News has come out that nine people have been laid off from Paragon Studios, including fan favourite / big forum presence Christopher Bruce, who posted under the name Back Alley Brawler (or BABs). BABs, along with Floyd Grubb aka Castle, had been among the most visible Paragon Studio developers on the forums. CoH/V forumite players have reacted with surprise and some sadness to his exit and it is sure to make the New York Comic Con appearance by Paragon Studios interesting.
Why the nine people were laid off is currently unclear. The old chesnut of “since the expansion has launched, they don’t need as many people around” has raised its head, and although that can be true for single player titles, MMOs typically need those extra people to keep doing what they were doing if they plan to keep growing. If that’s the case you only need people for a limited development cycle, you’d tend to hire temps / put people on fixed contracts, then let them go at the end of the project, which isn’t a lay-off per se. After a long time in Paragon City, BABs may have wanted to take a break, or someone’s made him an offer he can’t yet make public, or Paragon Studios is cutting costs – I don’t know. It is interesting that he’s been winding back his forum involvement for a while, but this could just be something that appears relevant after the fact.
Others can talk about that. What I’m interested in is how Paragon Studios is handling the exit of one of their more public faces.
Say Nothing Without Wasting A Word
Having red names (developers) post on MMO forums is an interesting balancing act. On one hand, players love being able to tell the dev to their face how wrong they always are communicate directly with those who design the game and give their feedback. An active community manager (CM) is a positive thing, but they can also be seen as a roadblock to getting to the actual dev – after all, a CM can’t implement the desired in-game changes themselves. Of course, it can be a double-edged sword – having a dev post and get it wrong can have disasterous PR consequences (see #2).
Then, of course, these visible devs can also leave the studio. In these situations, it is probably a sensible idea to acknowledge that yes, that dev who was posting witticisms on the forums last week is now gone. Saying nothing just lets rumours build. Some devs are lucky enough to get their own press release saying they are moving on, but then there are those who simply disappear (to join the competition). BABs has joined the ranks of those devs who have just disappeared (at this point, anyway).
Here’s the trade-off: if a studio thinks having devs post on the forums is a good idea, they need to have the goodbye post all prepared for the day they leave. Some have said that there laws that may stop a company from naming who has been laid off unless they are a public figure, but that doesn’t cut it from a community angle. BABs appeared in promotional videos, did interviews, tweeted and posted on the forums – he was a very public figure for Paragon Studios. Letting him (or any exiting dev) write a goodbye post might not answer all the questions, but it is certainly better than having to deal with a leak and lots of players query what is going on. It can still be platitudes – “I’ve had a great time here, you are all wonderful, I’m moving on” et al – but it shows the forum community a shade more respect than saying nada.
Which leads me to…
The Unluckiest Man In The City
Funnily enough, it isn’t anyone who has been let go (they are outside the city now). No, the unluckiest person in this situation is theOcho, the community manager who has to deal with the fallout. Take a look at the material he’s got to work with:
“It’s our policy not to comment on personnel issues but rest assured that we remain as dedicated as ever to the future of the City of Heroes franchise.”
“The PR statement from the article is correct.
In an effort to put a greater focus on the City of Heroes franchise, Paragon Studios is shifting resources within the studio. In order to optimize the refocus, there has been a reduction in force that has impacted a small amount of people. Paragon Studios is an integral part of the NCsoft West family and will continue to prosper, delivering the world’s most popular superpowered hero MMO game, City of Heroes, to fans around the world.”
“Paragon Studios is still profoundly committed to City of Heroes and is proud of both the game we have created and the community who plays it. We’re here for the long run, no need to be scurred.”
All of it awful.
Seriously, there is no point talking about community as one of CoH/V’s (or any title’s) strengths if you are going to ignore it when convenient. Patronising the community is a sure way to lose its respect. TheOcho is unlucky here because he’s trapped in a no-win situation: obviously he isn’t able to comment on the issue, but he’s the most obvious contact for queries, so he’s stuck in the middle of following the company line and actually answering the player questions honestly.