BioWare is laying off 50 employees, studio manager Gary McKay announced yesterday. No mention of what roles were being made redundant was made at the time, only that the studio’s “commitment remains steadfast” when it comes to the upcoming Dragon Age: Dreadwolf. That’s hard to believe now, in light of the fact that writer Mary Kirby, who gave the world the hairy-chested Varric, is among those looking for new employment.
Kirby started at BioWare all the way back in 2006, writing for the beloved Dragon Age: Origins, and aside from a stint on Star Wars: The Old Republic—the MMO which has also faced recent layoffs, thanks to BioWare handing over the reins to third-party studio Broadsword Online Games—has stuck with the Dragon Age series throughout her time at the company.
Among her contributions to Dragon Age was the creation of Varric Tethras, the dwarven lothario first introduced in Dragon Age 2. He serves as the RPG’s unreliable narrator, returning in Dragon Age: Inquisition, where he once again steals the show. Among BioWare’s multitude of characters over the years, he’s a favourite, which frankly makes it absolutely wild that BioWare would get rid of the writer behind him.
Kirby was also the writer responsible for Sten, the series’ first Qunari, and the bitingly sarcastic Vivienne. Basically: if you’ve enjoyed the writing in any Dragon Age games, you’ve probably got Kirby to thank.
Dreadwolf has been in development for long enough so that Kirby’s writing should still be all over the game, but any changes to the storylines and dialogue that happen going forward will have nothing to do with her, as she’ll hopefully be working on something at an entirely different studio.
Kirby is not the only long-serving member of the team now looking for work. Technical director Jon Renish also announced on Twitter that he’d been affected by the layoffs, after eight years at BioWare working on both the ill-fated Anthem and Dragon Age.
“Obviously, being hit by a layoff is not what I wanted to happen to me or my staff,” he wrote, “but I can’t express how proud of what was accomplished in the over eight years at BioWare.”
McKay claimed that the layoffs were necessary to make BioWare a “more agile and focused studio”, but that doesn’t actually mean anything. The problems BioWare has faced in recent years have nothing to do with writers, for example; rather, the buck stops at the studio and EA executives making terrible decisions, like developing a live service shooter or fostering a culture of crunch.
Former Dragon Age lead writer David Gaider, who left BioWare in 2016, commented on the layoffs on Twitter. “Absolutely gutted at the news of even more layoffs from BioWare. Not just the headcount reduction, but laying off some of their most senior (and likely most expensive) staff, people who deserve more loyalty than this.”
Earlier this year, he also criticised how writing was undervalued in game development, calling out his former employer in the process.
“Even BioWare, which built its success on a reputation for good stories and characters, slowly turned from a company that vocally valued its writers to one where we were… quietly resented, with a reliance on expensive narrative seen as the “albatross” holding the company back.”
It’s increasingly hard to imagine Dragon Age: Dreadwolf reaching the heights of the series’ highlights as it continues to shed team members. Especially since we know so little about the game itself at this point: instead of seeing the game in action, we’re getting bad news about layoffs.