A rumour hit us yesterday that Melbourne mobile developer Firemint was forced to let up to ten of its employees go, with redundancies made on Thursday and Friday of this week. We can now state that this is indeed fact, with several sources confirming the cuts.
We know of seven people who were let go, but the number may be as high as 10, according to those Kotaku Australia spoke to. It's believed the affected employees include a producer and several artists, but we're continuing to confirm these details.
As far as we know, no one in an upper management position was axed.
It's not clear at this stage what the motivation was for the cuts, though it's likely EA had a large say in how things went down, having owned the once-independent studio since May of last year. We won't get an official statement from EA or Firemint until Monday, but we've fired off emails to the relevant parties in an attempt to gather more information. In related news, EA very recently made a "small number" of people redundant at its Vancouver studio.
How did it come to this? Unfortunately, while Firemint's SPY mouse, released last year in August, managed to hit the top of the App Store charts and knock Angry Birds from its roost, it was unable to sustain the momentum and has since dropped out of the top 25 (and in many cases, top 100) in the critical markets of the US, UK and Europe. Meanwhile, Halfbrick's Jetpack Joyride, released around the same time, continues to hover in the lucrative top 25 / top 100 segments.
It's pure speculation on my part that SPY mouse was a contributing factor, but it's hard to argue its failure to stay high in the charts didn't raise eyebrows at EA.
It wasn't long ago that Visceral Melbourne, also owned by EA, was forced to shut down. It's unlikely the two events are related -- Visceral was focused on triple-A, hardcore titles, while Firemint is aligned with EA's growing mobile focus.
The news hits close to home, as I worked for Firemint up until September of last year. Back then, things seemed cheerful, upbeat and positive -- it's hard to imagine what's transpired in the last four or five months to warrant this sad news.
Firemint rose to fame in 2009 with its casual hit Flight Control on iPhone. The game's HD version for iPad claimed an Apple Design Award in 2010, along with Firemint's technical and hardcore-orientated Real Racing.
Update 4/2/2012 2:15PM: Firemint's community manager, Sam Mayo, has provided Kotaku Australia with the following statement:
We have not fired ten people, SPY mouse is a very successful product which we're continuing to support ... December was very very good for us -- Real Racing 2 HD sat in the #1 position in the top selling charts during the lucrative week from Christmas to New Years.
If this is the case, it's great news, but our sources were very confident. We'll wait on an official statement from EA before signing off on this.
Update 4/2/2012 5:00PM: Another source, who asked not to be named, has provided Kotaku with more details, including that Iron Monkey, the studio behind the mobile version of Dead Space, was also hit:
- Firemint has been profitable, but EA still made the decision to let people go.
- The exact numbers are eight from Firemint and two from Iron Monkey. Both companies share the same studio on St Kilda Road.
- Those let go included "programmers, artists, designers and producers".
Updated 9/2/2012 4:00PM: We have received an official statement from EA that neither confirms not denies the job cuts. Here is the comment we received from EA's marketing manager, Joshua White:
Cycles of expansion and contraction are a normal part of the game development process. When contractions do occur as a part of the game development process, we make every effort to help place any affected employees in other positions at EA. This is the natural ebb and flow of the gaming industry.
We take that this means there have been some job losses, although EA would not comment any further on the matter.
[Thanks to those who provided the tip]