Former employees of Montreal video game studio outraged about how they were laid off

Some former employees of a Montreal mobile video game studio say they feel disrespected by the way management went about telling them that they’d been let go.

On Thursday, US-based video game studio Jam City Inc. made sweeping cuts to its overall staff at the company, including dozens of workers at its Montreal subsidiary, Ludia.

CBC Montreal spoke with several former employees who say they found out about the layoffs through word of mouth after management held a morning staff meeting solely for those who were being kept on.

“Those that were safe were [told], ‘come in the meeting, we’re announcing to you that we’re laying people off. If you’re in this meeting you’re safe,'” said Kevin, a former quality assurance worker, who was laid off.

He said his co-workers were told to keep the news private from affected staff, who would be informed of their termination in individual private meetings with human resources later that day.

But within a half hour of the morning meeting ending, Kevin said he lost access to his various work accounts and tools.

“It feels like a slap to the face,” he said.

The former employee, who had been with Ludia since September 2021, asked to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions for his career in the industry.

Workers critical of culture change

Kevin said he was told the layoffs were for economic purposes and corporate restructuring. But he said a separate email from management said the company was removing “redundant roles.”

“That felt like a personal blow of just like ‘your job is redundant, so we’re just going to remove it,'” he said.

Before the end of the day, Kevin said his former team went from 40 workers to 22. He said human resources told him that up to 60 people at Ludia had been let go.

The studio’s parent company, Jam City, did not confirm the number of employees laid off but said cuts at the Montreal studio are less than 20 per cent of the workforce there.

CBC Montreal spoke with three former employees who say the culture at the Montreal studio had changed for the worse since its acquisition by Los Angeles-based Jam City Inc. last fall, citing a new priority on monetization. (Kamil Zihnioglu/The Associated Press)

Ludia, founded in 2007, specializes in mobile video games such as Jurassic World Alive, The Price Is Right, Family Feud and other game show brands.

CBC Montreal spoke with three former employees who were critical of culture changes to the studio since its acquisition by Los Angeles-based Jam City Inc. last fall.

The workers, who were also given anonymity due to fear of repercussions to their careers, said the profitability of the games was prioritized rather than their quality.

“It was very much business talk, money talk, cost effective. All of the talk about the fun of video games, or just like the general feeling of making video games, was off the table,” said Kevin, citing complaints he heard from his colleagues.

One former employee who worked for Ludia for two years quit shortly after the acquisition because they disagreed with the direction the company would be taking. The studio had recently announced a new development that would include non-fungible tokens (NFTs).

They also said that during a Q&A session following the acquisition, Ludia told employees there would be no layoffs. Jam City has refuted that claim.

Industry always looking for talent

In a statement to CBC Montreal, Jam City said it made staff cuts across all of its studios to account for the “current economic downturn and impacts this has had on the gaming industry.”

But the Entertainment Software Association of Canada says the industry is only getting bigger, and that Montreal studios will be vying for workers like Kevin who were laid off.

“Traditionally, the video game industry has been a recession-resistant industry,” said president and CEO Jayson Hilchie.

“In the Montreal area alone, there are more than about 2,000 open jobs in the video game industry with multiple companies constantly hiring,” he said.

Hilchie said if anything, the city has recently had a talent shortage.

“These [laid off workers] will most likely have opportunities at multiple different video game studios as they search for new employment,” he said.

But Kevin says he will be taking some time for himself to unplug before deciding whether he wants back in the game.

“I wish the fun of video games came back,” he said.

“The first thing about making a video game shouldn’t be the money.”

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