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General: Jennings - 2009: That Horrible Year

StraddenStradden Managing EditorHalifax, NSPosts: 6,696Member

Scott Jennings returns with his column this week to talk about the year that was, in 2009, and the trail of destruction that it left in its wake... at least where MMO development is concerned.

Scott Jennings

Queen Elizabeth once memorably referred to a particular drama-filled year in her life as an “annus horribilis”, which shows that any phrase, even “horrible year”, sounds grave and fraught with meaning if you say it in Latin. And as far as game development in 2009 - well, it may well be time to bring out the dead languages, because last year was decisively an unpleasant year to be an MMO developer.

The Great Recession: When “Developers, Developers, Developers” turned into “Layoffs, Layoffs, Layoffs”

The hardest challenge facing MMO developers in 2009 was, umm, remaining an MMO developer. As the global economy imploded at the end of last year, the gaming industry showed that, contrary to the opinion of some clueless analysts, gaming is very much not immune to a recession. Just ask the folks at SOE. Or Turbine. Or Funcom. Or Mythic (twice). Or NCsoft. Or.. uh... me. Or... anyone at EA, as the gaming behemoth shed 1,500 workers (including the Mythic layoffs listed above).

Read 2009: That Horrible Year.

Cheers,
Jon Wood
Managing Editor
MMORPG.com

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Comments

  • NoobTechNoobTech birminghamPosts: 33Member

    What game companies need to be doing is finding out why people stop subscribing to their games and add content that will either bring back former subscribers or bring in new ones. trying to squeeze extra $$$ out of already paying customers is just plain greedy and needs to stop...and i don't care if it's only 'cosmetic' mt's either.

    lets hope 2010 is the year the companies start to listen to their customers instead of lining their pockets.

  • Toquio3Toquio3 LisbonPosts: 1,074Member

    Good article, i liked it. Just goes to show that corporations are greedy. There is no other word for them.

    image
    If you stand VERY still, and close your eyes, after a minute you can actually FEEL the universe revolving around PvP.

  • kingtommyboykingtommyboy earthPosts: 543Member

    2009 was indeed a terrible year.. but we're lucky it's almost 2010 ^^

    -------------------------------------------------------------------
    waiting for ... nothing..

  • duggieduggie phoenix, AZPosts: 9Member

    hey scott...you really oughta remove turbine from that list of devs forced to layoff due to the recession.

    the reason being that those folks let go last year around the release of MoM were all long term temps hired specifically for the duration of the Mines of Moria expansion and for the most part were all QA related jobs.

    so i for one would not categorize folks let go at the end of their contract as recession forced layoffs.

     

     

  • LumTheMadLumTheMad Round Rock, TXPosts: 29Member
    Originally posted by duggie


    hey scott...you really oughta remove turbine from that list of devs forced to layoff due to the recession.
    the reason being that those folks let go last year around the release of MoM were all long term temps hired specifically for the duration of the Mines of Moria expansion and for the most part were all QA related jobs.
    so i for one would not categorize folks let go at the end of their contract as recession forced layoffs.



    This isn't true. Turbine had opened a satellite studio in California which was believed to have been focused on console development. I had heard that the entire CA studio was shut down as part of those layoffs (although it looks like they've been staffing it back up a bit based on job postings, but more for associated LOTRO development then console work.)

    In any event, uh, laying off QA still counts. Especially, you know, if you're in QA.

  • RedempRedemp Hot Springs, ARPosts: 1,042Member

     I honestly get tired of the " Its the Recession" waggle.... I stil have a hard time believing MMO gaming was hit at all. The only company I can really see people pointing to, to solidify the claim is EA/Mythic and I honestly think that was not a recession based layoff...  that was EA cutting the fat from an Mmo they predicted would go nowhere ( much to my chagrin ).

    Scott works in the industry, I simply feed that industry so I will bow to those who should know better.... but I am still skeptical.

  • ScrogdogScrogdog Woburn, MAPosts: 380Member
    Originally posted by kingtommyboy


    2009 was indeed a terrible year.. but we're lucky it's almost 2010 ^^



     

    I wouldn't be too sure about that.

    If this holiday season fails in terms of game sales, we could see much more carnage in 2010.

  • LumTheMadLumTheMad Round Rock, TXPosts: 29Member
    Originally posted by Redemp


     I honestly get tired of the " Its the Recession" waggle.... I stil have a hard time believing MMO gaming was hit at all. The only company I can really see people pointing to, to solidify the claim is EA/Mythic and I honestly think that was not a recession based layoff.

    I have many out-of-work friends, acquaintances, and former co-workers who were laid off from companies not named EA or Mythic who would beg to disagree.

