BioWare Dragon Age

EA Lays Off 50 BioWare Employees While Parting Ways With Unionized Keywords Playtest Group

Another Possible Form of Union Busting at Work?

With Dragon Age: Dreadwolf still in development, EA has announced that it has laid off 50 Bioware employees at the Studio’s Edmonton, Manitoba location, according to a GamesBeat report.

The news comes less than a year after the publisher laid off six percent of its 12,000 to 13,000 employee workforce in late March. While the layoffs from earlier this year felt like a loss for the publisher, the most recent one feels more gutting, specifically for BioWare, as the studio reportedly had around 250 employees, so a loss of 50 employees is a 20 percent cut which is a massive cut to the team.

This is all happening when BioWare is at its lowest over the years after the disappointing reception of Mass Effect Andromeda and Anthem, with the hope of Dragon Age: Dreadwolf hoping to turn this Canadian ship around. Knowing about these layoffs has hit morale at the studio and made the work environment difficult in a big way, says BioWare GM, Gary Mckay. He adds or at least tries to frame the narrative that the layoff will make Bioware a “more agile and more focused studio.”

“In order to meet the needs of our upcoming projects, continue to hold ourselves to the highest standard of quality and ensure BioWare can continue to thrive in an industry that’s rapidly evolving, we must shift towards a more agile and more focused studio. It will allow our developers to iterate quickly, unlock more creativity, and form a clear vision of what we’re building before development ramps up,” Mckay says in a blog post.

“To achieve this, we find ourselves in a position where change is not only necessary but unavoidable. As difficult as this is to say, rethinking our approach to development inevitably means reorganizing our team to match the studio’s changing needs. As part of this transition, we are eliminating approximately 50 roles at BioWare. That is deeply painful and humbling to write. We are doing everything we can to ensure the process is handled with empathy, respect, and clear communication.”

To add to all this devasting news, EA is parting ways with Keywords, an Edmonton-based firm that provides focused playtesting and QA services. For those who don’t remember, this is the same group from last year that was in the news for successfully unionizing in a unanimous decision while employed at the Canadian studio. EA commented that they could come to terms with a new contract with the firm, with the current one set to expire on September 27th.

As for the other side of the story, one of GamesBeat’s inside industry sources says the reason the two entities couldn’t come to terms is that what Keywords was asking for in the new contract was too much for EA/Bioware to pony up. The move from EA could be seen as a union-busting strategy as now coincidently the publisher doesn’t have to deal with a union; for now at least until the next one forms.