Source: See below.
What we heard: Electronic Arts may be one of the biggest third-party publishers in the gaming industry, but that fact hasn't saved it from the worsening global economic crisis. Reporting on its financial performance during the July-September quarter in October, EA announced plans to reduce its workforce by 6 percent as a cost-cutting measure. By December, the publisher had expanded those layoffs to a full 10 percent of its global head count.
Rather than targetting specific groups with the layoffs, EA was clear in saying that the effort to trim costs would encompass all sectors of its global operations. Ostensibly true to the company's word, this week delivers news indicating that Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning developer Mythic Entertainment was the focus of the publisher's latest round of layoffs.
Yesterday, Internet reports indicated that the Fairfax, Virginia-based game maker was enacting a round of layoffs targeted at many of the support staff surrounding its online products. According to reports, Mythic broke the news to 21 staffers hailing from its customer service, quality assurance, and play-testing departments. The reports did not indicate whether the personnel were devoted to Warhammer Online or the developer's other online properties such as Dark Age of Camelot or Ultima Online.
Although Blizzard Entertainment's World of Warcraft remains the undisputed champion of the massively multiplayer online gaming realm, Mythic scored a measure of success with Warhammer Online last year. Three weeks after the game launched, Mythic announced a global player base of 750,000 subscribers. As part of a gloomy earnings revision in December, EA CEO John Riccitiello called out the game's success, noting that he expects the game to "continue to perform very, very well."
Nevertheless, the game has likely not hit the cash-cow status of its Activision Blizzard-owned rival. After the MMOG's strong debut, server populations have taken a decided skid. Mythic Entertainment has since enacted a number of free character transfers that allow gamers on dwindling realms to join those with healthier player populations.
The official story: EA had not responded to requests for comment as of press time. However, Mythic general manager Mark Jacobs did address the spate of rumors surrounding layoffs at his studio, downplaying any tangible impact that head-count reductions may entail.
"Two things to keep in mind," Jacobs commented on Warhammer Online's semi-official message boards. "1) Our CEO [John Riccitiello] has publicly stated the need to cut costs across all of EA. This statement is old news and applies all throughout EA. 2) As part of EA, all studios are expected to do their fair share to meet the expectations of our CEO."
"It isn't any more complicated than that, other than to say that we have a very large studio and pretty much every person there has been and will continue to work on WAR for quite a while (meaning we haven't started work on another game yet)," he continued. "When we launched, we had over 400 people working on the game in one capacity or another, so it's not like we had a small team at launch or even a small team now."
Bogus or not bogus?: Jacobs' comments appear to indicate some staff reductions have occurred at his studio. However, it's impossible to peg the extent of the head-count reduction, or what impact, if any, it will have on Warhammer Online.