Pandemic folded into EALA, Saboteur launch unaffected

[UPDATE] Approximately 200 staffers let go at Mercenaries developer; "core team" to relocate to Los Angeles studio to make Pandemic-branded games; founders departing.

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One week ago, Electronic Arts announced that it was laying off 17 percent of its staff, eliminating 1,500 jobs. At the time, the two studios that were reportedly hardest hit were EA Black Box, developer of Skate 3, and Mythic Entertainment, the shop behind the prophetically titled Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning.

Soon the developers of Mercenaries 2 will be guns-for-hire themselves.
Soon the developers of Mercenaries 2 will be guns-for-hire themselves.

Since then, rumors have percolated that EA's Los Angeles studio was also due for some cutbacks. However, today the Redwood City, California-based publisher made moves to shutter its other LA-area shop, Santa Monica, California-based Pandemic Studios, and merge its operations with those of EALA. Sources with knowledge of the closure confirmed it to GameSpot this morning, with EA vice president of corporate communications Jeff Brown explaining the closure shortly before noon.

"Today we informed employees at Pandemic that development on all the Pandemic franchises is being consolidated at EALA. As a result, we are eliminating roughly 200 positions at Pandemic," said Brown. "That said, EA is very committed to the Pandemic brand, and a core team of Pandemic developers will be developing existing franchises and other projects at EALA."

Brown also confirmed that among those departing are Pandemic founders Josh Resnick, Andrew Goldman, and Greg Borrud. He would not confirm the specific number of layoffs, but the Pandemic site lists its head count at 200 people--a number Brown said was inaccurate. The remaining Pandemic staffers will report to EALA head Sean Decker.

Pandemic's closure comes just over two years after EA announced it was buying the studio's parent company, BioWare/Pandemic, in an $860 million deal. Before then, the 200-person studio--founded in 1998--was best known for developing such titles as Full Spectrum Warrior, Star Wars: Battlefront, and Destroy All Humans!

Unfortunately, Pandemic's tenure inside EA has been less than successful. The company's first major post-buyout release, 2008's Mercenaries 2: World in Flames, was panned by critics, as was the shop's second effort, The Lord of the Rings: Conquest. This past January, EA reportedly cut ties with Pandemic's Australian satellite studio. Brown said Pandemic's next game, The Saboteur, was unaffected by the layoffs and is on track for its December 8 release on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC.

Pandemic's closure is cruelly ironic, since the past two years have seen one half of the former "superdeveloper," BioWare, increase its influence inside EA by taking over the publisher's other role-playing game studios. The Edmonton, Alberta-based shop just released Dragon Age: Origins, 2009's best-reviewed RPG, and is readying two other high-profile titles, Mass Effect 2 and Star Wars: The Old Republic, for a 2010 launch.

EA has a history of acquiring hit developers, only to close them down at a later date. Most famously, the publisher picked up Command & Conquer developer Westwood Studios in 1998, only to shutter it in 2003 after the disappointing debut of its sci-fi role-playing game Earth & Beyond. In 1992, it acquired Ultima developer Origin Systems, which it closed down in 2004 following disappointing sales of Ultima IX.

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