Rich Vogel Leaves BioWare: more layoffs?

Just a quick heads-up on an article over at Gamasutra, stating that SWTOR’s executive producer, Rich Vogel, has left BioWare. There are also reports of other layoffs but it’s unclear if it’s part of the original layoff announcement back in late May:

Amid reports that BioWare Austin is laying off staff today, Gamasutra can confirm that Star Wars: The Old Republic’s executive producer Rich Vogel is no longer with the company.

Vogel was instrumental in the development of SWTOR, overseeing all aspects of the MMO before and after its launch in December. The online game, though, has lost around 400,000 paid subscribers in recent months, and BioWare Austin recently said it’s considering free-to-play options for the title.

Reports also emerged on Tuesday morning that the Austin office is laying off workers, but it’s unclear if this headcount reduction is part of the restructuring plan BioWare announced in May. Though its parent company Electronic Arts didn’t specify then how many employees would be affected, the publisher said those layoffs were necessary in order for the team to maintain and grow SWTOR.

There’s nothing much to be upbeat about in regard to this announcement and we’ve had no official communication from BioWare on the changes at this stage.

We’ll have more as we find out ourselves, what’s your take on the situation?

BioWare’s Stephen Reid: Adios

As we reported yesterday, BioWare have announced layoffs within the SWTOR. It’s been widely reported  (here’s a perspective from Austin Texas’ own newspaper), but one extra detail that’s come out is that Senior Community Coordinator Stephen Reid is one of those who has been laid off.

As a non-US site we had a little less contact with Stephen than some, but the contacts we did have were very productive and informative – our podcast discussion with him was wide-ranging and delivered a lot of great information including the acknowledgement of an LFG being in development.

All that said, he was (unfairly) a lightning rod for discontent throughout the lead-up to launch and in the weeks afterwards – and he appeared to take it all with good grace.

As we said yesterday, these things are never pleasant, but we wish Stephen the best in whatever comes next, we will miss trawling the Rockjaw Twitter account for snippets of info. And we’re also confident he’ll find the pic on this post appropriate!

As far as conjecture on what this means more widely – we still hold to the belief it’s a normal post-launch shakeout, as unpleasant as it is for those involved. There’s also some reportage that development may spread out to multiple studios:

With layoffs in the Austin team, it appears continued development on The Old Republic will involve multiple studios. In a comment to Shacknews, an EA representative told us that “BioWare Austin remains a large and important part of BioWare and EA, working with other studios around the world to continue to deliver a high-quality service and exciting new content for Star Wars: The Old Republic.”

It’s over to you: what say you on these recent developments?

BioWare lay off SWTOR staff: is it the beginning of the end?

To answer this post’s title first up: no.

Most importantly, commiserations to those who have lost jobs – it’s never an easy thing for anyone having to adjust to a new reality, even if they’re lucky enough to have another job to go to.

The full announcement from BioWare’s founders:

Hey folks, since you’re reading this you may likely have heard that we’ve done some restructuring here on the SWTOR team. Sadly, we are bidding farewell to some talented, passionate and exceptionally hard-working people who helped make SWTOR a reality. Impacting people’s lives this way is always very hard, but we’re ensuring the affected people are treated with dignity, fairness and respect.

Looking back at launch, we all came together and did something historic. We executed one of the largest, most successful and stable launches of any MMO yet in industry history. That is not an easy feat for any development team or company and we are humbled and honored by our fan community’s strong support both at launch and beyond.

Looking forward, the studio remains vibrant and passionate about our many upcoming initiatives for Star Wars: The Old Republic. We still have a very substantial development team working on supporting and growing the game, and we feel we are in a strong position, with your continued involvement and feedback, to continue to build Star Wars: The Old Republic as one of the most compelling and successful online experiences in the world today. There are many strong initiatives planned for cool new content and new features that we’re excited to tell you about in the upcoming weeks and months.

Rest assured that we remain dedicated to delivering a high quality service in SWTOR to you, our fans, and we will continue to support and grow Star Wars: The Old Republic over the weeks, months and years to come.

Greg and Ray

So, in regard to the layoffs and their implications for SWTOR, there’ll be no shortage of prognostications about how this is the beginning of the end. There’s one small flaw in that argument though: can anyone show me where an MMO development team maintains its full workforce post-launch? Surely no-one thinks that the huge team involved in getting SWTOR off the ground would all be kept ongoing?

Sure, there’s a massive amount of development of the game still to do, particularly given the proposed enhancements and the regular content updates that need to happen. Even then, I would have thought ongoing efforts require a smaller team now that development processes post-launch would be well and truly bedded down.

Again, it’s a hard time for those affected, but let’s not mix up respect for that with an assumption of more ominous undercurrents.

Over to you: do you see this announcement as a natural part of the process or am I being a BioWare apologist?