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Rockstar: 'Typical' Layoffs Hit  Red Dead Redemption  Studio
Rockstar: 'Typical' Layoffs Hit Red Dead Redemption Studio
July 15, 2010 | By Kris Graft

July 15, 2010 | By Kris Graft
More: Console/PC

Rockstar San Diego confirmed that it laid off a number of employees from its studio, which earlier this year released the critically-acclaimed and commercially successful game of the year contender, Red Dead Redemption.

Rockstar San Diego studio manager Steve Martin told gaming site Kotaku, "As is typical with game development, our team sizes have always fluctuated over the course of the development cycle. As Rockstar San Diego transitions from the launch of Red Dead Redemption onto future projects, we are realigning our resources in order to continue to develop games as effectively as possible."

While the studio classified the layoffs as "typical with game development," parent publisher Take-Two has been focused on achieving profitability in years that don't see a major Grand Theft Auto launch, and cutting costs is part of that strategy. Earlier this month, the publisher confirmed 20 layoffs at Civilization studio Firaxis in an effort to reduce costs. Last year, the publisher also sold off its Jack of All Games distribution business.

Rockstar's statement didn't confirm an exact number of layoffs at the Red Dead Redemption studio, but Kotaku reported that the studio laid off around 40 workers. Red Dead Redemption released on May 18, with Take-Two shipping 5 million units by early June across PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

Take-Two has also openly admitted that it needs to improve the timeliness of its titles. Grand Theft Auto IV and Red Dead Redemption were two notable titles with significant delays, but both received strong critical and commercial reception. Most recently, Take-Two delayed Max Payne 3 and Mafia II.

"We are ensuring that all employees who are affected by these changes are being treated with care," Martin added. "While we have no announcements to make regarding a sequel to Red Dead Redemption, the team here are hard at work on the development of downloadable content for the game."

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Mathieu MarquisBolduc
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Typical short-term short-sighted management. If you plan to reduce your headcount at the end of a project, you should hire those people with a temporary contract, not with a permanent one.

Russell Watson
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"We are ensuring that all employees who are affected by these changes are being treated with care," Martin added.

So they work them to bone with crunch rivalling the EA Spouse fiasco then lay them off and consider that being treated with care. These guys just made you a blockbuster hit and thats how you reward them. Perhaps the 'with' was a typo? "without" seems more appropiate.

Is it me or does there seem to be a trend forming of punishing success in this business :/

Mark Kilborn
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This didn't inspire me to not buy RDD new. The "eye of sauron" wallpapers did, their little jab at their own staff. I'm not comfortable pirating the game, so I found a copy on Craigslist. Someone wanted to sell it used for $50 or trade it for a copy of Alan Wake. I bought a new copy of Alan Wake (after already buying it for myself) and gave it to the guy. He was shocked that I was giving him a shrink wrapped copy, but so be it. After watching Rockstar take a pot shot at their employees in the public eye, I can't give them money. I can't do it. I'd rather give the extra $60 to Remedy for having the guts to try something different and, at least as far as I know, for not being jerks.

I'll never buy a new Rockstar product again, and I'm evangelizing the attitude to everyone I know, both in and out of the industry. It's not hard. With tales like this, and the crunch at SD, it's easy to convince people to buy it used. It's cheaper anyway.

It's a shame too. Red Dead is a brilliant game. They did a great job.

Jen Hamilton
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I'm with you Mark. I'll never buy a Rockstar game. Too bad those talented people get treated so poorly to line the pockets of ignorant, arrogant people.

I rented RDR, congrats to the game team for making a great title. Too bad it was for such a crap company that treats their employees like 3rd class citizens.

Rey Samonte
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Although this was to be expected, it's just plain sad everytime you hear it happen. The dedication and energy the team put to into the game went beyond loyalty to their studio. It became their life seeing how they sacrificed a lot to get it done. Very unfortunate the corporate world doesn't value that as high as it used to.

The number of studios in SD is very limited so I wish them the best.

Nicholas Ferrara
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Getting rewarded for a blockbuster game with a lay off.

Gamin Geek
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This is rediculous. RDR should be getting GOTY status pretty soon and they lay them off?

No loyalty anymore anywhere!

Kim Pallister
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"Thanks team, for making a hit title for us! Don't let the saloon doors hit your backside on the way out!"

So sad and frustrating. Hopefully they'll all be able to land other gigs with less shortsighted companies

Nicholas DiMucci
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The fact that it's "typical" sucks.

Benjamin Marchand
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Seriously, how can t hey hope to be appealing newcomers after so many bad human resource moves ?

