clearly they were doing well eneough to warrent a venture into experimental Natal territory. Conclusion? Either a) Natal development is a lot tougher and more unpredictable than that high gloss E3 trailer would imply (quite possible); b) EA don't know their Noodle from their Kaboodle. Their execs may say it's not so, but their numbers say yes it is; c) both are true.

Jamie Mann
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@Merc: it doesn't matter how good the first game did: just as in the record/movie business, you're only as good as your last hit - though it can seem unfair to blame the developers, given that it can be argued that brand-name association (Spielberg) played a part in the first game's success and a lack of marketing impacted the second.

However, it's also worth bearing in mind that (at least in the UK) Wii games are generally priced much cheaper than on the PS2/Xbox 360 - BB2 RRP was 29.99 (and is now available at retail from 25-15), whereas Darksiders (to use a slightly older game than DI) had an RRP of 49.99 and is available at retail from 33-37.

Put simply, the margins on Wii games are much, much lower, so while there may have been just 14 developers (plus the associated test/management/etc resources), it's debatable whether or not the "lower cost of development" are balanced out by the lower revenue.

Merc Hoffner
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Well it's out of my ass and massively simplified, but I'll play you at that hypothetical numbers game. Say the game took a year to make (which it probably didn't), each employee earns $50,000 (which they probably don't) and that we scale the additional per employee costs in resources, insurance, overhead and ancillaries at 1:1 of their salaries (a total guess but it's a standardish rule of thumb for most industries): 50,000*2*14*1*a bit more = $1.5 million. Say that all licensing costs, manufacturing, distribution and marketing (hah!) are scalable and covered per disc - Depending on overshipments, then on 200,000 sales (which they've well exceeded) they'd break even on just a $7.50 (about 5 pounds) AVERAGE margin - considering the HD games are hoping for something approaching the $30 dolar region (not that they get it) do you think that's a really unreasonable ask even after all the additional costs and price cuts?

Moreover, the 'as good as your last game' argument is simply moot here (as I hinted at) considering the ~$2-400,000,000 losses EA is willing to accept four times a year on their HD adventures - which they continue to support. Sure they fired >10% of their workforce, but that's not quite the same as firing 100% of this team - which when all is said and done pulled in a lot more profit than many of their other studios this gen - i.e. more than zero. Would they consider firing every member of Visceral Games? I think not - they've already greenlit sequels!

Really now, even a failed Wii game with hardly any investment can't possibly lose you that much money even if it sells ZERO copies. It may be a loser, but it's such low economic risk that experiments are worth it. Even then, your 'as good as your last game' rule doesn't mean the rug is forever pulled out from under you, nor is it even a hard rule. If it were then we'd be done with a million ever present franchises and devs, and James Cameron wouldn't have made another movie after The Abyss.

Again I'd point out that if things were really pear shaped as a result of poor bb2 sales, they'd never have sensibly invested in a Natal game for this period of time. To wait so long to firing them based on poor sales while simultaneously investing in a new more expensive project would be nothing short of cruel and unusual - but then this is EA management we're talking about.