hi, survivor of several game studio layoffs (and reorgs) here! let's talk about some ways you might identify whether layoffs/reorgs are coming for your studio-- and if so, what you can DO about it, so that you are not powerless in this process.
a couple notes up front: first, these signs in and of themselves may not signal a layoff, especially if only one of them is true for your situation. sometimes they're just signs that your studio is in a temporary rough patch. but if most of these boxes are ticked? be watchful.
second: at very large companies, they may be labeled "reorgs." sometimes reorgs aren't actually layoffs and nobody loses their employment status-- but you may lose the position you had and were happy with as you are moved to a new team. this can feel like a confusing loss, too.
third: seeing the signs of a layoff can often mean going into denial first. this is the MOST common response i witness, especially for devs at long-standing "stable" studios. layoffs are a grief process, & you/your coworkers may go through the full 5 stages. be kind to yourself.
1: HIRING FREEZE. you were hiring, but there's been a hiring freeze & new roles were pulled. you're told it's temporary while management figures some stuff out. but then it goes on for months.

this is often the first sign of a team in trouble, coming months before the layoff.
2: NO HEADCOUNT. At a bigger company with many teams, teams request "headcount" (# of new jobs) per year. if your team has been denied headcount several years in a row and you're struggling to get much done, that's a sign the company may not see a future in your team.
3: WHERE'S THE MONEY? you look around and realize something is "off" about the money situation-- say, your main game's user base is flat or shrinking and there are no new projects on the horizon, or a publisher cut funding and is struggling to find a new publisher.
4: BIG DIRECTION SHIFTS. Your game changed engines, or you were making a PC game and now it's mobile, or your game was single player and now it's multiplayer... these big changes require new specialists and may mean the existing team is a less obvious fit for the new direction.
5: THAT TREADING WATER FEELING. Your project doesn't seem to be making tons of progress... it's kind of stagnating. The build this month looks similar to how it did last month or the month before that. You begin to wonder if studio leadership really cares about shipping it.
6: TWO TEAMS. Your studio suddenly splits into a couple teams, where many of the more senior/high performing folks are put onto one project and you're put onto another. This is a common tactic to isolate the "will keeps" and "won't keeps" before the layoff occurs.
as an addendum to the above, often the second team will not be given a big project right away. they'll be "investigating" a new space or "prototyping" something exciting. but then leadership subtly stops encouraging the prototype from moving forward, or won't add resources... etc
7: COMMUNICATION DISCONNECT. Let's say there's leadership tier A (i.e. a publisher), B (your leads) and C (you). You know tier A has some persistent negative feedback about the game. But tier B insists it's fine. What does your gut say?
8: LEADS AND SENIORS START LEAVING. It's not uncommon for leads or seniors to hear about a layoff first or sense it coming. If you see this kind of exodus, especially if it's a significant group of people in the same 3-6 month span, you should be concerned.
9: THE MARKET HAS CHANGED. Your studio has been doing the same game for years, but everyone still believes in the mission! ...unfortunately, your target players don't. they're playing games that look very different. maybe leadership is "hinting" you might pivot in that direction.
ok, so what can you do if you sense layoff signs?

it is easier to prep your resume, quietly tap your network, & answer job posts while you are still employed.

remember: a company will always let you go to sustain itself. it is not a family. you do not owe it faith and loyalty.
(i think folks are hesitant to interview during this time bc they think "well, things might get better here, i'd rather stay." you don't have to take the offers you get from other companies! just interviewing is harmless & gets you on other companies' radar for the future.)
you can begin updating your portfolio, especially if there's work you'd like to show from past shipped (OR cancelled) projects that's on your work machine. if you go through a layoff, accessing anything on your work PC will be hard or impossible. ask to use it now, while you can.
if you are in the US, you can frontload anything tied to your medical benefits. one time i started an invisalign (braces) course and paid for it UP FRONT using my entire dental insurance benefit the week before a layoff. it ended up being the smartest move i made that year.
and you can emotionally bolster yourself against that slow, sinking, swimming-through-soup feeling that often comes with a layoff situation. that feeling of "i'm seeing weird signs and things seem bad, but nobody is talking about it." you can take comfort in your own clarity.
understanding how layoffs work too may help a bit. layoffs come in waves:
- contractors are first to go
- junior employees & anyone with negative performance reviews from the prior year are next, as well as anyone who has had "clashes" with leadership
- everyone else after that
layoffs usually occur on a tuesday or wednesday. i'm not sure why. often they are accompanied by an unexplained 'ALL TEAM MEETING' in the morning, like 10AM. there may be an increased security/HR presence or you may notice your access to some IT things suddenly isn't working well
if the day of the layoff comes, and you are impacted, you will be given an exit interview and often asked to sign a non-disparagement document. if the company is offering severance, this will be in exchange for severance. if they're not, don't sign it. there's no reason to do so.
if the layoff comes and you are NOT impacted: usually, everyone will go out for drinks/lunch. let them vent. be kind. make them feel valued-- getting laid off can make you feel like shit. get their contact info; sometimes people can disappear into the void after these situations.
there is no inappropriate reaction to a layoff. it's a traumatic process. crying is OK. raging is OK. venting is OK. disconnecting is OK. drinking is OK. instantly finding a new job is OK. losing a job sucks. give yourself the space to do whatever you need for a few weeks.
i wish layoffs were less common than they are. but they're an unfortunate reality of the way the industry currently operates. at this point i feel like a finely-tuned layoff-perceiving machine, and i hate it. but i hope some of this info helps you if you're ever in this position.
as one extra note, i think it can be easy in these situations to villainize leads who knew the layoff was coming. but doing the laying off is traumatic, too. IMO, leads owe their people the basics (severance, help finding work) but they are often under huge pressure themselves.

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