Lo Pan
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Game developers are becoming like widgets. Lets create games that do not require so many widgets or lets look for widgets that are not hired full time and then sent away when not needed.

Dave Smith
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so Take Two wants more games, created faster, and with fewer employees. how long before they just close down every studio and outsource everything to Vietnam or something? what a joke.

Dan the gaming Guy
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I would suspect if this becomes too typical, people will find another industry to work in and or ask for higher pay to compensate for low job security. On the macro level, the laws of supply and demand will keep this practice in check.


Jen Hamilton
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Well as gamers and developers we can make a stand. I'm surprised this story hasn't made it to the mainstream media by now. Working conditions at R* are dismal at best... now they can the team that made them millions?!.... what a bunch of greedy cowards. R* --> F*

Dave Smith
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if the industry is gonna become freelance and project based like the film industry, then the workers have to become more organized and demand better compensation. We need something more than IGDA, which to be honest is a complete joke. we have to get over this aversion to (or flat out ignorance of) organizing.

Mu LaFlaga
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lol @ "typical"

well, I guess that scratches R* off the list of dev's I'd like to work for.

Sean Maples
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I cant help but think they will be hiring another 40 people next year to start production on RDD 2; shame they could not keep those people around and got them working on it sooner.

Jen Hamilton
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Trust me the people who got laid off are probably happy about it. They treat their people like dogs.

Dave Smith
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yes Andre, exploitation is right and just, and if laying off people makes the stock price eek up a quarter of a point, than its completely justifiable. people should just be glad they have the honor of working long hours for months on end only to be fired at the end. how disrespectful these ants are! social darwinism is awesome!

Jen Hamilton
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You're so right Dave. All those unpaid overtime hours. The privilege to work with sociopaths for managers, and getting canned in the end, while the corporation reaps in millions...I don't know what they have to complain about.

Adam Bishop
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So in Andre's view it is more important for the "developer" - which is a legal entity and does not actually exist in any physical sense - to make money than it is for living, breathing human beings to be able to afford food and rent. Sadly, that's exactly the kind of thinking that leads companies to make decisions like this. The economy should work for people, not the other way around.

Bart Stewart
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As the story implies, how much of this decision was made by Rockstar San Diego (formerly Angel Studios), how much was imposed by parent Rockstar NYC, and how much was forced on Rockstar by their "parent publisher," Take-Two, of which Rockstar (i.e., all the individual studios under the "Rockstar" brand) is a wholly-owned subsidiary?

If it wasn't Rockstar San Diego's or Rockstar NYC's preference to lose people, then it's not really fair to beat up on them for this set of layoffs. They're just doing what their corporate overlords at Take-Two demanded. (That might be a valid reason to criticize whoever sold Angel Studios to Rockstar/Take-Two, however.)

So how does all this belt-tightening at Take-Two play out at EA, I wonder, considering EA's strong attempt to acquire Take-Two back in 2008?

If Take-Two sold out to EA, would those of you threatening not to buy any more Rockstar games (or go to work for Rockstar if you're a developer) change your minds?

Brand loyalty is a tricky thing these days....

Reid Kimball
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Too bad corporations are legally treated as people. Go see the documentary or the book titled "The Corporation".

The laws that say corporations can be sued for not maximizing profit are why layoffs happen. Either we change the system (the laws) or we change with it (go freelance, ask for more pay, get more freedom).

I will no longer become an employee to a company, it's an old outdated model that doesn't work within an industry that uses layoffs to reduce costs.

scott stevens
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I know I'm going to be lambasted for bringing this up, but let's not forget that these people were paid for their work. They worked overtime, they got overtime pay - in California there are very strict labor laws that ensure this. It is very common, especially for large companies working on huge games like RDR, to add staff during the last third of the production cycle - especially QA staff. Once the game ships, these people don't have enough work to keep them busy.

The company has to collect the proceeds from the game, and make budgeting decisions based on the actual profit - not just how much the game made, but how much is left after paying for the cost of making the game, the marketing, and other financial obligations that a company incurs (such as possibly repaying bridge loans or short term investments) during the production of a huge project like this. Then you need to decide what you as a company are going to do next and use this money to forward those plans. Sure, this game is hugely successful, but maybe the entire portfolio for the company is not (most companies are lucky to have one smashing success that makes up for several financial losses) - so the proceeds will be rolled into the entire company and they will need to make decisions for where to go from there. This process takes months and involves a lot of politics and in-fighting between the executives, the management, the board of directors, the investors - it's a nightmare of meetings and compromises.

