On Friday, the video game giant revealed in its 10-K filing with the SEC that it closed its Austin, Texas, studio during its fiscal Q4 (ended March 31) as part of a plan to consolidate game development at its Redwood City, Calif., headquarters. The consolidation's quantitative impacts are minimal -- the total price tag is about $9.2 million and 117 jobs, more or less immaterial at a company with some 4,800 employees and more than $2.1 billion in cash. But it's nevertheless worth highlighting what was going on in Austin, long a gaming hotbed.
In 1993, Electronic Arts purchased Austin-based Origin Systems, then a decade-old company that had created some of the best-known and best-loved games, including Ultima and Wing Commander. (Wing Commander was even made into a forgettable movie of the same name featuring Freddie Prinze Jr. and the voice of Mark "Where can they be?" Hamill.) Now it's better known for Ultima Online, a multiplayer role-playing game that helped pioneer the subscription gaming model and fostered a cottage industry on eBay
Origin and its games won't go away, but some longtime game-watchers are nevertheless waxing nostalgic about the news. Posters to the Wing Commander Combat Information Center website, for example, have waxed despondent, calling the developments at Origin "a tremendous moral loss on all fronts."
A 2003 interview with Origin visionary Richard "Lord British" Garriott sheds some interesting light on his experiences at EA. His name may conjure up memories in the minds of longtime gamers, particularly those who remember the early days of PC gaming when one-man teams cranked out simple amusements for distribution by floppy disk and snail mail.
Garriott, still working in Austin with Korean company NCsoft, was among the first to rise out of that mess to fame and fortune. But the business is markedly different today: Console revenue, for example, greatly outstrips PC gaming revenue. And the business is, for lack of a better word, considerably more "corporate" today -- as anecdotally evidenced by the news that Origin's origins are, well, pretty much ancient history now as far as Electronic Arts is concerned.
Fool contributor Dave Marino-Nachison doesn't own any of the companies in this story.