Activision studio Toys for Bob is going independent, exploring future partnership with Xbox

Reid Fenton1

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I don’t get this.

I get why Microsoft is laying people off, they acquired another standalone company, there’s a lot of redundant staff. They already have their own accounting, legal and HR teams for example. Honestly, with that in mind, the 1900 job cut number seemed a bit small.

I also see why they killed the Blizzard survival game, sounds like that thing was a mess due to executive decisions about what engine to use. Okay, don’t toss good money after bad, just cut your losses there, fine.

I also understand that some of the cuts were just teams that had a few too many people here and there in various roles. This would only be a position here and there, but across the number of studios Microsoft has, it can add up.

Lastly, I’ve worked for large companies before. Sometimes you just have people who need to be let go and large scale layoffs are a good time to take care of that. Harsh, but true.

What I don’t understand is why you’d take a whole team which has a good track record and just let them leave/close them (I’m assuming the option was to close the studio but then some insiders said “no, let us take it private”) after paying huge money for Activision. There are clearly projects the studio wants to work on, and work on with Microsoft, why not just have them do so in house?
 

fjtorres5591

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I don’t get this.

I get why Microsoft is laying people off, they acquired another standalone company, there’s a lot of redundant staff. They already have their own accounting, legal and HR teams for example. Honestly, with that in mind, the 1900 job cut number seemed a bit small.

I also see why they killed the Blizzard survival game, sounds like that thing was a mess due to executive decisions about what engine to use. Okay, don’t toss good money after bad, just cut your losses there, fine.

I also understand that some of the cuts were just teams that had a few too many people here and there in various roles. This would only be a position here and there, but across the number of studios Microsoft has, it can add up.

Lastly, I’ve worked for large companies before. Sometimes you just have people who need to be let go and large scale layoffs are a good time to take care of that. Harsh, but true.

What I don’t understand is why you’d take a whole team which has a good track record and just let them leave/close them (I’m assuming the option was to close the studio but then some insiders said “no, let us take it private”) after paying huge money for Activision. There are clearly projects the studio wants to work on, and work on with Microsoft, why not just have them do so in house?
MS has done this before--Bungie--and it makes sense.

The staff were proud of Halo but didn't want to spend their entire career doing Halo and asked MS to let them go. Ballmer agreed...with conditions. MS kept the IP and any employees that chose to stay. Quite a few did. The alternative was for the staff to quit one by one and re-create Bungie under a different name, leaving MS with with Halo, some employees, and the name of the studio. MS didn't think the name was worth the trouble.

Think about it: what is a game studio? Staff, IP, and studio name.

Considering the studio has been mostly a support studio with no active project and none planned, hence the layoff of half the staff, MS can let go those that want to leave. Presumably any studio-created IP, if any, stays.

As for dealing with Xbox as independents, MS hires support studios on a project by project basis and if that is what TOYS FOR BOB was to be, letting them go costs MS nothing.

At the end of the day, why force people to stay who don't want to work for ABK under MS? It's not as if there aren't plenty of experienced developers looking for work. And in today's environment there aren't many other studios willing to ask for their "freedom". Now, if it was ID, Obsidian, or Ninja Theory , things might be different. Those studios have significant inhouse tools and expertise but a smaller studio doing support on COD? No heartburn.
 
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Reid Fenton1

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letting them go costs MS nothing

It does though. They just purchased this studio and the studio would have an asset value associated to it that will now need to be written down. Typically, these asset values are at their peak immediately after an acquisition when a premium has been paid to acquire the company. It won’t move the needle much for a company the size of Microsoft, but it’s still a cost nonetheless.

That said, I get your point, but I don’t think the two are comparable and that’s why I didn’t mention Bungie. Bungie went independent as you said because they didn’t want to churn out Halo after Halo and that’s what Microsoft wanted. You’re right employees would have left and Microsoft wouldn’t have been left with anything more than they got by letting Bungie go. Less probably.

What I’m saying is that if Toys for Bob doesn’t want to be a support studio, and wants to make their own games, fine, let them. They have a good history with that. That can be done inside Microsoft as well as outside.

I suppose it comes down to what is the issue, is the issue that they don’t want to work for Microsoft or is it that they want to work on other stuff? If the former, which doesn’t seem to be the case since they’re still looking to partner with Microsoft, then yes, it’s comparable to Bungie, and this makes sense. If the latter, then I would have rather seen Microsoft enable the team by encouraging them to start new projects, the same as they’ll have to do as an independent studio.
 

fjtorres5591

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It does though. They just purchased this studio and the studio would have an asset value associated to it that will now need to be written down. Typically, these asset values are at their peak immediately after an acquisition when a premium has been paid to acquire the company. It won’t move the needle much for a company the size of Microsoft, but it’s still a cost nonetheless.

That said, I get your point, but I don’t think the two are comparable and that’s why I didn’t mention Bungie. Bungie went independent as you said because they didn’t want to churn out Halo after Halo and that’s what Microsoft wanted. You’re right employees would have left and Microsoft wouldn’t have been left with anything more than they got by letting Bungie go. Less probably.

What I’m saying is that if Toys for Bob doesn’t want to be a support studio, and wants to make their own games, fine, let them. They have a good history with that. That can be done inside Microsoft as well as outside.

I suppose it comes down to what is the issue, is the issue that they don’t want to work for Microsoft or is it that they want to work on other stuff? If the former, which doesn’t seem to be the case since they’re still looking to partner with Microsoft, then yes, it’s comparable to Bungie, and this makes sense. If the latter, then I would have rather seen Microsoft enable the team by encouraging them to start new projects, the same as they’ll have to do as an independent studio.
They "hope" to keep on working for MS/ABK.
And what exactly is the value of a support studio?
As I said, the only issue is the IP and, maybe, the branding in the studio name.
The likely explanation is they don't want to give up the staff targetted for firing and think they can survive on their own as a unit.
Good luck with that.

As to MS paying to buy the studio: yes, technically. They paid for everythink ABK, buildings, leases, employment contracts, and brand names. It was:a bundle deal. But not everything they bought has a positive value. Some things they bought were redundant or had negative value. In buying ABK MS got things they wanted, (KING, BLIZZARD, COD and its core studios, a ton of fallow IP), things they can use or do without, and things they don't want (the ODYSSEY game and those working on that mess). Hence the firings.

As for paying for TOYS FOR BOB specifically, it was a bundle deal. They were part of the bundle but given that MS closed their offices and laid off half the staff they clearly had little use for what they could do. Letting the rest go doesn't move the needle much if at all, especially if they still end up working for MS. And don't forget that any nominal "loss" from the deal can be written off taxes. That might actually be worth more to MS than the work of the 100 or so staff they hadn't alrrady let go. For all we know, those "survivors" were to be reassigned to other studios in the area.

Again: in recent times they have been a support studio, which is to say doing grunt work, debugging and sundry. Hardly engaging and creative work. Odds are, whatever project they work on as indies was something they pitched to MS and got turned down. They believe in it, MS didn't.

Finally, remember what OBSIDIAN's chief Urquhart(sp?) said about joining MS after years as a indie. He was happy not to have to worry anymore about making payroll. Life as an indie studio isn't all fuzzy bunnies and unicorns.

Hopefully things turn out well for TOYS FOR BOB and they do prosper like Bungie (who left to do DESTINY) but these are different times. Luck will be needed.
 

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