EA’s BioWare will lay off 50 and cut ties with unionized Keywords playtesting group
EA’s BioWare will lay off 50 and cut ties with unionized Keywords playtesting group

We’re thrilled to announce the return of GamesBeat Summit Next, hosted in San Francisco this October, where we will explore the theme of “Playing the Edge.” Apply to speak here and learn more about sponsorship opportunities here

Electronic Arts said that its BioWare studio based in Edmonton, Canada, is laying off 50 people on the team even as Dragon Age: Dreadwolf is in the late stages of development.

The layoffs will likely be a blow to morale at the studio and make the development environment more difficult. Gary McKay, general manager of the developer, told employees in a statement today that the move is mean to make the EA owned developer a more agile and more focused studio. EA has an estimated 12,000 to 13,000 employees, and BioWare had perhaps 250 people.

“In order to meet the needs of our upcoming projects, continue to hold ourselves to the highest standard of quality and ensure BioWare can continue to thrive in an industry that’s rapidly evolving, we must shift towards a more agile and more focused studio,” McKay said. “It will allow our developers to iterate quickly, unlock more creativity, and form a clear vision of what we’re building before development ramps up.”

He added, “To achieve this, we find ourselves in a position where change is not only necessary, but unavoidable. As difficult as this is to say, rethinking our approach to development inevitably means reorganizing our team to match the studio’s changing needs. As part of this transition, we are eliminating approximately 50 roles at BioWare. That is deeply painful and humbling to write. We are doing everything we can to ensure the process is handled with empathy, respect, and clear communication.”

A screen from Dragon Age: Dreadwolf.
A screen from Dragon Age: Dreadwolf.

In addition, the moves come with a couple of related or perhaps coincidental events. A spokesperson for EA said that the company was unable to come to an agreement with a part of Keywords, a big game services firm, that provides playtesting services. In June 2022, this small part of Keywords had a group of contractors who voted to unionize.

EA said it was unable to create a new contract and so will let that current one expire on September 27. It’s not clear what will happen to the contractors without the EA contract, but it’s fair to guess that some jobs will likely be lost over at Keywords unless they find other work.

An industry source said EA has renewed work orders with Keywords Studios since their employees voted to unionize in June 2022. But the source added that, in this instance, the two companies simply couldn’t agree to terms. The Keywords contract requirements exceeded what EA/Bioware needed given the change in development approach at the studio. 

The layoff also comes about three months after EA moved production of its massively multiplayer online game, Star Wars: The Old Republic, to a third-party publisher, Broadsword, in Reston, Virginia. The game debuted way back in 2011 and has entered maintenance mode.

Broadsword has also taken over games like Ultima Online and Dark Age of Camelot so players can keep playing them. McKay said BioWare’s focus will be on making “exceptional story-driven single-player experiences filled with vast worlds and rich characters.”

McKay’s leadership will not be affected. Michael Gamble, who has been with BioWare for 15 years, will continue to serve as head of the Mass Effect team. Currently, the studio is in pre-production for the next game in the Mass Effect franchise. Corinne Busche and John Epler, two leaders on Dragon Age, also continue in their roles.

Andrew Wilson, CEO of EA, announced back in March that the company would cut about 6% of its total workforce, and these cutbacks are related to that move.

McKay said that EA chose to act now to provide impacted colleagues with as many internal opportunities as possible. These changes coincide with a significant number of roles that are currently open across EA’s other studios. Impacted employees will be provided with professional resources and assistance as they apply for these positions. Those departing will receive credit in the game.

“While it’s unlikely that everyone will find a new role within the company, we are committed to supporting our staff as they navigate this change. Our sincere hope is that they can continue their exemplary work at studios who stand to benefit immensely from their talents,” McKay said.

McKay said EA is dedicated to the development of Dreadwolf has never wavered.

“Our commitment remains steadfast, and we all are working to make this game worthy of the Dragon Age name. We are confident that we’ll have the time needed to ensure Dragon Age reaches its full potential,” McKay said. “I can also tell you that every member of our team, even those departing BioWare, deserves credit for crafting a spectacular experience. These are our colleagues and friends, and we would not be here without them. I am so proud of all the work our team has done.”

And McKay said, “While this is an extremely difficult day for everyone at BioWare, we are making changes now to build a brighter future. We’re excited for all of you to see what we’ve been building with Dreadwolf. A core veteran team led by Mike Gamble continues their pre-production work on the next Mass Effect. Our commitment to quality continues to be our North Star.”

EA has not said when Dragon Age: Dreadwolf will ship.

GamesBeat’s creed when covering the game industry is “where passion meets business.” What does this mean? We want to tell you how the news matters to you — not just as a decision-maker at a game studio, but also as a fan of games. Whether you read our articles, listen to our podcasts, or watch our videos, GamesBeat will help you learn about the industry and enjoy engaging with it. Discover our Briefings.