  • RedempRedemp Hot Springs, ARPosts: 1,042Member
    Originally posted by LumTheMad

    Originally posted by Redemp


     I honestly get tired of the " Its the Recession" waggle.... I stil have a hard time believing MMO gaming was hit at all. The only company I can really see people pointing to, to solidify the claim is EA/Mythic and I honestly think that was not a recession based layoff.

    I have many out-of-work friends, acquaintances, and former co-workers who were laid off from companies not named EA or Mythic who would beg to disagree.



     

     It was a bad gaming season all around, not just in the Mmo field. Which I still think had nothing to do with the recession. Its been a year full of flops, and very few sucesses on every platform. Are the layoffs a direct result of the recession,  which would imply consumers are not buying games like they did prior to...  or is it that combined with a bad year of games being unleashed, bad press.. and then that the looming " Theres a Recession " scared the companies into cutting their numbers?

    I'd like to see data on game sales across the platforms to support a  " The Recession caused gaming developers to cut employes" if you understand what I mean.

     http://news.cnet.com/8301-10797_3-10241545-235.html

    Interesting read  in regards to game sales in April

    http://news.cnet.com/8301-10797_3-10309560-235.html

    Another read in August.

    Generally people are questioning whether its a recession proof industry, the article lists a few key reasons why sales are down that don't begin with R and end with the dust bowl .

     I see the " Its the Recession" as a clever scapegoat... alot of business's and people find it very easy to just jump on the wagon... but demonstrating with data the corelation they won't do. For the gaming industry it seems pretty open and shut :

    1. Few large sucesses

    2. Reduced prices on all systems, games, and accessories ( Remember the prices were all higher last year, so you may be selling the same amount.. but the sales figures will show a stark drop)

    3. Few guaranteed hits being released. ( Madden and MW:2 being the exceptions )

    Combine all that with a climate ( The Recession ) and it seems easy enough to see why people were laid off. Did the Recession directly cause the layoffs, or did they simply force the hands of the companies?

    I'd go on .. but I am in danger of blaming the waggle of "Its a Recession" on everything... Panic does horrid things... if the media states we are in a Recession, get ready.. because if we arn't .. we will be soon.

     

  • Daffid011Daffid011 Posts: 7,829Member Uncommon
    Originally posted by kingtommyboy


    2009 was indeed a terrible year.. but we're lucky it's almost 2010 ^^

    Same thing was said in 2008, 2007, 2006....

     

    I don't have high hopes for 2010 to be honest.

  • GyrusGyrus Lost City of ZPosts: 2,329Member Uncommon
    Originally posted by Redemp

    ...

    I'd like to see data on game sales across the platforms to support a  " The Recession caused gaming developers to cut employes" if you understand what I mean.
     http://news.cnet.com/8301-10797_3-10241545-235.html
    Interesting read  in regards to game sales.

    Yes.  IIRC I read another article about this somewhere that said the slump in games sales started before the depression?

    (It's late so I won't be hunting for it now - sorry)

    As a consumer, my purchases have declined dramatically over the past decade - not because of the recession - but because I am not satisfied with what is on offer.

    Nothing says irony like spelling ideot wrong.

  • LumTheMadLumTheMad Round Rock, TXPosts: 29Member

    It's very difficult to argue that the gaming industry suffered record layoffs (and they did - EA's 1,500 alone is a huge, industry-shattering number in an industry of 50,000 people, and estimates are that the total carnage last year is around 8,000) in 2009, not because of economic conditions, but because all the games released in 2008 and 2009 were just really bad.

    On the one hand, all the games released *weren't* really bad (EA for example released Dragon Age, which is one of the best CRPGs in recent memory). On the other hand, game releases haven't slowed in terms of sales (see: Modern Warfare 2's record-breaking release). And on the gripping hand, you essentially are arguing that not only were games in the past year so bad that they caused layoffs, but they were uniquely bad as opposed to years prior. Which just doesn't make sense.

  • RedempRedemp Hot Springs, ARPosts: 1,042Member
    Originally posted by Gyrus

    Originally posted by Redemp

    ...

    I'd like to see data on game sales across the platforms to support a  " The Recession caused gaming developers to cut employes" if you understand what I mean.
     http://news.cnet.com/8301-10797_3-10241545-235.html
    Interesting read  in regards to game sales.

    Yes.  IIRC I read another article about this somewhere that said the slump in games sales started before the depression?

    (It's late so I won't be hunting for it now - sorry)

    As a consumer, my purchases have declined dramatically over the past decade - not because of the recession - but because I am not satisfied with what is on offer.



