Update: The layoffs have now been confirmed, and ArenaNet has now issued a statement. We’re continuing to update this article at the end.
Kotaku is reporting that ArenaNet, the studio behind Guild Wars 2 and classic Guild Wars, is planning “big layoffs.” The publication says it’s acquired a memo sent by NCsoft CEO Songyee Yoon in which Yoon says ArenaNet as it was wasn’t “sustainable” and that the “live game business revenue is declining as [its] franchises age, delays in development on PC and mobile have created further drains against our revenue projects, while our operating costs in the west have increased.” It sounds pretty bad for ArenaNet as the cost-cutting measures will reportedly merge the publishing divisions between NCsoft and ArenaNet as part of the restructure.
Kotaku counts 400-odd people currently at work at ArenaNet with multiple unannounced projects underway. We don’t yet know how many people or projects will be affected. MMO players will recall that NCsoft is well known throughout the industry for these kinds of moves, most recently shuttering Carbine Studios and WildStar and laying off employees at Iron Tiger on the eve of its Aion mobile launch. (The Korean gaming giant has been leaning more and more toward mobile.)
Traditionally, ArenaNet has appeared to be insulated from these kinds of layoffs, and its financials weren’t particularly bad in 2018 overall (though that fourth quarter was definitely down a lot), but rumors that the company wasn’t planning a Guild Wars 2 expansion for 2019 certainly were cause for alarm. In recent months, the studio has made surprising moves to buff up the classic Guild Wars, even bringing its promotional website back online and vowing support for “years to come.”
Our sympathies as always extend here to the rank and file. We’ll be updating as we learn more.
Now that our company meetings are over: Yes, ArenaNet has announced layoffs today. We are not being shuffled out right away, decisions are pending.
ArenaNet has been very very transparent with us today in the meetings, which is something I appreciate very much.
— Jennifer Scheurle (@Gaohmee) February 21, 2019
“We know you have a lot of questions about the future of Guild Wars 2. We want to share with you what to expect moving forward for the game. First and foremost, we are still fully committed to all of our players and ongoing support of the game. We will be moving directly from Living World Season 4 into Season 5 as promised, and we plan to continue a regular cadence of updates and releases. We know Guild Wars 2 is important to you, and as our players, you are important to us. Rest assured that we are still working to add great new content to the game. We are deeply grateful to all of you for your support during this difficult time.”
The statement ArenaNet gave GIbiz (thanks Kieran!) also confirms it has cancelled “unannounced projects” and will suffer “staff reductions” as “part of a larger organizational restructuring within NCSOFT in the west, but the Guild Wars and Guild Wars 2 game services will not be affected, nor is any upcoming game content canceled.”
Intriguingly, former ArenaNet narrative designer Jessica Price, who was fired by the company last year in a fiery spectacle literally nobody wants to rehash right now (so please don’t), has provided additional clarity we’re unlikely to get otherwise. She writes she knew of two projects, one of which was “indefinitely suspended” even before she was let go, and that Guild Wars 2 was already suffering because of those projects even as long ago as last summer, something that rings true given the content cadence slowdown last year.
“For those of us working on GW2, our mandate was essentially to make it look like there was the same level of resources devoted to GW2, when they were actually steadily moving people off of it onto the other projects,” she tweeted. “It was bad enough that at one point we were told we could only have one cinematic for Ep5 (All or Nothing), which, given that it was the climax of the season and had more heavy emotional beats than anything else we’d done (at least while I was there), was devastating. The cinematics team, which is amazing, eventually figured out how to give us the cinematics we needed, and the team got very creative about how to do those sort of emotional beats without cinematics (like the last scene, which came out brilliantly). But it was deeply stressful to have to keep up the appearance of the same level of content creation and production values as always while people steadily got moved off the project.”
The article doesn't go into detail, because I doubt they're interested in releasing details to the public, but it does mention canceled projects. Anet had two major projects in the works when I was there. One was indefinitely suspended while I was still there.
— Jessica Price (@Delafina777) February 22, 2019