And during this whole process, there is just not enough work to support the extra people that were hired to finish the last game. Are these people expecting to sit around and do nothing and get paid for it? I don't think so, not in any realistic sense. Everyone that worked on this game got paid for their work, probably pretty decent salaries too, and they get to put "Red Dead Redemption" on the "shipped titles" portion of their resume, which is going to open a lot of doors for them. Many of these people probably got offered permanent positions in the company, and some people that have been around for a while were probably fazed out. But a company can't just have a bunch of people sitting around waiting for work while the execs try to plan out the next move - the burn rate would be overwhelming and the company would fail.

Then everyone would lose their jobs, not just 35 or 40 people.

Doug Poston
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@ Scott: I've been told that those "strict" overtime pay rules don't cover tech workers (or entertainment workers, I honestly forget the details).

I've been in this industry too long, all I can think is "They must not have been punishing them too badly if they had to ask them to leave at the end of the project. Otherwise they'd be running off to other jobs the second the Gold Master gets burned."

But the economy is still really bad.

In any case, I wish the "downsized" the best. Maybe they can start another studio in the area?

Rey Samonte
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@Scott ... There are those who are "exempt" and "non-exempt". Someone correct me if I get these backwards(I always do) but I believe if you have an exempt status when you were hired, you not entitled to the bonus pool but you do get OT pay. If you're non-exempt, you are eligible for the bonus pool but you don't get paid OT. I believe there's a number of people there who were let go that were non-exempt. In that case, that totally bites.

As for me, I was exempt and got OT so I wasn't too bitter doing my time. However, I left a little before the spouse letter. One of my reasons for leaving wasn't because they weren't paying me enough, I just made the decision that my time with my family was worth more than what I was making with OT.

Jen Hamilton
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It's a "high-tech" loophole, in which companies branded as "high-tech" are not required to pay over time, bonuses and whatnot.

The question does arise however; Do game studios still fall under this "high-tech" exemption? In order to legally qualify, a company has to have over 51% of employees hired as engineers/programmers...considering the requirements for current gen console on the art asset front. I doubt this is true anymore....yet no one raises this question.

I personally have no problem working unpaid overtime. I love making games, and WANT to put in extra time to get the quality I strive for. I do have a problem with companies exploiting their employees, leveraging legal loopholes to work their talent to the bone, just for the sake of doing so.

The layoffs stink, yes.. but working for R* stinks even more. They abuse their people, ask around, you'll hear the same story from anyone who has worked there in the past.

Evan Combs
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This is one of the biggest problems with the video game industry, and something needs to change in order to stop it. Companies need to figure out a way to make it so that these employees are able to go from one project to another without layoffs, and with minimal downtime. People should feel like if they are doing their job well that they aren't at risk of losing their job just because they recently shipped a game. I don't have the answer, but I hope we as an industry can come up with the answer fast.

Adam Bishop
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"Your right on the fact that economy should work for the people, but its not because of l labor unions and government interference in the ecomony via market regulations and things such as minimum wage. Take these things out of the equation then people can actually benefit from the ecomony."

If this is true, then income disparity would have been lower before things like minimum wages, overtime, and other labour standards were introduced. So here's an easy question - was the economy actually better for the average worker prior to the introduction of those things? [Hint: No, not even close.]

Ian Uniacke
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There really is no excuse for this. It is immoral pure and simple. If, as some people suggest, this is an expected part of their development cycle than R* should have been paying their employees higher wages as contractors. The unethical behaviour is not firing these people but that they "knowingly" exploited the laws regarding permanent employees. It's disgusting and I would not only recommend not buying R* games I would suggest not playing them as doing so is just contributing, even if indirectly, to this travesty.

@Bart: I see your point, and I think that it's valid, but I can't agree with you, simply on the grounds that dispersion of responsibility is a known and carefully orchestrated technique that is used to get people to think that unethical acts are ok.

Kim Pallister
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>They worked overtime, they got overtime pay - in California there are very strict labor laws that ensure this

As others pointed out, only applies if you are paid hourly (non-exempt). Exempt/salaried workers are paid based on what they do per expectations, not how long it takes for them to do it. Problem happens when expectations are set at a level that can only be acheived with crazy crunching - or when the expectation is the crunch hours themselves.

Jen Hamilton
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Not even expectations. Employees are threatened that if they don't work 7 days a week, 12 hour days that they will be fired...even if there are no tasks or direction.

