I just got done watching a video from a YouTube creator that I really like by the name of Tyler J who goes by the name CleanPrinceGaming. He was talking about the recent news that Activision-Blizzard is laying off 800 of its roughly 10,000 employees. To put it succinctly, he was not happy and called it, among other things; a tragedy.
The video is here for those who are curious and I encourage you to watch it. It’s about thirteen minutes long and isn’t his usual polished content so clearly, he felt strongly about getting this out quick.
That’s understandable given the subject matter, a major publisher and developer are laying off, as Tyler puts it, “Damn near 10% of their staff.”. This is not something that should pass without notice especially given that they posted a record year for revenue in 2018. In the wake of that, the understandable response is to be aghast that a company would ever consider layoffs when they are clearly cash-rich after a record year.
Believe me, in spite of what I’m going to say after this I still feel that way but after watching Tyler’s take on the situation I can’t just let it stand. I cannot say that he is necessarily wrong in how he feels but rather either intentionally or unintentionally misrepresenting some things. First off I want to start with the video title–
“Activision Should Be BURIED For This”
It is a long understood trend with YouTube that incendiary titles garner the most attention. Regardless of how big your channel is you want to get as many eyeballs pointed in your direction as you can. There is a word you sometimes hear lawyers use which is prejudicial when referring to a statement or testimony about something or someone. Essentially it is not a neutral statement. I don’t expect Tyler to make a neutral title or even really advocate for forcing him to… if he went on to provide a much more full picture of what is happening.
So, no time like the present I guess– let’s dive in.
He starts out by saying that there is a lot more to this story than he has seen people talk about on social media which is a great starting phrase to hear. I am 100% interested in hearing any and all additional information he has managed to glean from his industry contacts. Does Activision deserve to be buried? Tell me why because I purchase their products and if there is more to this story then I desperately want to know.
He continues on and immediately we hear that Activision-Blizzard posted record, RECORD numbers for last year, carefully avoiding or excluding the profit vs revenue issue. I was unable to listen to the earnings call the other day but I am sure they bragged a bit about their year because that is what investors want to hear, confidence and a bright outlook. They aren’t wrong either, they did have a record year and you can read about it. If you would like The Motley Fool also has a series of articles that go more in-depth and has a transcript from the call yesterday.
Tyler follows this section up by giving some heartfelt words of encouragement and strength to the people who were affected by the layoffs, which is great. I’ve been in a position that was cut before and it sucks to have to sit down and be given that news, especially if you love your job or the people you work with. As clearly evidenced by this tweet from Jason Schreier about what was happening the other day at the studio’s offices, they did and everyone is feeling the loss.
Let me say this in no uncertain terms: This sucks. It really does. Absolutely no one, anywhere, should be happy about the news of 800 people being laid off from any job.
That being said, how are said employees being treated? We’ll take a quote from a Kotaku article here to see–
The letter also promised “a comprehensive severance package,” continued health benefits, career coaching, and job placement assistance as well as profit-sharing bonuses for the previous year to those who are being laid off at Blizzard. (Blizzard employees receive twice yearly bonuses based on how the company performed financially.) “There’s no way to make this transition easy for impacted employees, but we are doing what we can to support our colleagues,” Brack wrote.
For comparison, we can look back a few months at the shuttering of Telltale Games to see how it sometimes goes. I know that isn’t exactly a fair comparison but the reality is that in an overall terrible situation these 800 employees are not simply being kicked to the curb. Short of keeping them employed, even if they are non-essential positions, I feel like this is as close as you can get to a working-class golden parachute.
Anyway, back to the video. After this Tyler goes on a bit of a tangent, I feel, talking about microtransactions and how misguided people quip about how they buy them to support developers. He is right insomuch as he says that this money doesn’t directly line their pockets but for companies like Activision-Blizzard who offer revenue sharing bonuses… they kinda do.
Is it a lot of money? Probably not but it’s not nothing. I can go on an entire tangent here about all the things I despise about how we compensate the hardest working people in our society. Suffice it to say it could be a lot better and I really hope someday it is but let’s not shit all over companies who are doing better than most for right now. Also, I’m not defending microtransactions, I still hate them and think they’re cancer in the gaming industry, but that is a whole other thing.
Continuing on we get some snarky throwaway comments about how Activision-Blizzard is giving their execs and CEO, fifteen million dollar incentives and bonuses. We can have a conversation about the ridiculous nature of executive job offers and what some companies pay to fill a position like that but honestly, I don’t want to. I don’t agree with it but that guy got paid because another guy fucked up and got fired, I try not to judge. Good for him. There were also people who brought up Bobby Kotick and the fifteen million dollar bonus he was offered last year and all the better uses for it. Again I agree but only to an extent.
Assuming a generalized salary for those 800 at $40,000 a year (which is low) that is a cost of $32,000,000 per year to keep them employed, excluding any additional ancillary costs. Just keep in mind that we’re talking about the non-development staff here. Not to say they don’t matter, far from it, but for a company trying to reposition after a rather rocky period PR-wise last year laying off these 800 makes a little more sense. Especially given that they will be hiring on additional development staff to increase content production for their biggest franchises.
As much as I would love to it doesn’t make sense to tell a company to keep people employed that they are no longer using in areas of their business that they are drawing back on. I wouldn’t do it as a manager or business owner and I can’t expect them to either. I think we could certainly criticize them cutting jobs without moving to adjust or staff up for other projects but that just isn’t the case here. They aren’t cutting these jobs to save money or increase their profit margins, they’re repositioning to better produce products in the coming year(s). In his video, Tyler makes the accusation that this is just Activision being greedy for more and bigger profits but to be honest I just don’t see it. I suppose we’ll see over the next year or two if they don’t end up hiring in the areas they said they would be then I’ll be wrong.
From here he moves on to some vague suggestions about this layoff signaling a crash coming in the video game industry. Again as I said above I’m not sure where he is getting this and I’m more than happy to admit I’m wrong here if there is evidence. His accusation of cutthroat profiteering makes sense if we’re looking at it strictly from the direction of monetization and loot-boxes. I 100% agree. In the context of these layoffs though? I’m just not convinced although perhaps there is a wider trend I’m not seeing, I only wish he had talked about it in the video. Moreso anyways than just criticizing the industry for seeking new and better (more profitable) forms of monetization. As much as I hate it clearly there is a certain level of tolerance by audiences for it and so far we have established some distinct boundaries for companies to respect.
He also makes a fairly broad statement that from this point forward we, the consumers, no longer matter in the creation of games. They are purely in profit mode now with no care for what audiences want. Again, on one hand, I definitely agree that the overall trend of the industry in the last five or so years has gone that way. I just can’t see this incident being the point of no return for video games as a whole. As I pointed out above Activision-Blizzard’s decision here is, ostensibly, to reposition their resources in order to produce more of what their customers want. It remains to be seen if that is the truth but lacking a functioning crystal ball I can only look at what they have said and the actions they have taken in accordance with those words.
I think I’m going to end it there because this is sort of turning into a rant of my own which wasn’t really my intention. I don’t like having to take the stance of defending a massive loss of jobs and I dislike even more when people say, “That’s just the way things are.”. In this case, I find it hard to see fault in their actions as much as I would like to. As these departments shrink others within the company will grow and as silver linings go that one isn’t bad. I really do hope that all 800 people affected will land in new positions that will treat them well and give them new purpose and projects within the gaming industry. With the outpouring of support on social media with other devs and studios reaching out to make sure folks know they are hiring I think the chances are pretty good.
Thanks for reading.