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Lemuria Press - Must Be December: WotC Layoffs
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lemuriapress
Date: 2008-12-02 23:18
Subject: Must Be December: WotC Layoffs
Security: Public
Location:The Homestead
Music:Silence
Tags:gaming
Like clockwork, Wizards of the Coast has laid off a bunch of people just in time for the holidays. It is NO FUN to be in fear for your job and career every single year, but that's the way it was over there when I worked for the company, and that's apparently the way it is now.

I've seen a list of some of the folks who lost their jobs today floating around the internet, and it's possible to draw some conclusions from it.

First, blood continues to be spilled over the sub-fantastic DDI and "Gleemax" debacle. It's difficult to say at this point if it's a matter of incompetence being shown the door or a general house cleaning, but either way all is definitely not well on the digital front over in Renton.

I'm extremely surprised to see Jonathan Tweet and Andrew Finch on the layoff list (assuming the list I've seen is accurate). Both are among the sharpest minds not just at Wizards of the Coast, but in the gaming business in general. It's difficult not to see their loss as a significant blow to WotC's ability to innovate. More to the point, the idea of either of these guys getting laid off 4 years ago or even 2 years ago would have been unthinkable. They were as close to untouchable as you could get. Clearly, something's changed over there.

On the D&D front, I'm very sad to see the names Dave Noonan and Julia Martin on the list of layoffs. Dave is one of the better writers working on D&D. He started shortly after I did back in 1999 or so, and I always appreciated his point of view and (especially) his writing. Dave's contributions to Dungeon and Dragon when I was involved with the magazines remain some of my favorites. Julia is one of the strongest editors working on the game, and her nurturing of the Forgotten Realms in particular will get her a place in Toril's Heaven forever. I'm not sure what she was working on these days, but it's too bad to see her go like this.

A lot of times these annual (or even more than annual) lists get posted to EN World and I think "Yeah, I can see that" or "I have never even heard of this guy," but this time I recognize almost every name on the list. Some of those names bewilder me, and I wonder if we might hear about more folks who lost their jobs today in the next few days.

Best wishes to the folks who got culled today. It's a terrible time to lose your job, and I wish these folks the best of luck.

.
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User: siobharek
Date: 2008-12-03 08:24 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I honestly can't understand how any company can lay off people in December. It seems callous to the nth degree. Pretty sure there aren't that many being laid off in Denmark this time of year.
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philreed
User: philreed
Date: 2008-12-03 12:54 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
It's all about making the year look as good as possible for the investors. I'm pretty sure that -- at the very least -- the people who have to actually have the face-to-face meeting and tell someone that they are no longer needed are not heartless machines.

I've fired people before and it's never easy and always a source of stress. Stress leading up to the actual termination meeting, the meeting itself, and then weeks of stress as guilt makes you think "What could I have done to salvage the situation?"
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User: siobharek
Date: 2008-12-03 13:16 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I certainly imagine that the actual bearers of the bad news must be feeling just awful. My disbelief was more directed at the people in management who make the decision. And in frickin' December of all things!
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philreed
User: philreed
Date: 2008-12-03 15:04 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I don't think I could ever work for a large corporation. The constant fear of "will I be fired today" as Christmas approaches would drive me insane.
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Montejon Wolf Smith: Gold
User: zonemind
Date: 2008-12-03 20:00 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Gold
That's not something I was ever aware of in any of the large corporations I worked for in the years between '95 and now. Granted, they were all tech or finance companies, but as a consultant you'd think I'd be first under the ax. It was actually the smaller tech retail companies that had a routine firing period, which usually came in February or March, often shortly before the company itself went bust.

In the hobby/adventure gaming industry, where everyone gets downsized sometime, I recall mostly summer layoffs, but no time was "safe". The constant churn is what convinced me to get the Hell out, as a matter of fact.

