Feature: 10 Firings that had the Industry Talking

By John Keefer

It’s always news when a company closes its doors and people are laid off. Unfortunately, in this economy, it’s been a bit too common. But every so often, there are some firings or closings so surprising that we spew our coffee onto the computer screen. In chronological order, we present some of the most interesting firings from the last decade-plus:

1)      Jacques Servin (Maxis, December 1996): The gay computer programmer slipped some “unauthorized content” into SimCopter, including beefcake guys in bikini briefs. He had also programmed the game where, on certain rare dates, boys would kiss and more bimbos and Elvis impersonators would appear. The dates? His birthday, Friday the 13th and his ex-boyfriend’s birthday. Maxis later patched the game.

2)      Josh Robinson (Sony, February 2006): The PS3 artist was fired after making comments on a blog comparing the PS3 and Xbox360. While he said he was excited about the PS3, he commented that it didn’t matter how good the PS3 was if the 360 was actually better. While he stood by his comments, he pulled down the article. He later vowed to never “say anything at all about anything.”

3)      Jeff Gerstman (GameSpot, November 2007): Whether it was for his negative Kane & Lynch review that pissed off Eidos or some other reason that Cnet said they couldn’t discuss, the firing of the longtime GameSpot editorial director had speculation running rampant for months. Several other GameSpot editors departed in the following weeks in protest.

4)      Ensemble Studios closed (January 2009): Microsoft announced in late 2008 that the studio would be closed after Halo Wars was completed. The venerable RTS studio, which created the Age of Empires franchise, ended up spinning off two other studios after its closure, accommodating many of the employees who lost their jobs at Ensemble. The closing started a year of destruction for development teams and studios.

5)      Duke Nukem Forever team (May 2009): The team making the long-awaited sequel for the “Come Get Some” hero was terminated when funding for the game dried up. Take-Two still controlled the rights to the game, but refused to fund it further, despite negotiations with George Broussard and Scott Miller for funds. Lawsuits have since been filed and we’ll know the results “when it’s done.”

6)      Chris Hecker (Maxis, August 2009): Hecker was a prominent member of the Spore team and he is credited with advancing the art of character animation. However, what got him on most people’s radar was his comment at GDC 2007 that the Wii was a “piece of shit,” likening it to two GameCubes being duct taped together.

7)      Wolfenstein multiplayer team (August 2009): Nothing like seeing your game ship and getting a pink slip on the same day. That’s what happened to the Endrant Studios team that developed the multiplayer portions of Raven Software’s successful shooter. Rumors circulated that it was because of online problems that forced launch day patching, but the studio cited economic reasons.

8)      Pandemic Studios closed (November 2009): The abrupt closing of the high-profile developer by Electronic Arts put 228 people out of work. What made the closure even more surprising was that EA had paid $680 million to VG Holding in January 2008 to acquire the studio, along with BioWare, leading to speculation that EA had only wanted BioWare all along.

9)      David Allen (Quest Online, February 2010): Allen had been CEO of Quest for almost four years when he “departed,” but it was later revealed by his replacement Derek Smart that he was fired for conduct detrimental to the company. Allen’s departure added to his already checkered resume at MMO companies. He left as head of Artifact Entertainment in 2001 and shutdown Pharaoh Productions in 2004.

10)  Jason West and Vince Zampella (Infinity Ward, March 2010): Activision claimed the two head honchos were fired for “breaches of contract and insubordination.” The two later sued Activision for not paying royalties on Modern Warfare 2.  The turn of events was shocking, particularly after MW2 became one of the best selling games of all time in 2009.

 2009 in general was a bad year to be in the game development space. In addition to the names mention above, Harmonix dismissed 29 people; Avalanche Studios fired 20; Gearbox let 25 workers go; Midway canned its whole headquarters; Funcom laid off 20 percent of its employees and EA lopped off 1,500.

(Originally published in EGM magazine, 2010)

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