Following the hundreds of job losses at Activision Blizzard and the start of redundancies at Guild Wars developer ArenaNet, EA has begun a massive round of layoffs at its development studio in Melbourne.
FireMonkeys, which was created in 2012 after EA merged IronMonkey Studios and FireMint, is one of the largest development houses in Australia. Focused exclusively on mobile development, the company is responsible for making Real Racing 3, as well as The Sims: Freeplay and Need for Speed: No Limits.
In 2016, the company moved to a new office in Docklands and was hailed as the largest mobile game developer in the country, with Victorian Minister for Creative Industries Martin Foley praising the studio's history as "one of innovation, creativity and global success".
The studio was also developing Real Racing 4, although it's understood that the project was officially cancelled earlier this week. Following that decision, executives from EA have flown in from overseas to affect wholesale changes across the studio. Those decisions included the cancellation of Real Racing 4 and a reorganisation of staff across the titles currently under their management, which includes The Sims Mobile.
Developers were notified of the layoffs earlier this week. Those impacted were told via individual meetings, while employees that remained were informed via a group meeting, Kotaku Australia understands.
One employee, who spoke under anonymity, said the current atmosphere is so grim that remaining staff are operating under the assumption the whole studio will eventually be shut down. "No idea how certain tasks will be done at all if I look at who got let go," they said.
Unofficial figures on the size of the Australian games industry placed the number of staffers at Firemonkeys at close to 200. A statement this morning from Game Workers Unite Australia originally estimated that 80 to 100 staffers were impacted, but that has since been amended to "some 40 to 50 people".
A representative from EA stressed that despite concerns, the Firemonkeys office will continue operating. "This is a group with great pedigree in live services, and they continue to work on some of our most popular mobile games."
The company did reply with a statement, however, confirming that the studio "entered a consultation period" to shift focus towards "more on our live services".
The FireMonkeys studio is working on some of our most popular mobile games. We recently made a decision to shift teams to focus more on our live services, and have entered into a consultation period that may impact some roles in the studio. We’re working to match skills with opportunities as we go through this period, identifying other opportunities at EA, and providing as much help to our employees as we possibly can.
EA declined to officially confirm that Real Racing 4 was cancelled, but said Firemonkeys would continue to "deliver new content" for the mobile racer.
Real Racing 3 has a thriving community, and the studio continues to deliver new content to the game. Firemonkeys also works on Need for Speed: No Limits and The Sims FreePlay, one of EA’s most successful mobile titles. We’re not going to get into our future product plans, but the Firemonkeys team is continuing to take on new challenges for us and our mobile players.
The Australian chapter of Game Workers Unite said the suspected job losses was equivalent to approximately 5% of the entire Australian game development industry.
"This is a devastating blow to local development - an extraordinarily disappointing decision which will affect the already crowded local freelancer and indie market, as well as the undergraduate student body," GWU Australia said.
GWU Australia reiterated that affected employees can gauge their expected redundancy payouts through the Fair Work Ombudsman website.
Recently, in a small room inside the massive Moscone Center meeting complex, roughly 200 people crowded around a large table to conduct a challenging conversation about working in the video game industry. There was a single microphone, chauffeured from person to person by a sprinting staffer working the Game Developers Conference, which is running in San Francisco. Most people began talking before the mic got to them. Raucous banging, presumably from construction nearby, drowned out many attendees' comments.