Popcap Dublin Axed In ‘Integration’ Plan

By Alec Meer on September 24th, 2012 at 4:00 pm.

He may never speak of what it is that saddens him so

Here’s a fact of a life: when a large corporation (for instance, a games publisher. For instance, EA) buys up an exciting, highly-respected smaller, independent firm (for instance, a games developer. For instance, PopCap), the following process will invariably happen:

1) Happy, positive talk of independence, unfettered creativity and bright futures from both sides
2) A gradual shift into having that developer do what it’s told, rather than what it wants
3) Redundancies at or closure of the developer once it doesn’t look to be providing a suitably enormous return on the obscene sum paid to acquire it in the first place
4) Repeat

So, best of luck to all those who sailed in the good ship PopCap Dublin, which newish owners EA closed down today. Edit: Though apparently it was “the PopCap leadership team” which pulled the trigger on this.

96 people are affected, according to a statement sent to sites including MCV, though apparently some have been offered placements in other parts of PopCap and EA. Which aren’t in Ireland, but apparently some “new opportunities with technology partners” are. EA also recently opened a “European Customer Experience Center” in Galway, so hopefully there’ll be some decent opportunities there.

The Dublin closure follows lay-offs at its Seattle branch last month. Blamed for those lay-offs and Dublin’s plunge into ‘consultation status’ a few weeks back, were “duplicative roles” elsewhere at EA, so they “accelerated the integration there.” Integration! Integration, I’m fairly sure, means bringing things together, rather than removing some of them from the building. Perhaps I’m too much of a literalist.

PopCap Dublin was the Peggle firm’s European HQ, and I believe didn’t get up to quite as much development as its American arm, so apparently the cut roles broadly involve ” central resources, legal, business affairs” and that sort of thing. It’s still very sad to see this once-proud company being mashed into a new form designed to suit a larger overlord.

No doubt PopCap’s owners cashed out massively as part of the acquisition, so that side of things I understand. It’s the publisher side of things that’s a little more bewildering to me, from my myopic, business uncomphrending view of it all – so many times a publisher buys a developer (in this case for $650m plus $100m in stock options), then proceeds to slowly dismantle that developer rather than play to its strengths. It seems so counter-productive. But large companies do not share a single brain: quite possibly, the person who thought acquring PopCap was a great idea isn’t the same person who frowned at a bottom line a year later.

Again, best of luck to those affected – may you find new roles in kindly places very soon.

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90 Comments »

  1. Blackcompany says:

    It would make me so happy if the “Big 4″ – EA, Activision, Zenimax and Ubisoft – would simply allow developers to make the games they WANT to make. I mean, look at the Skyrim “game jam” that produced more good stuff for Skyrim than that game has now. And its stuff players really want.

    The Publishers are not gamers. They are business executives. As such they have no idea what gamers want and depend on out of touch marketing executives to tell them all about us. A task at which marketing executives completely and continually fail. See SWTOR and the upcoming (doomed) TES MMO for more on this.

    Please, just leave the devs alone and let them do what made you want to acquire them in the first place: Make games that gamers want to play.

    • demonalcohol says:

      *CLAPS*

    • rockman29 says:

      The only big publishers I feel like let their companies make the games they want are Valve (who makes so few games now sadly), Sony, and to a little less extend Nintendo as well. Sony has it’s financial troubles and has closed studios recently and in the past, but they still provide a ton of unique games (from Datura to Tokyo Jungle to Tearaway and Puppeteer) that just seem like no other big publisher would even touch.

      It’s hard to be a fan of the big publishers unless it’s THQ or SCE these days.

    • Sic says:

      The reason the features in the game jam hasn’t all been implemented is not that some evil person in a suit is telling the development team that they can’t put it in, it’s because it’s not feasible within whatever time frame the developers have to spend on the game.

      If you actually take a look at what Bethesda has done after release, you’ll see that pretty much all of it is taken directly out of the game jam (both additions that were done in patches and in DLC).

      They are adding what they can. It’s as simple as that.

      The huge game-changing additions, like dark dungeons, isn’t something that is feasible to do post launch, at least not if you’re still in full production mode with DLC (and probably already have started preproduction on the next game in the series).

      They will probably still keep adding features from the game jam until they enter full production mode on the next game.

      So, yeah, your example makes pretty much no sense whatsoever.

  2. Auru says:

    It’s articles like this that make me love RPS.

    GG popcap guys and gals :(

    • The Random One says:

      Most sad news, best of luck to them, but all I can think of know is how bloody brilliant the pictures are bring today on Glorified Blog.

