As I wrote in an earlier post, approximately two weeks ago Activision canceled the game I was working on, True Crime: Hong Kong. This left my employer, United Front Games, in a really tough spot. With no more on-going financial support from Activision, UFG had no means to continue paying a team that numbered around 150. There were attempts to reach a deal with another publisher to get the game finished and out the door but those attempts were not successful.
There was a big team meeting this afternoon where this was plainly and clearly explained to us. We were then all instructed to go to various rooms by disciplines to find out our fates. For the majority of people, that meant sudden unemployment. I don’t know the exact numbers but I heard more than two-thirds of the team were let go. I knew I didn’t stand a chance even before going into any room. I was the new guy, working in an area of the game that’s not glamorous, and I didn’t know any of the important decision makers in the company. No one needed to tell me my services weren’t required any more.
I didn’t get any severance but that wasn’t really a surprise. I had worked at UFG for less than three months. As a new employee, you’re the most vulnerable in the first couple of months of employment. If something bad does go down, you’re not entitled to any compensation because you’re so new. On top of that, no one knows who you are or what you can do, so you’re stuck without any potential protectors who might have shielded you from harm. While three months at a company before getting laid off seems bad, there were people who literally started their contracts the same week the game got canceled. They essentially worked just a handful of days before they got the boot.
When EA laid me off at the end of October, it was the first time I had ever been really laid off. Now less than six months later, I’ve been laid off twice. That’s not something I really wanted to experience again so soon. If you’re wondering what my short term plans are, I have to admit, I don’t know what I’m going to do. Money isn’t an immediate concern right now. I received a generous severance from EA in November, so in essence, I’ve been doubling up on pay since December. Also since I have never lived paycheque to paycheque in my entire life, I have enough money saved up to last me for quite a while.
There are some items that I will need to figure out. When should I start looking for work again? There are now at least three major groups of game developers out of work in the Vancouver area: the remnants of the True Crime team, the whole of Propaganda Games, and the laid off people from EA (from last October and this January). Should I even bother trying to compete with these people right now? Should I take a little vacation first? Where will I apply? What studios are left? Given what has happened to the industry in the last several years, does it even make sense to work in games any more?
I don’t have the answers to any of these questions right now but I’m ok with that. I have the luxury of time on my side and I am going to use that. For example, I am going to reserve the next 8+ hours for sleeping. Tomorrow is another day and I may not do much with it but at least I will be well rested.