Storied RPG developer BioWare is downsizing. The studio announced on August 23 that it will cut 50 roles as it continues production on both Dragon Age: Dreadwolf and Mass Effect 4, telling fans it needed to take a more “agile and focused” approach to game development.
“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,” wrote BioWare general manager Gary McKay. “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.”
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Fifty developers at the studio will be laid off as a result of the restructuring, with McKay claiming the changes are necessary to “create exceptional story-driven single-player experiences” moving forward. Those include Dragon Age: Dreadwolf, which at one point was planned to have multiplayer live-service elements and has continued to face seeming delays and departures in top roles, as well as the next Mass Effect game, which despite promising teases appears to be many years away from release.
“If you’re wondering how all of this will impact development of Dragon Age: Dreadwolf, let me be clear that our dedication to the game has never wavered,” McKay wrote. “Our commitment remains steadfast, and we all are working to make this game worthy of the Dragon Age name. We are confident that we’ll have the time needed to ensure Dreadwolf reaches its full potential.”
The latest round of cuts comes shortly after publisher Electronic Arts announced that BioWare’s longstanding sci-fi MMO, Star Wars: The Old Republic, would be outsourced and taken over by a new studio, Broadsword. VentureBeat also reports that BioWare has decided not to renew its contract with Keyword Studios, an in-house contracting company whose employees that were working on BioWare projects recently unionized and have been bargaining on their first contract.
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A spokesperson for EA told VentureBeat other work orders had been renewed post-unionization and that it simply failed to arrive at a new agreement with Keyword Studios, meaning work for its onsite QA testers will expire in September.
James Russwurm, a member of the Keywords union embedded with BioWare for several years now, told Kotaku in a phone call that while he’s sad to see the contract not renewed he believes it’s just a cost cutting measure rather than something targeted at the union itself. KWS Edmonton United is still bargaining with Keywords on its first contract and Russwurm was optimistic an agreement could be reached as soon as the end of the year.
The company announced 800 layoffs back in March of this year. In August it posted a quarterly profit of $400 million, up nearly 30 percent from the same time a year prior.
Update 10/4/2023 5:39 p.m. ET: All of the unionized Keywords devs who previoulsy worked at BioWare were laid off at the end of September, Polygon reports. The company cited the lost contract and the employees are currently trying to negotiate over severance.
Something similar happened to bug testers contracted to work at Microsoft in 2016. Despite unionizing and negotiating their first contract, Microsoft eventually canceled its work with the contracting company, which subsquently laid all of the unionized testers off. A union-busting complaint was filed with the NLRB, but legal proceedings moved to slow to get the workers their jobs back.
Update 8/23/2023 2:11 p.m. ET: Added comment from a Keywords Studio contractor.