Friday, June 9, 2023

Beware Alignments

Yes, I'm aware that Bioware (well, EA) is selling Star Wars: The Old Republic to Broadsword. On the face of it, this sure sounds like the game is going into maintenance mode in the same fashion that Rift has been placed, but at least Broadsword isn't Gamigo. Some devs are heading to Broadsword from Bioware, and it sounds like Broadsword is basically two turntables and a microphone as far as development staff is concerned. That means that the SWTOR team will effectively move their culture over, lock stock and barrel, to Broadsword.

Given that I tend to play the "vanilla" areas of SWTOR with little interest in new content, I'm okay with that. (It would be nice if the devs brought out "Classic SWTOR" servers, but that's just me.)

However, one cautionary flag I noted were all of the comments here and there on the internet about how the SWTOR staff is moving to a place that aligns with their interests. Upon reading that, I twitched. You see, back in the early 2000s my division was outsourced to an IT outsourcing firm, and part of the justification in that outsourcing from my company's owners was that we would be in a place where our work is their primary business. Our careers would be better aligned with that new company, we were told, as we would not be a "back office" job but rather a core competency of our new company's staffing.

I said it then, and I'll say it now: that was a huge fucking load of horseshit. 

That was so much horseshit I could have been selling bags of manure for years.

The first thing that "new company" did was get all of everybody's workload and compensation, and then cut said compensation by turning everybody into to salaried employees. Then they began cutting people left and right to "align with the need to bring the account into the black".  Finally, they began offshoring positions overseas; first to Costa Rica, then to India and Indonesia, and finally to the Philippines.*


In the case of history repeating itself, 14 years later our division was once again outsourced from that IT firm to yet another IT firm, and we were fed the exact same lines of crap about how our work would "better align" with the new firm. 

Guess what happened once we got settled into the new company?

From Digital Mom blog.

So yeah, I don't believe that bullshit for a single minute. And neither should the SWTOR devs.

If there is a silver lining to this, it's that Bioware will now have nothing to stand on other than their single player games that they've been doing just so damn well with. I mean, Mass Effect: Andromeda and Anthem were just fantastic releases, except for those damn SWTOR devs, amirite?

*When the Philippines office opened up, people on my team from India were suddenly concerned for their jobs, because the Philippines personnel were paid a fraction of their salaries, and they were underpaid compared to other IT companies in India.


  1. At my current employer, I used to work for a smaller sub-business and had to watch them run it utterly into the ground over the course of a few years. At one point they made a lot of big promises about how by totally changing the direction of the site and moving its focus to a different country they were going to turn it into a huge success... needless to say, none of that worked out. The only reason I'm still with the company is that I was lucky enough to internally transition to a different part of the business in time.

    But then, I also look at something like Daybreak Studios being bought by Enad Global and subsequently going on to seemingly take them over from the inside and apparently having a grand old time.

    Ultimately it all comes down to the people in positions of power, how much they care and how good they are at their jobs.

    1. Except that Enad Global is now the target of a so-called "activist investor group" that wants to slash and burn and break things up "to maximize investor profit". So yeah, late stage capitalism and all that doesn't exactly give me warm fuzzies about where all this is headed.

      One thing that people seem to have missed is that maybe EA is getting ready to sell Bioware.

    2. Does EA sell things? I thought they just closed them down.

      The DBG/EG7 thing is fascinating. A conspiracy theorist would definitely say the whole thing was a set-up to begin with but I don't suppose we'll ever know the truth. As for the activist investor, as I wrote at the time, I think the whole "We were never owned by Columbus Nova" storyline pretty much puts paid to any likelihood of anyone in the DBG heirarchy volunteering to return to US oversight. Ditto the Swedes, I'd bet. Whether the greedy capitalists can scrape together enough minor shareholders to do anything about the situation I guess we'll have to wait and see but I'd bet against it.

    3. In the case of activist investors --as opposed to the old term, corporate raiders-- perception is often reality. If you can get into the business press and make it look like you're just trying to "maximize shareholder value" in a way that doesn't make you come off like "Pharma Bro" Martin Shkreli 2.0, you'll get a favorable read from investors. I do think that DBG/EG7's saving grace is that they're in Sweden, which will likely protect them from avoiding the fate that so many other companies have suffered when activist investors turn their eye on them. EA does not have such luck, so somebody somewhere is likely eyeing SWTOR and thinking "we could monetize the hell out of this even more and make a boatload of cash fast, because Disney". So I'd not be surprised if EA comes out a bit more into the open as to the relationship between it and Broadsword.

    4. As far as I can tell, it is a partnership. Based on what was said when Broadsword took over UO and DAoC, Broadsword handles the operations, support, and development of the games. EA handles the billing and account services. Now, some of this may have changed since 2014, but Wikipedia doesn't list Broadsword as an EA acquisition, nor does it show that EA has a stake in Broadsword.

      Here's a link to the company's initial philosophy and a bit of history of the founder: Broadsword Online: What It Means For UO & DAOC.

  2. This could also be a move to light a fire under Bioware. Without the comfort zone that the money Swtor brings in, Bioware has got to focus on getting their single player games out the door. After the great success of the Jedi Survivor single player games it is time to kick Bioware in the ass and have them focused on what they do best. Other than Neverwinter Nights and its DM/module stuff, Bioware hasn't really been known for doing that great on multi-player bits of games. (Also, having legacy MMOs in one studio looks good from an org-chart perspective and that does sell well to upper management.)

    Having 40 people move to Broadsword on a high-profile MMO definitely shifts the center of gravity at Broadsword. In a few years we might be looking back saying that Swtor acquired Broadsword, not the other way around. ^_^

    1. My division was originally to be sold back in 2002 to another outsourcing firm, but after a couple of months that firm got cold feet and backed out. The reason? Because we'd effectively double the size of the company, taking over their corporate culture.

      Mergers/takeovers where the "lesser partner" takes over control of the company has a history in the tech sector; look at the HP and Compaq merger. Carly Fiorina won the shareholder battle and then replaced disloyal HP people with Compaq people, who in turn kicked her out when the company underperformed. The old "HP Way" corporate culture was emasculated and eventually died on the vine when Carly sold off the instrumentation / laboratory side of the business prior to the Compaq merger and then Mark Hurd gutted the HP Labs for quick profits on the books some years later.

    2. Just as a data point, Broadsword is listing a company size of 30 people on LinkedIn, though the actual description states 14 employees. This is going to be interesting to watch. :)