     

    I purchased twice as many games this year than I did in 08. /shrug

  • RedempRedemp Hot Springs, ARPosts: 1,042Member
    Originally posted by LumTheMad


    It's very difficult to argue that the gaming industry suffered record layoffs (and they did - EA's 1,500 alone is a huge, industry-shattering number in an industry of 50,000 people, and estimates are that the total carnage last year is around 8,000) in 2009, not because of economic conditions, but because all the games released in 2008 and 2009 were just really bad.
    On the one hand, all the games released *weren't* really bad (EA for example released Dragon Age, which is one of the best CRPGs in recent memory). On the other hand, game releases haven't slowed in terms of sales (see: Modern Warfare 2's record-breaking release). And on the gripping hand, you essentially are arguing that not only were games in the past year so bad that they caused layoffs, but they were uniquely bad as opposed to years prior. Which just doesn't make sense.



     

    It should if you go back and re-read it.

    Was a work in progress... should be easier to ascertain my points now.

    Forgive my lack of acceptance of the typical " Its a Recession" excuse. I was laid off at the begining  of the " Its a Recession" blame game. Was I laid off because of the Recession? No.. I was laid off because for the past year the company was hemoraging money due to poor decisions on the corporate level. Myself and several others had been blowing the whistle far prior to the layoff about our spending practices. That atleast is where I am coming from in the debate.

     

  • KryalisKryalis NorwichPosts: 27Member Uncommon

    In my mind, games (MMO's in particular) still offer darn good value for money entertainment wise. While any job loses are regrettable, a lot seem related to the game industries own issues ("hit" driven) rather than the macro economy (although it's not entirely dodged obviously).

    EA has been declining for some time and are using it as an excuse to clear shop, Mythic bet the bank on WAR and lost. The way Cryptic are playing about at the minute I don't think they would have survived without the cash injection from the rather sub par Champions Online. A lot of the big name games got pushed from this year to next, which has useful accounting mechanisms - This year sucks because of "the recession" next years is awesome because all the hits you pushed back hit then, hey investors look at our recovery!

    Alas I don't have the figures to hand, but does the huge rise of iPhone gaming make any headway into the losses of the mainstream industry? Them be gold in them thar mountains for sure...

    Shame Zynga ate all the facebook pie, that was looking like a good inroad for a while too.

  • erickdeforeserickdefores San Diego, CAPosts: 161Member
    Originally posted by LumTheMad


    It's very difficult to argue that the gaming industry suffered record layoffs (and they did - EA's 1,500 alone is a huge, industry-shattering number in an industry of 50,000 people, and estimates are that the total carnage last year is around 8,000) in 2009, not because of economic conditions, but because all the games released in 2008 and 2009 were just really bad.
    On the one hand, all the games released *weren't* really bad (EA for example released Dragon Age, which is one of the best CRPGs in recent memory). On the other hand, game releases haven't slowed in terms of sales (see: Modern Warfare 2's record-breaking release). And on the gripping hand, you essentially are arguing that not only were games in the past year so bad that they caused layoffs, but they were uniquely bad as opposed to years prior. Which just doesn't make sense.



     

    Good point  But lets face it, two games does not a castle make.  The truth is more likely both the economy and quality are factors in a slumping industery.  I myself feel the economy has had the harder impact on these companies with many titles being sub par in quality being another hit to stability.

  • MMO_DoubterMMO_Doubter Bedford, NSPosts: 5,056Member
    Originally posted by Daffid011

    Originally posted by kingtommyboy


    2009 was indeed a terrible year.. but we're lucky it's almost 2010 ^^

    Same thing was said in 2008, 2007, 2006....

     

    I don't have high hopes for 2010 to be honest.

    Indeed. I think there are still a lot of people working in the industry who simply don't deserve to be - judging by their results.

    "" Voice acting isn't an RPG element....it's just a production value." - grumpymel2

  • RedempRedemp Hot Springs, ARPosts: 1,042Member

     We could really simplify the debate and keep it only to Mmo's and their Dev teams.

    Lets look at who saw layoffs : Funcom, Ea/Mythic, Turbine, Soe.

    Despite Turbine, who laid off many after MoM was finished...Funcom and Mythyic/Ea  rolled out MMO's who are continually declining in population. Soe is a touch diffrent, they have had several titles on life support for the past few years: Potbs, Vanguard, EQ, SWG. So was it the Recession that caused the lay offs, or was it the Companies decisions?

    Seems pretty open and shut.

     

  • erictlewiserictlewis Cottondale, ALPosts: 3,026Member Uncommon

    Very interesting article. 

    However I have to point out these companies could have avoided all this buy making a quility product.  Lately a lot of companies just do so so.  Then you player base leaves and your stuck in the red.

    Turbine has not learned this leason yet.  I know they had temp hires for MOM, but they also closed an entire office in ca devoted to a console game.   The players paid the price.  The entire year was the tune of fix this part of the release fix that part of the release, and we still have quality issues.  Instead of getting 4 updates we got 2 updates and a ton of patches.  Still no leason learned.  With the new SOM about 60% of the o content is instanced, using the same fail model that DDO had before going F2P. I will not be giving turbine any more cash after that update.

