Big Fish Games Laying Off 15% of Its Global Workforce

Big Fish Games Downsizes - Jeff Karp Casual Games Site

Big Fish Games, beset by lawsuits which claims their casual games are illegal gambling, cut 1oo or more jobs in the Seattle area.

Big Fish Games is cutting its workforce by roughly 15% in order to focus on casino games and casual games only. The move comes a year after Aristocrat Technologies bought Big Fish Games for $990 million.

The downsizing includes key executives, according to GeekWire. The company, which was founded in 2002 and has been a mainstay in Seattle’s burgeoning gaming industry, said it plans to laser-focus on two key areas of growth.

Jeff Karp, who became BFG’s president and managing director in July, sent a memo to the staff to announce the moves. Karp wrote, “We’re doing fewer things better, to be bigger. We are sharpening our focus to only develop social casino and casual games — genres where we have earned the right to lead the market.”

Stating the layoffs were a way to improve the company’s future, Karp said that Big Fish Games was “on a path to unlock the full potential of the business and to become a top 10 game company in the world….I’m confident we are starting tomorrow in a position of strength and with a clear path forward to greater success.”

Big Fish Games’ Workforce

At present, Big Fish Games has 735 employees worldwide. 630 of those workers are located in the Seattle headquarters. 110 jobs will be cut in all, though Karp did not mention how many of those positions would come from the Seattle office.

At least five senior level executives are leaving in the transition: Omar Amin, SVP of Operations; Steve Galic, VP of Engineering; Pat Wylie, SVP of Studios; Paul Handleman, VP of Licensing; and Kathryn Ficarra, VP of Advertising.

Jeff Karp Hired by Aristocrat

Back in March 2018, before Jeff Karp was hired as president, a Washington federal judge ruled that Big Fish Games’ social gaming component was “illegal gambling”. The decision, rendered by Judge Milan D. Smith of the Ninth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals, overruled a 2015 district court ruling against Churchill Downs, the company which sold Big Fish Gaming to Aristocrat.

Cheryl Kater Lawsuit

The lawsuit, filed by Washington resident Cheryl Kater, claimed that Kater had paid money to wager on “something of value” — an important distinction in Washington state gambling laws. Cheryl Kater purchased over $1000 in chips on the Big Fish Games website. Those chips could be used to play games like slots, blackjack, and roulette, but could not be converted back into cash.

After losing most of her virtual chips, Kater wanted Big Fish Gaming to reimburse her for the chips she lost. Her lawsuit claimed the chips were a thing of value, because she paid for them.

2015 Lawsuit vs. Churchill Downs

In the original 2015 case, the district court judge ruled that Cheryl Kater was not playing for a thing of value, since she could not win real money on the site. The case also established that Kater knew that Big Fish Games did not have real money payouts and her cash payments were for pure entertainment.

The 2018 judge found that “the virtual chips extended the privilege of playing Big Fish Casino”, so they are a thing of value. The case could have profound implications for Big Fish Games, because if its social gaming site is ruled to be illegal gambling in Washington, then it could damage the legal status of the site across the United States.

Lawsuits in other states might be filed to test the legal waters, while state attorney generals and legislatures might look at the precedent. While many US states likely would not come to the same conclusion as the appellate judge in Washington, the case has federal implications.

After the decision, Churchill Downs sold the company to Aristocrat Leisure, which hired Jeff Karp to make changes at the company. While Aristocrat never suggested the two events were related, one cannot help but wonder if the layoffs are not related to the social site’s precarious legal standing.

Jeff Karp on BFG Reorganization

The Karp memo continued, “Going forward we’ll have four studios, and those studios will focus on quality content and making great games….Next, we’re creating a new publishing vertical that will help every game optimize its full potential through strong functional expertise in marketing, product management, operationalizing data and building brands.”

“Finally, we’re building a new cross-functional team that will drive prioritization and enable studios to make great games. This organization includes engineering, IT, Game Ops, BI, Operations and Insights. Katie Leggett has been promoted to VP, Operations, Insights & User Experience. Stephen Dunn has also been promoted to Senior Director of Developer Relations & Licensing.”

Jeff Karp was hired at Big Fish Games after former CEO Paul Thelen left the company. Jeff Karp previously worked at Electronic Arts and Zynga executive, so he brings a wealth of experience from the social gaming and video game sectors.