Game over in Redmond
The word yesterday of Microsoft engaging in formal layoffs for the first time in its history was a bit chilling. Microsoft had been recession-proof in the past, but now even it was no longer immune. A total of 5,000 to 6,000 are to be released, 1,400 immediately and the rest over the next 18 months.
It's not that Microsoft doesn't have layoffs, it's just that it has always followed Jack Welch's 20/70/10 rule and weeded out the bottom 10 rather aggressively. So with a regular stream of deadwood exiting the company, it was able to avoid mass cuts over the years.
Now, though, it's not just deadwood being cut. The games division has reportedly taken a pounding, according to the gaming blog Gamasutra (great name, guys) and later confirmed by IGN. Development sources told Gamasutra that a large portion of in-house developers have been let go, including the entire Flight Simulator team.
If that is indeed the case, that would mark the end of an era. If there is an older, active game franchise in the world, I don't know it off the top of my head. Flight Simulator has been around since Steve Ballmer had hair, first hitting the market in 1978 from game publisher subLOGIC. Microsoft would acquire the company in 1982 and keep it updated over the years, keeping it current with newer planes, letting people fly everything from the DC-3 to the Airbus A380 Flying Titanic.
Flight Simulator is unique in that its graphics were far more reliant on the CPU than most games. While it does support DirectX 10 and modern GPUs, most of its graphics used to be vector graphics that were best rendered by a CPU.
Flight Simulator has an extremely loyal fanbase and a huge mod/add-on market, there is the hope that maybe Microsoft will sell the IP off and let someone else continue development. I would certainly hope so. Games don't have to sell on the level of Guitar Hero or World of Warcraft to be a hit and enjoy a long life. I've got a standing invite to visit an editor friend's home for a round of LAN gaming featuring Freelancer, a really great game that came out in 2003 and still enjoys a healthy afterlife through modifications by fans of the series.
But where are my priorities? The game is one thing. I hope you folks formerly in Microsoft's Aces Game Studio are able to find work soon.