50 laid off as Lucasfilm shuts down game unit

EDB will work with firm here to find new jobs for affected staff

THE force is not with Mickey Mouse, at least when it comes to video games.

Barely six months after Disney's US$4 billion (S$4.9 billion) buyout of Lucasfilm, the world's largest entertainment firm is shutting down game unit LucasArts, including its local arm. The production facility is Lucasfilm's only one outside America.

Sources told The Straits Times around 50 game production staff from Lucasfilm Singapore lost their jobs - some left as early as yesterday.

Singapore's Economic Development Board (EDB), which owns a minority stake in Lucasfilm Singapore and helped the firm set up operations here in 2005, said it will work closely with the company to find new jobs for those laid off. According to reports, about 150 jobs were cut worldwide.

Lucasfilm declined to give details about the layoffs or any compensation package. The George Lucas brainchild was behind the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies.

A local spokesman said yesterday that Lucasfilm Animation and special effects unit Industrial Light & Magic Singapore, which together employ "over 400 people" here, were not affected.

Plans to move from Changi Business Park to a new eight-storey glass-and-steel facility at the Fusionopolis high-tech park are also on track. Called Sandcrawler after the towering mining machines seen in Star Wars movies, it will boast a 100-seat theatre, cutting-edge production facilities and Star Wars-themed decor. It is due to be completed by the middle of the year.

LucasArts' last game to see mainstream success was Star Wars: The Force Unleashed in 2008. A 2010 sequel did not sell as well as expected.

News of the layoffs first circulated online yesterday morning. Work on current game projects - Star Wars: First Assault and Star Wars 1313 - was also stopped.

Mr Daniel Tan, director of the School of Interactive and Digital Media at Nanyang Polytechnic, said there was nothing anyone could do about the announcement, calling it "a corporate decision".

But he believes the local game development sector will remain "largely unaffected" as some of the world's largest gaming studios - Japan's Tecmo Koei and France's Ubisoft Entertainment - are still here.

EDB's executive director of infocommunications and media, Mr Jayson Goh, said Lucasfilm Singapore will continue to carry out its animation and visual effects-related activities here. "These are significant activities in which Singapore continues to play a key role for Lucasfilm," he said.

Since it was set up here, Singaporeans have had a part in producing special effects for international blockbusters such as Iron Man 2, Terminator: Salvation and the Transformers series. Local animation artists have also worked on the animated television series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

The six Star Wars movies have earned US$4 billion at the box office. A seventh instalment is slated for 2015.

itham@sph.com.sg