    Really if companies gave the their players quilty games that are fun they would not have this problem of having to lay off folks, it just became way to easy for them to stick it to the player and do the same old thing.

    What players want is new and fun,  a lot of games are not fun any more and these dev's and companies need to figure it out.

    Part of the problem is a glut of MMO's now on the market both paid and F2P, so they think we will just do an ok job.  I think a lot of things need to happen with a lot of these companies closing shop and getting their act together and comming out with something new and fun.

    The only thing I can say is i feel for the guys let go, its not fun being unemployed having got the axe myself this past year.

  • TJKazmarkTJKazmark Columbia, TNPosts: 117Member Uncommon

    Despite the grim tidings of the article, I enjoyed reading the content.

    Although layoffs have happened and are still going on, I still have hope for the future. As someone who is interested in getting into the industry (even if I go indie), I have an eye on seeing where the job market is going. It seems that considering the way the companies are acting, we may see the rise of new, smaller developer companies made up of the very people that were laid off. I'm keen to see if this will be the case. Any thoughts on this, Lum?

    I won't talk about Facebook... it makes me too sad right now.

    In regards to subscriptions, I think it's a time of experimentation. With Eastern games being more F2P with item malls, and Western games having a more subscription-based model, they were bound to interact eventually. I think, over the next few years, we'll continue to see this chaotic scrambling of payment models (cut-throat, in some cases) before it either separates again or finds a satisfactory middle ground.

    "You think the place is trapped?"
    "I don't know...send the rogue in first."

  • brostynbrostyn Louisville, KYPosts: 3,092Member

    I happen to apperciate certain item shops. I like in EQ2 how I can buy a full bar of rested xp. In DDO, I love buying contract hirelings, and potions. The thing I don't like is how expensive it is(DDO has a fair price on some items others are laughable). I 've rarely bought the item shop enhancements, because of the ridiculous price. If it cost 15 dollars a month to play the game. I'm not going to buy too many 10 dollar potions that last for 2 hours(hello EQ XP potion that I never bought) . That is more than a movie, and it cost the devs nothing to get me this virtual item. If they slashed the prices in half they woud probably end up selling more. 

     

    Another point is when one is deciding to continue one's subscription they will take into account the item mall price. I did this for EQ and EQ2, and I unsubscribed. The price of the game(sub + expensive item mall), and the lack of people just wasn't worth it. IMO, DDO got it right. Most items are fairly cheap, and lots of people are playing.

  • CeridithCeridith Toronto, ONPosts: 2,980Member

    Very good article, and I particularly like the last point made.

    Games should stick to either P2P or F2P. Value added services and item malls are nothing but greed driven money grabs in a P2P game. The subscription is supposed to cover the cost of the game and it's services, not to serve as the entry fee into a game where you're bombarded by ingame advertising for game related 'services' or a long line of charging your credit card to advance.

  • JaedorJaedor Denver, COPosts: 1,140Member Uncommon

    No offense, but I really get the feeling that readers don't understand economics.

    Gaming companies were/are affected by the recession primarily due to lack of credit and tightening of credit rules/interest rates. No credit from lenders = less cash to shell out for new projects and in some cases, not enough cash to make payrolls. I get it that most of that is invisible at the retail end where we buy and play their games, but it's all connected. So it's not hard to understand that companies are looking for ways to generate more cash flow because business is run off it.

    Nice article. :)

  • RedempRedemp Hot Springs, ARPosts: 1,042Member
    Originally posted by Jaedor


    No offense, but I really get the feeling that readers don't understand economics.
    Gaming companies were/are affected by the recession primarily due to lack of credit and tightening of credit rules/interest rates. No credit from lenders = less cash to shell out for new projects and in some case, not enough cash to make payrolls. I get it that most of that is invisible at the retail end where we buy and play their games, but it's all connected. So it's not hard to understand that companies are looking for ways to generate more cash flow because business is run off it.
    Nice article. :)



     

     Good point.. almost.

     Your missing the fact that Gaming was/is considered Recession proof... so the impact of the tightening of credit applications is minimal, if anything banks would have placed more money in Devs hands based on the economic reports that its safe. Interest rates dropped.. so thats a non-factor. For every investor thats a Bank, theres an investor that has the capital on hand.

     

  • LumTheMadLumTheMad Round Rock, TXPosts: 29Member

    Although games with established subscription bases have an income to keep them afloat, new company startups (which would ordinarily be thick as flies thanks to all the talented people looking for work) have been almost completely shut down thanks to difficulty in getting funding. 

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