Harri Granholm
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Here's an older Gamasutra article about unionization:

Also, it can't hurt to support IGDA.

gus one
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I'm clearly missing the point here but then I am commercial. So I hire a load of people to make/ finish off one of my games. Once it's done my future plans do not require all those people so I let them go. What's the problem? I paid them a wage they happily accepted. If they did not like the terms they would have not taken the job right? No one forced them to work for me even if I asked for some free overtime. As the boss I consider that paid for with their salary anyway. And people forget the door does swing both ways. They could leave at any point and those that stayed now have the Game of the year 2010 on their resume/CV. I blame this website for having 'sutra' in the title. It seems to attract too many zero commercial hippy free love job for all buddhist types. It's about profits and if you don't like it go indie or leave the industry. But don't cry here about unfair life is, it's embarrassingly immature.

r marc
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I think most people, especially people who work hard at their jobs are looking to further their careers. If you put in alot of effort and are working towards a goal then getting laid off is essentially like having the reset button hit on your career, and any loans for cars or rent or mortgage will be heavily effected by being "laid off" it's important for companies to make people aware going in to a project that it's for a set period of time. I agree with Gus as well, there has to be a balance.

justwanna makegames
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I AM an actual employee at Rockstar San Diego and it blows me away that those of you who know absolutely NOTHING about Rockstar are so quick to write as if you do.

You write about us being treated unfairly and none of it is true. We are all extremely well looked after here at in San Diego and we are all paid for the time we put in. Some of us earn OT and others receive bonuses to compensate us for the extra time and effort it takes to make a game like Red Dead.

Iíve received a bonus for every game Iíve made for Rockstar. Iíve never been forced to work a single minute of OT either. Iím provided real food when I work late. I receive a massage when my neck hurts. The fact that anyone writes as if we here at San Diego have something to complain about further shows how little you actually know about us.

It sucks that anyone lost their jobs yesterday. These were our close friends and colleagues who we all care greatly about and will miss. After speaking with many of them later in the day and in to the evening itís clear that Rockstar is continuing to look after all of them with generous severance packages.

So my question for all of you bashing our company is this:

What message are you intending to send to our bosses? Please Stop NOT forcing your employees to work extra hours and please stop PAYING them fairly when they do.

You have to understand how ridiculous and infuriating it is for us who work here to read the lies being written.

So just to be clear:

-We here are at Rockstar San Diego all voluntarily get up and go to work every day.

-Weíre all paid well for the jobs we do.

-None of us are forced to work overtime but we are compensated for the extra effort put in to the games we create when we do.

And in case you were wondering, I actually prefer homemade scones over donuts.

Jay Simmons
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Did they receive a severance package? Doesn't Rockstar have multiple projects on the go at any given time that these people could have been moved too?

david vink
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Almost all posters in this thread apear to use their real name, but the strong defender of Rockstar San Diego uses justwanna makegames for a name..? Why hide your identity?

Mark Harris
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Maybe he's hiding his identity because of the vehemence of arguments already displayed, or because the first 3 posts after his/hers are either skeptical or accusatory? I have no idea whether that person works for R* SD or not, but the least we could have done is thank him/her for the input. So, thanks.

It sucks when people get laid off, but we aren't on the inside, we don't know the situation, we have no idea how many of these people were hired specifically for this large project, we don't know what their next project is and how many people they need for it, we don't know their severance packages and whether or not they exist, etc etc and the thread is nearly totally full of corporate hate. The only thing we do know about this situation is that some people have lost their jobs, which sucks, and that they have RDR on their resumes, which doesn't suck.

I would hope that by this day and age, in companies who have been making games for decades, that there would be more complete and robust plans for employee project migration. The whole hire/layoff cycle is inefficient, and as dev costs increase and consumer prices stay static (or decline as many of you would like) maybe these large publishers can find better ways to purpose talent over a longer timeline.

Anywho, best of luck to those were laid off. I hope you land on your feet very soon and continue to make awesome games. Good luck to those left at SD, I hope your working conditions aren't as bad as we've heard, and if they are then I hope you find a better gig in the near future.

MaurŪcio Gomes
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I am with GUS...

First, I hate the idea of unionzing, unions usually create more trouble than they solve, mostly because after they solved the problems, instead of ceasing to exist, they just keep existing and creating more and more shit...

I already saw unions organizing physical battles, to make other unions in the area to away and leave the people in the area for them to unionize... Like, 300 people at each side, shooting and bashing and slashing at each other, some even hired professional mercs to do the job.

Second, these people are ALREADY paid for their work... You don't understand how your wage work? You work, THEN you get paid, but one month after you worked (or week, or day, or hour... whatever is your contract).