  3. eroticfishcake says:

    On the flipside, EA have opened up 300 new jobs at the EA European Customer Experience Centre in Galway a few days ago so I hear a few of them are possibly getting transferred over there. Having said that, it’s still kinda sucky that the Dublin studio has been closed.

    • MisterT says:

      On the flip side of that, that must mean several hundred fewer people working in their current “customer care” centres in india or wherever.

      • cairbre says:

        Yeah but I am from Galway, Ireland so I prefer to hear of jobs in my hometown

  4. MACtic says:

    This feckin sucks. EA is evil company indeed. :(

    • Trillby says:

      Evil. You really said evil?

      • Sheng-ji says:

        Seeing as Jesus frowned on the pursuit of profit at the expense of social conscience, and seeing as how good and evil are bound to religious definitions, EA are indeed evil!

        • MadTinkerer says:

          No, no. EA is not evil. I’ve figured it out recently.

          EA is Lenny. EA likes soft things. Like mice. So EA pets the mouse and then puts the mouse in his his pocket. And then the mouse dies. And no matter how many times we explain to EA that mice need to breathe air and they can’t breathe when you put the mice in your pocket, EA keeps doing it. Because EA is too stupid to understand that EA is killing the mice.

          Shareholders do not understand games, and only care about business. Suits do not understand games, and only care about business. People who understand how games are made (and importantly: should be made), and how best to make money in the long term, are not making the decisions. So the mice keep going in the pocket and for some reason EA doesn’t understand, the mice just die. It’s not completely EA’s fault, because EA is just too stupid to understand.

          • Sheng-ji says:

            I love your analogy I really do, though as an EA shareholder, who has also been a gamer for 35 years and worked in a studio for 10 years ultimately becoming a project lead on a AAA title (Sudeki) I would have to say that not all shareholders don’t understand games.

          • Balm says:

            Sudeki as in that acid-coloured atempt at jrpg from 5 years ago?
            Who do you figure it to be an “AAA-Title”?

          • BrokenSymmetry says:

            Ah, Sudeki, I absolutely loved that game. Such beautiful colors, most fun combat system of any RPG I’ve played. And the soundtrack playing in New Brighwater is magical.

          • Sheng-ji says:

            @Balm – It was given a AAA budget and Microsoft asked for a AAA title. Whether we delivered or not is open to opinion, of course ;)

            @Broken Symmetry – Thanks! We had some amazing people, sadly the guy who was responsible for the art in the game and three of the main characters works in advertising now, storyboarding tv ads, his art never gets seen these days which is a shame. He also influenced most of the music too! My only bad memories of that time, apart form the usual in the gaming industry was the fact that they were building the spinnaker tower directly outside our office windows, about 10m away. You can imagine the noise!

          • zephyn says:

            ‘Hm… this is a very generous offer that EA is proposing for our company, but why are they insisting that we rename it “George”? ‘

        • Trillby says:

          Touché.

          • cairbre says:

            @ Balm dont be a dick what game did you ever make? Fair play to him for making a game and sharing his knowledge on this site

          • Ramacc says:

            @cairbre So can a person who has not made a game no longer critique games?
            Have The Rules Changed?

          • Halbarad says:

            Ramacc: He didn’t really critique it though. He just out and out insulted it and then with no knowledge on how the “AAA” title works said it wasn’t one. I think calling him a dick, because that is what he was being, is a perfectly legitimate statement. or do you want to call it critique?

  5. Kapouille says:

    It’s not all about the talent, there’s also the IP acquisition. Also, what’s in your portfolio isn’t in your competitor’s.
    And indeed, a lot of “optimisation” happens. Those large corporations are shareholder driven, they want results they can show in the year and care a lot less about long term effects.
    Finally, the people who take those decisions have their bonuses directly indexed on the amount of “savings” they do. With such incentives, how can you expect shaving not to happen?

    • Shuck says:

      EA is infamous for this – laying off a large number of people towards the end of the quarter so that the earnings reports can claim they’ve reduced expenses. Then, a few months later, they hire people back. It’s pretty shitty if you work there, as you have whatever the opposite of job stability is, and you never know how much of the year will be spent without income. A lot of my friends and coworkers have worked at EA, but not for long.

      • sinister agent says:

        Man, I wish I could do stuff like that.

        “Hey, well done on getting our costs down. How did you manage that?”

        “Trade secrets, innit. You’ll understand one day.”

        “By the way, what happened to all our stuff?”

        “… iono.”

    • Archonsod says:

      It’s not even IP. As the article states, the Ireland branch was primarily business services rather than development and the like. Fairly sure EA already has plenty of legal, HR and similar types without needing to keep the ones from it’s acquisitions too.

