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Lego Buys NetDevil's  Lego Universe  Team,  Lays Off Staff

Lego Buys NetDevil's Lego Universe Team, Lays Off Staff

February 24, 2011 | By Eric Caoili

As Lego announces that it's purchased NetDevil's Lego Universe team and taking over development of the MMORPG, the Colorado-based studio has laid off a substantial number of its staff.

NetDevil initially took on Lego Universe's development as a work-for-hire project, launching the subscription-based game last October. Lego Group, owners of the Lego toy brand, has purchased the online game's development team and offices, and has reportedly started laying off workers.

Several staff members who were made redundant began hinting at the layoffs last night by posting images of a "NetDevil R.I.P." tombstone on Facebook. Former character and creature animator, Toby Cochran, also posted a confirmation of his and others' terminations from the developer.

"We were all told we were 'safe' just a week or so ago, and last night the first couple of people let go were posting on Facebook," explains Cochran. "Then all hell broke loose on Facebook and everyone was getting anxious; it was a total surprise to be getting a call saying you lost your job."

He added, "From what we've been told, a handful of artists will be kept on board [to] continue working on Lego Universe. But at the moment that will be a very, very small team. As the count continues to rise on Facebook, they've cut over 20 people."

The developer's workers who haven't been absorbed by Lego or laid off will relocate to a nearby office and continue work on browser-based online action RPG Fortune Online, according to a report from Big Download. NetDevil is also working on another MMORPG called Jumpgate Evolution.

Founded in 1997, NetDevil had more than 100 full-time employees before the layoffs, according to the company's official site. Its shipped titles include Jumpgate, Auto Assault, Warmonger: Operation Downtown Destruction, and most recently Lego Universe.

NetDevil was purchased in 2008 by Gazillion Entertainment, which also owns The Amazing Society, Secret Identity, and Slipgate Ironworks. The San Mateo-based publisher raised $60 million in November 2010 as it prepared to enter "a key phase of expansion."

"The transition of members of our team to the Lego Group allows us to conclude the work-for-hire segment of NetDevil's business and lets us expand our internally-published, free-to-play game businesses based on our own properties and licensed properties," said Gazillion president David Brevik.

Brevik added, "Gazillion is wholly focused on developing, operating, and publishing the next generation of browser-delivered games. We're proud of the Lego Universe game that our team built, and we are certain that it has a bright future."

[UPDATE: Gazillion spokesman Keith Mutzman has confirmed to Gamasutra that "less than a quarter" of the Lego Universe staff have been let go in the transition.]

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