When you’re looking at a payroll of 9,800 names, it’s hard to see the human in the numbers. ‘Developers 1 through 799 have to go,’ you sigh, fleetingly considering the pain of telling Developers 1 through 799 their fate. Of course, you don’t have to. You’re just the finance guy. And this is just the best thing for the company.
Activision’s decision to lay off 800 employees at the same time as posting record earnings makes their priorities clear. It’s unusually brazen: the company are unapologetically exchanging employees for money, money that seems destined to flow into shareholders’ pockets or into other Activision games (themselves money-making vehicles which also flow into shareholders’ pockets). I’m not anti-capitalist, but I can see why people are miffed.
The thing is, the company is never your friend. It’s never on your side. Even when it’s run by benevolent humanists, the company and its employees have fundamentally opposing agendas: companies want to make money, people want to get paid. People who work for a company may value humans over cash, but the company itself doesn’t.
There are many pragmatic reasons why businesses might want to treat staff well: it’s more expensive to replace staff than retain them, mistreatment gives bad PR, happy workers are more productive and do better creative work, some people want to go to bed at night feeling like they’re not a bastard. But if it ever comes down to a choice between ‘do the right thing’ and ‘secure company funds’, most people with a significant personal stake in the company’s finances choose the latter.
Again and again, I see developers expect their small indie studios to look out for them, or their kindly middle-manager protect them from the unknowable triple-A board they’ve never met. I wish developers would place less faith in the machine, living as we are in an industry that makes a lot of money and fires a lot of people.