  6. Discopanda says:

    UNEMPLOYMENT FACE!

  7. Los_ says:

    I know everyone is going to run out and blame EA for destroying some of the best game companies out there. But really, at this point, if you sell your company to EA for a large sum of money. Don’t you kind of know what to expect?

    • Chris D says:

      If Hannibal Lecter invites me for dinner and reminds be to bring the chianti I should know what to expect. I may be a fool if I accept the invitation but that still doesn’t make Hannibal an ok guy.

      • zebramatt says:

        Yes but it also makes you dead and him well fed – which is not only monumentally stupid for you, but it doesn’t do the rest of us any bloody favours either, you inconsiderate git!

        • TsunamiWombat says:

          Yeah at this point trusting EA is like breaking one of the rules in a horror movie, you need to check your genre savvy and realize your just gonna get yourself pulled in half.

    • Ergates_Antius says:

      Except the people who made the decision to sell aren’t the ones being made redundant – they’re probably sailing round the Med in yachts made of diamonds.

    • Moraven says:

      And as owner you have enough money to:
      Retire
      Travel the World
      Fund a new game company outside EA’s control.

  8. Nallen says:

    The bit about (lacking) joined up thinking it most probably correct. I don’t work in a games company but the company I do work for was brought a while back due to the fact we made a boat load of money. Fast forward a couple of years to flat, cross group cost cutting and leveraged synergies. We now have no resources and no expertise to do what we did and make the money we used to for the group. Very clever.

    • Martel says:

      I find this trend interesting. Company can’t innovate. Company buys little guy that can innovate. Company forces little guy to be exactly like they are. Company doesn’t understand why little guy can’t innovate anymore.

    • Ergates_Antius says:

      One of the largest fallacies of the modern world is that large successful companies are large and successful because the people running them know what they’re doing. What makes this a particularly damaging fallacy, is that the people who believe it the strongest are the people running large and successful companies.

      In most cases, companies are large and successful because the peolple in charge haven’t managed to completely fuck it up with their incessant meddling. Yet.

      • Subject 706 says:

        @Ergates
        This. So very this. Changing the mentality of large behemoths is a titanic endeavor.

      • sinister agent says:

        The larger the company, the more people they have available to limit the damage that management can do.

      • Ergates_Antius says:

        To be fair to the management types, it’s just a form of the worlds favourate mistake – confusing corelation with causation.

        “I did some stuff and the company made a profit. Therefore what I did made the company profitable. I should do some more of it”

    • HisMastersVoice says:

      I went through a similar process, but got on top of the barrel so to speak. I was working as a concept designer for an “ideas company” – we were doing a lot of pitch ready material other companies would then turn into actual product. Our boss sold the company for a heavy penny and quit his job as soon as he could. He’s running a new company, similar profile, highly successful. I got relocated as an “asset” (I was literally described as an asset in the internal corporate exchange) to another company, where I got a massive rise and promises of lots of cool things to do. Ultimately, all the cool things we came up with, ones that made the original company worth the money, turned out to be “way to revolutionary” in the words of my supervisors, so I quit the job. I’m freelance now.

      A friend that stayed employed at the original company told me it’s currently about a quarter of it’s former size, doing pretty much nothing.

    • drewski says:

      Unfortunately when you go in for your performance review and your boss says “So, what did you do this quarter?” and you say “Well, nothing really, it was doing alright already, so I just said carry on” most bosses will go “So…why am I paying you again?”

      I’m utterly convinced that 85% of “management” is action for the sake of it.

    • sophof says:

      My (short) experience has taught me that when the company you work for gets bought, you’d better find a new job while you can still leverage the experience, because it will quickly become a trap you can not get out.

      A nice example was my first job, when the successful it-services company I was working for was sold. This company was different in the amount of ‘boring’, but very competent employees, stuck to well paying clients, but at rather low margins. Most of them were specialists in fields such as aerospace, simulations, automotive, etc. The IT-services ‘world’ was one of huge margins doing stupid, marginally competent SAP stuff at that time though.
      The new boss thought it was an excellent idea to change everything to a ‘hip’ new structure, where employees compete, have to find their own work and generally were in charge of their own profits. When I asked him what he thought these employees would do, he frankly told me they would leave. When I asked what he would do then, he told me he would hire new people that worked the way he wanted. This monumentally stupid man (the company is gone now) made roughly 100 times my salary… (I am exaggerating probably, but still :P)

      I know it is a bit cliche to complain about management, especially since I am halfway there myself currently, but if someone fails at such basic logic, I can not help but wonder how he ever got there. Sadly he was the first example in many.