The routine December firings actually tell me that WotC is less integrated into Hasbro's corporate culture than I had been lead to believe by WotC's flaks. It's a fiefdom, rather than a part of the parent company's demesne. The direct Hasbro employees I've met over the years tend to move around within the company, like Microsoft employees, rather than be shown the door when their project's life-cycle ends. There was a layoff of manufacturing staff in January of this year, however, and everyone remembers the December massacre of Hasbro Interactive (nee MicroProse) back in '99. That latter was actually an early part of a much larger restructuring in which some 850 jobs were lost, again mostly in manufacturing. The announcement of the closure of Hasbro's Cincinnati, Napa, and San Francisco plants (where most of those job cuts came) hit the presses in October of 2000. Prior to restructuring, Hasbro was facing annual losses of ~$180M.

I think it's just generally true of entertainment that the number of people who want to entertain for a living vastly exceeds the number of people who want to pay to be entertained. Even most of the really good entertainers seem to be constantly on the edge of financial destruction -- most writers I know live on a partner's day job, the only affluent toy designers I've met are actually engineers, and I'm reasonably convinced that actors are so damn horny because they can consistently afford no other vices.
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mordicai caeli
User: mordicai
Date: 2008-12-03 12:05 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Maaaan horror. Noonan & Tweet? I haven't seen that list, but WHAT. Crazy bones. I have to say-- my gaming circle is more splintered than I thought it would be at this point. When third edition was at the end of its life, the bi-weekly game I ran was (heavily modified) d20, the opposite bi-weekly game was home-verse DnD, & the people I knew talk to online & over the phone about playing played 3.5. Now? I run a fantasy setting with the World of Darkness Storyteller System, the bi-weekly game that is meant to be 4.0 is flakey, & of the two groups of people who I talk to about gaming, one is 4.0 & one is Pathfinder.

Insider & Gleemax are...I'm honestly not up on the controversy. When they killed Dragon & Dungeon & said the content would be online, & pay-per, I didn't VOW I would never pay for it but said I couldn't see myself adopting an obsolete online business model. & I still can't. All the Insider has done is devalue the Wizard's page; I used to click through I'd say 1000% more? Now I scroll past the links in my RSS reader, figuring all the good articles are locked. & Gleemax, if it ever appears? I don't want to game online. If I wanted to game online, I'd use one of the already established online gaming engines. One with a better name than Gleemax!
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philreed
User: philreed
Date: 2008-12-03 15:04 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"Insider & Gleemax are..."

Poorly planned?
Disaster?
A bad, bad idea?

All of the above.
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mordicai caeli
User: mordicai
Date: 2008-12-03 15:09 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yeah-- I'm inclined to agree, though I confess to only anecdotal evidence.
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Montejon Wolf Smith: Gold
User: zonemind
Date: 2008-12-03 20:03 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Gold
It is so rare that we agree on anything, that I'd suggest a bottle of champagne if I could afford one.
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bobmungovan
User: bobmungovan
Date: 2008-12-03 18:45 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"All the Insider has done is devalue the Wizard's page; I used to click through I'd say 1000% more? Now I scroll past the links in my RSS reader, figuring all the good articles are locked."

This is my experience as well. I'm not going to pay for insider, seeing as it's still apparently in Beta. Maybe not in name, but still a lot of unfulfilled promises and limited functionality.
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Jae Walker: Chewing
User: jaegamer
Date: 2008-12-03 13:44 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Chewing
I was horrified by the list... other than Ian, I don't even know if there's anyone left there that I know. I'm not surprised, though. SRM called me to fire me from Living Force just a few days before Christmas... and then wished me a Merry Christmas. On what planet?

