Microsoft layoffs target hundreds including “serious wargaming” Studio Alpha

A new report from Insider says that Studio Alpha, a team dedicated to “serious gaming” applications across military and aerospace simulations has been shut down thanks to layoffs across multiple divisions at Microsoft.

Microsoft has laid off almost a thousand employees across its 180,000 strong work force. These layoffs are not entirely unexpected — the Redmond-based software giant announced it would trim down it s team last July, and hiring has slowed given recession fears in the US.

Taken all together, the layoffs affect less than 1% of its workforce and are spread across multiple divisions including the Xbox team as Microsoft makes “structural adjustments” to their business priorities. Where those adjustments have occurred has been interesting.

“While it’s reasonable for a company the size of Microsoft to occasionally review and reduce headcount, the timing of these cuts makes their justification feel insincere,” said Brad Sams, general manager at Stardock Software. Sams also noted on Twitter that such “priorities and cuts” feel odd when Microsoft is currently “trying to spend $70b on an acquisition.”

Among the teams getting the axe at Microsoft is Studio Alpha, a team dedicated to “serious gaming” for military simulations, planning and training, as well as the Mission Expansion cloud government team. Other teams that appear to be hit hard include the Mission Engineering team which works on space technology projects.

Studio Alpha uses machine learning, AI and cloud computing processes to work on complex conflict simulations and “planet-scale massive data problems” for wargaming (in the military simulation and planning sense, as opposed to your bog standard RTS) logistics, planning and other fields.

It always feels a little skeevy to learn that your games developer and hardware provider is also doing work for the military, even if Studio Alpha’s data driven conflict simulations have more in common with board gaming and thought exercise wargaming and logistics simulations than your everyday milsim.

Microsoft Studio Alpha
Promotional image for the applications of HoloLens taken from Microsoft official site.

That being said, Studio Alpha is by no means Microsoft’s only project with the US military-industrial-entertainment complex where gaming-related technologies intersect with war fighting. A HoloLens-based blended reality headset for the US military, the Integrated Visual Augmentation System, is in development.

The idea that HoloLens derived work would be used to make soldiers deadlier has caused internal pushback among Microsoft employees that had to be addressed by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. Early versions of the IVAS headsets are now being tested, though Verge reports that IVAS has significant drawbacks and design shortcomings that need to be addressed, according to leaked US Army evaluations.