  9. Ian says:

    Poor Tal-Nut. :(

  10. veremor says:

    Maybe there should be some anti-EA shitstorm headquarter with lasting operations, so it doesn’t come up only periodically or in a specific case.
    Like Alec Meer, I think it’s mainly the fault of so-called economical experts with no understanding of larger contexts or the inner workings of developers and the industry. They live in their own world of formulas and numbers.

    • derbefrier says:

      I think it a bit stupid to make assumptions like this when your on the outside looking in. Its sounds to me like they were just trimming the fat. getting rid of positions that were no longer needed after the buyout or whatever because as a bigger company they have plenty of people to do this already. It sucks they had to be let go instead of finding them another position or something but this isnt a charity if they were not needed then there’s nothing else to really say its just a normal thing that happens in ALL businesses EA isn’t special in this regard and isn’t different from any other company. To assume you know better than the guys on the inside is a bit pretentious.

  11. Cooper says:

    EA:
    Swallowing and chewing up small yet successful developers from these little islands since 1995.

    It started with Bullfrog. When will it end?

    • zeroskill says:

      It will never end until people stop buying their games. But the world has enough teenagers that are easily attracted to big explosions for EA to keep rich. And to continue swallowing studios.

  12. pilouuuu says:

    Well, at least I have peashooter in The Sims 3… And zombies! Lots of zombies!
    EA should be renamed to Galactus…

  13. StevoIRL says:

    The Anti-EA bullshit here is incredible.

    The Dublin office was redundant, it wasn’t the main source of Popcaps development process it handled the ports of its games to phones and such. It was simple business, they couldn’t justify the role the office had thus it was deemed expendable.

    That’s business folks, something which some people here find hard to grasp.

    • Ultra-Humanite says:

      I’d love to live in the fantasy universe you come from.

    • TsunamiWombat says:

      People known for doing bad things shouldn’t do things that are or resemble those bad things and expect everyone to not ASSUME they’ve fallen off the wagon and are, once again, doing those bad things. EA destroy’s small developers like Godzilla destroys Tokyo – at least once a year for increasingly unknowable reasons.

      Then If Godzilla woke up one and smashed down some derelict and condemned buildings to save the city in demolitions cost, everyone would still assume Godzilla was attacking the city.

    • Moraven says:

      For whatever the reason, EA has historically shown buy then close for many developers, ones that have produced classics that us PC gamers hold dear.

      What if EA never bought PopCap? Would this same location be closed?

      • StevoIRL says:

        Did you even read with what the Dublin office did? It did no major development work. It’s sole focus was porting their games made in the States to mobile devices. Popcap founder came out recently saying how horrible the mobile phone market is if your not giving away your software for free, it’s not Popcaps area of strength, so how can you justify the costs of 96 jobs on a area in the market you have zero comfort in.

    • Brun says:

      This is really a good point, and it’s a shame that everyone here is basically blowing you off and telling you that it’s rubbish.

      • MadTinkerer says:

        Right. Because EA isn’t known for making awful decisions ALL THE TIME.

        • Brun says:

          Given the way social and mobile is doing right now, and what this studio in particular was specialized in, this doesn’t sound like an awful decision – more like a smart business move actually.

        • StevoIRL says:

          So let me get this straight, you want them to instead keep paying people to make an inferior product to what’s on the market when your not making any returns, just for the sake of being nice….. Right.

  14. Ultra-Humanite says:

    I’m pretty sure the Popcap people dispensed with step #1 immediately when they heard who they were sold to. It’s not like EA doesn’t have a track record with this sort of thing. I mean for those of us who pay attention instead of living our lives in blissful ignorance with our heads jammed up our fucking assholes.

  15. pyjamarama says:

    The real problem is that 1 dollar phone games and “free” Facebook games are actually not that profitable the industry was over estimating again that market and there is a lot competition out there, so they have to scale down.

    • Brun says:

      This is important as well. It’s quickly turning out that Social and Mobile games were just a fad (see also, Zynga, Facebook stock prices), and now companies (or studios) that specialize in those markets are being pruned from their parent corporations.

      • Felixader says:

        I wouldn’t say a fad. Lots of people play them. The Problem is that no one who plays them wants to pay much, if at all.

  16. Moraven says:

    PopCap been slow to release anything new, while in the past they were coming out with new games and updated sequels.

    One thing they failed to do until this past year is take the advice of Yogurt: Merchandising! Merchandising!

