LucasArts Layoffs?

So on Friday, evidently there was a fairly sizable layoff of folks from George Lucas’ game company LucasArts. I have kind of a strong interest in this for two reasons. One is, I have always been a huge fan of really getting to escape into the Star Wars Galaxy, and LucasArts games have pretty consistently been a way to immerse myself into that environment. The other is, I have a close friend that works there, and layoffs are really painful on people whether you get to stay or not.

I’ve seen some interesting theories on why the layoff happened, from Lucasfilm claiming it was just a scheduling thing, to people speculating that the departure of Jim Ward was actually a refocusing of the company to just sell the license to outside developers. (And hey, the replacement for Mr. Ward was a guy from EA, which now owns two of the best Star Wars development houses — Bioware and Pandemic.)

There’s one thing that is driving me nuts about some of the reports I was reading: the articles or the comments keep talking about how LucasArts was producing crappy games the last couple of years. Yet, if you recount the last couple of years of titles, they actually were really high-quality experiences. My personal favorite was “Republic Commando”, a superbly gritty look at the troops of the Republic, which went on to be adapted into novels. But the list could go on, “Battlefront I and II”, “Knights of the Old Republic”, “Lego Star Wars”, “Mercenaries” — there were quite a few good (and often underrated) titles. A lot of the titles were made by third parties, so I’m not sure how they can say LucasArts is refocusing on external development exactly?

It’s going to be interesting to see how this changes the company. One of the things that concerns me is that they might just be shipping all of their production support jobs out of the country.  I’m not protectionist, in that I think we have a global economy now. But I would rather hear companies start admitting that they’re moving in that direction. And it struck me funny yesterday that when they were talking about “The Clone Wars” feature/series yesterday at Star Wars Weekends, that the LucasArts rep said the series was being created at Big Rock Ranch. As far as I know, it’s being developed there, but the bulk of the animation is being done at Lucasfilm Animation in Singapore.

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