It has heartened me to see some of the discarded talent turn up at Paizo. Smart. You guys are very smart...
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mordicai caeli
User: mordicai
Date: 2008-12-03 15:10 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Paizo has been really impressing me, I have got to say.
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User: rockrgirl8
Date: 2008-12-03 16:35 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
why do companies always lay people off before the holidays? it's so cruel. they laid off 130 people from where my mom works - many administrative people - and now the remaining administrative people are saddled with doing the jobs of 5 people. it makes no sense.
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User: coraxery
Date: 2008-12-03 18:17 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Many companies don't use Jan-Dec fiscal calendar, mine uses Mar-Apr, the company I worked at before did Sept-Oct. My guess is that Hasbro uses Jan-Dec.
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Montejon Wolf Smith: Gold
User: zonemind
Date: 2008-12-03 20:11 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Gold
Bingo. You are correct. Fiscal year end for HAS is December. This year's Q4 earnings are scheduled to be released 9 February of next year.
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Paka
User: paka
Date: 2008-12-03 17:36 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Whoa. Jonathan Tweet and Dave Noonan are names I recognize as "people who've done all sorts of work for WotC," and my knowledge is really superficial.
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User: blakesrealm
Date: 2008-12-03 18:49 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I keep hoping to hear that Hasboro agreed to some terms and sold off WoTC to an entity that actually cares about RPGs/gaming in general. If that never happens I'd settle to hear that WotC sold off D&D (and all associated properties) again to a company that cares about and focuses on gaming.

Sure WoTC probably saved D&D, and a lot of the gaming market, back when it acquired TSR, etc. but I think it's time that D&D was set free from its ties to card games, a board game corporation, and allowed to exist on it's own.

Pipe dream(s) I'm sure, but one can hope. Of course I'm a total outside who just plays the games, and has no clue as to the real underlying business but that's my non-informed wish anyway.

Best of luck to those that were laid off. Gotta love a company laying off at the holidays -- lovely employee-centric view there. Going through the same here with the wife, who works for one of the big three auto manufacturers. I'm pretty sure she's safe but yet again more friends of hers are facing the axe. They're operating at under 50% of the required staff as it is in her area (engineer) and it's just going to get worse.
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Nikchick
User: iamnikchick
Date: 2008-12-03 19:25 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
It occurred to me that some of the big names we see on the list, people who have been with WotC a decade or more anyway, might also have salaries and benefits commensurate to time served. Putting those steadfast veterans on the block seems to me has little or nothing to do with performance and far more to do with $$ savings to make the numbers more attractive.

Or so goes my working theory.
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Montejon Wolf Smith: Gold
User: zonemind
Date: 2008-12-03 20:24 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Gold
Yeah. The biggest paychecks in an unprofitable division are often the first to go.
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lemuriapress
User: lemuriapress
Date: 2008-12-03 20:34 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
That's my theory as well. In the last several years WotC's R&D department has hired LOTS of "up-and-commers" (read: People who I'd never heard of). The fact that none of these probably relatively low-paid employees ever tend to show up on lists like this suggests that this is more of a salary dump than anything else.

Well, a salary dump and punishment for the lackluster Gleemax disaster.
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Monte Cook
User: montecook
Date: 2008-12-03 20:40 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I think you're 100% right, Nicole.

I also think that, perhaps only on a subconscious level, there are reasons why a manager would get rid of the employees that have been around longer. Frankly, the newer and more inexperienced your employees are, the more easily controlled they are, without any of the old guard--who remember management's past screw-ups, among other things--around to cause trouble.
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lemuriapress
User: lemuriapress
Date: 2008-12-03 21:06 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I can think of one good way to dump some management salary over there, but the name never shows up on the annual lists...
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Richard Green
User: richgreen01
Date: 2008-12-03 19:37 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Really sad news and a horrible time for it to happen. The D&D podcast won't be the same without Dave Noonan's infectious enthusiasm for the game.

I didn't want Dragon & Dungeon to go online and wasn't that impressed with the Insider previews (a lot of it is PC-only for a start) but I think the current package (Dragon, Dungeon and the compendium) is great value for money.
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mortellan
User: mortellan
Date: 2008-12-06 06:57 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Terrible news as always. I was all for Gleemax going down in flames since it was instituted, but never did I hope for job cuts. I don't know if its been mentioned, but has part of this to do with our nation being in a recession (now admitted by Bush)? I also wonder if there is any kind of edition cronyism going on in the industry. Someone mentioned pre-4E staffers on that list? I assume no one on the list is from the 4e gang (besides DDI folk I guess?)
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