    If they had gone way of Angry Birds and had PvZ everywhere, they would have made a bundle early on. They let the Chinese make and sell their own unlicensed PvZ products.

  17. karthink says:

    Side note: The Bioware Doctors quit exactly five years after EA acquired Bioware. While we will probably never know the inside story, it’s not unlikely that they were just riding out their purchase contract clause waiting to wash their hands off EA.

  18. ZIGS says:

    So let me get this straight: PopCap is acquired by Ea and before they even release anything under their their new ownership, they get layoffs and a studio closed?

    • MadTinkerer says:

      Yep. And they fired the PvZ guy. They had one job: don’t fire the PvZ guy. And then they fired him. This story wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t also already fire the one guy in the company who was justifying the purchase of the company in the first place.

  19. Calabi says:

    This pattern is getting pretty predictable its not just this industry it happens though. Its one method for how they eliminate competition.

    Well I guess a few really large corporations with lots of power is the best outcome for capitalism./end sarcasm.

  20. Eddy9000 says:

    You missed a stage after 3: “churn out staid, lowest common denominator rubbish with none of the developers original creativity as a low risk profit making strategy”

  21. DMStern says:

    I never quite got why Popcap went on such an expansion spree in the first place. Were they planning on jumping straight from indie to Ubisoft?

  22. Tei says:

    This us a expensive way to buy a pair of chairs if you are not interested in the team part of a company. Anyway selling a company is a feat, having a company that is worth buying is probably hard.

  23. TCM says:

    Popcap makes company decision to shut down redundant studio, EA is blamed because they are the evil empire and everyone is prepared to lay all the evils of the world at their feet.

  24. sophof says:

    It boggles my mind how EA makes ANY money. Screwup after screwup. Why even buy a company if you are not going to give it freedom? In that case you might as well make the games yourself…

    • Brun says:

      It’s seen as less of a risk to acquire a company full of proven talent (like so many successful start-ups) that you can then direct as you see fit than to try to source a bunch of unproven new employees to fill the same positions.

    • TCM says:

      Why even buy a company if you’re not going to direct them towards your goals?

      • sophof says:

        Because you already have a company for that exact reason.

        Let’s assume Microsoft bought Apple. It wouldn’t make much sense to then lay off most of the Apple personnel and force them to do things the Microsoft way, since that’s just another way of paying too much money for the copyright. I choose this analogy since I assume it is clear that not all the value is in the logo and name. This is of course especially true for small companies that have made little name but show great promise.

        The value of most companies is in its people, especially in the IT world.

  25. Daniel Klein says:

    Saddens me to hear this. I’m a huge fan of Popcap’s simple type of gaming. There’ll be some pints drunk at the Bull and Castle tonight, I’m sure, and not in a good mood.

    Just to say that Riot Games is still looking for a LOT of people for our Dublin office:

    http://www.riotgames.com/careers/dublin

    I count 21 jobs on that page, but some of these openings are for more than one person.

    I was lucky enough to jump ship before GOA Games went down, the last major closure here in Dublin, and I was beyond lucky to be picked up very very early by Riot Games. My heart goes out to all those made redundant and here’s hoping you’ll be as lucky as I was.

    • zeroskill says:

      This isn’t a place for advertisment.

      • Buzko says:

        @Jengaman and zeroskill: He isn’t saying “Buy Riot Points!” He’s pointing out potential job opportunities for those affected, i.e. doing something helpful, which is more than either of you two.

        • zeroskill says:

          Oh right, i’m sure the first thing the people that lost their job are going to do is read the comment section of RPS for new job opportunities.

          You think people are really dumb around these parts, do you.

    • Jengaman says:

      oh good riot can pay more people to post on their forums about cosplaying and memes

    • Malibu Stacey says:

      Considering the things Riot is already pulling to try & stave off it’s death once Dota 2 is publicly released, I wouldn’t be so quick to jump to a company with all it’s eggs in a single basket.

  26. gulag says:

    Don’t get too weepy over this one folks. If Popcap established an Euro HQ here in Dublin it was almost certainly a profit clearing and tax scrubbing operation first, and a development studio a very, very distant second.

    In all likelihood EA simply ran the numbers and decided to fold the Popcap bean-counting operation into their own.

  27. Hardmood says:

    *applause at EA again…
    just dont buy their products. greedy bastards.

  28. Universal Quitter says:

    You’re right about integration. I think the right word would be consolidation. I’d call it brutal, humanity-less destruction of people’s lives, but I’m a fan of hyperbole.

  29. rocketman71 says:

    In fact, all the EA suits together don’t even amount to half a brain.