The people at Rockstar got hired to work with RDR, they DO worked (or you think the game suck?), then they got paid. Now, RDR is released, they are not needed, why keep them? To do charity?

Mind you, I am not to like this behavior, to me the AAA style production is stupid, hire hundreds of people to make a single game, expend lots of money on overhead... etc... But there is nothing wrong in hiring lots of people, doing the job, and then firing lots of people again. Yes, it would be better to NOT fire them, but if needed, why not? It is not unlike they will never get a job again...

Hell, in our forums we even call the stuff as "breaking in" because the hardest part is getting the first job... After you get your name in the credits of some games you "broke in" and then can get jobs more easier... If I had Rockstar (any of them) and RDR in my resume, I would be REALLY happy, I mean REALLY REALLY REALLY happy, because currently noone want to hire me, because what I have is some shitty iPhone games in a TV Ad company that decided to venture into iPhone.

Aaron Casillas
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Great game, pretty sad, hopefully everyone got their bonuses for completion (if in their contract) before being let go.

Grant Stanton
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justwanna makegames wrote:

"Rockstar is continuing to look after all of them with generous severance packages."

So those laid off received "generous severance packages".

I am pretty sure none of these folks had parachuteís in their employment agreements, as it would be highly unusual, so the severance was a voluntary move on R*'s part.

No one ever likes layoffs and I am sure that includes R* management.

I think any rational observer could agree that it's best when layoffs are a result of careful financial planning that affords a studio the ability to layoff folks in a respectful manner, voluntarily offer "generous severance" etc. and head off more dramatic layoffs down the road, as opposed to the alternative..... financial carelessness by management where people show up one morning to locked doors and sometimes do not even receive a last paycheck.

I have been working in the industry a long time and I know of far too many tragic situations where the latter was the case. Sensory Sweep is the most recent example I can think of...

"Salt Lake County independent video-game developer Sensory Sweep Studios closed this year in a fantastic implosion of overdue bills, unpaid wages and criminal charges against its owner and his wife. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the company owes nearly $1 million to about 200 former employees"

Also for context...

Activision laid off 400 people earlier this year.

EA...1500 last year

Namco 650

I imagine not all of those folks left with a huge hit title under their belt and severance to see them through to their next gig.

And for those voices advocating not buying R* games, maybe compile a list of develoeprs and publishers that laid off folks in the past year and boycott them as well? I imagine your game collection would grow pretty sparse quickly.

Here is one website that tracks job losses in the games industry..

In the context of what we often see in this industry...letting go 40 folks in a responsible and respectful fashion and voluntarily giving them severance...?

IMO while convenient for pure rhetorical purposes, it's very difficult to see R* SD as a heartless slave driver here.

Layoffs do suck, but if the bottom line requires it, better they be done in a strategic, respectful, sensitive manner as opposed to the alternative we so often see.

Just my humble 2 cents.

justwanna makegames
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Thanks Grant, one thing I didn't include as I was writing last night was the fact that Rockstar also gave every employee in our studio a paid month off once we were done with our tasks on RDR. This isn't something I've ever received from another studio after finishing a game before, but I donít imagine thereís much interest in blogging about Rockstar doing something like that is there?

Also, 40 people is a lot to me so reading about 1500 people being let go certainly gives additional perspective.

Ian Uniacke
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@Grant: Your argument sounds no better than the "for the greater good" argument. How can you way up the lives of 40 people against the lives of 1500? Regardless of whether other companies are doing it or not it is still unethical. Severance is intended to help someone out in a tough should not be seen as a viable out clause for a company that is financially successful. For many of the other job losses you quote there are significant financial losses that went along with those firings. For instance, EA had been running at a loss for some time.

Daniel Green
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Firstly guys many industries have contracts. It's not just games makers that are hired for a short term project. The people who work on these games and choose the lifestyle have likely gone in knowing what they were being offered and also would have talked to others at the workplace and made informed decisions for better or worse. I would like to think that many of them saw it coming and were looking around before they left.

I think the whole Infinite Ward debacle is being reflected here. It's just set a precedent and whenever staff are laid offfrom a larger company for a time to come it will be reflected pkorly onto the larger company.

A nice alternative in an ideal world would be to retain the employees and let them do their own projects using the same workplace (maybe on commission) and let them work together/ seperate as desired make bunch of smaller (indie?) games to sustain them until they are needed for a large project again. Google does some stuff like this and it seems to work for them. Just up to the parent company to see the potential in any project an not limit yourself to say, games where you play a criminal trying to get by in life?

Just my opinion. I don't work in games industry or know anyone who does. I'm not a business person, I'm just an outside observer. Food for thought.