Layoff is developed by Tiltfactor Laboratory, which is run by Dr. Mary Flanagan, a well-regarded game studies academic, with funding from the NSF. Flanagan also runs Values at Play, which is devoted to studying how games are or can be expressive of social values.
Given these impressive facts, how interesting or successful is Layoff?
It is a match-three game. On screen are little employees clad in differently colored clothing. Swap positions to create a line of three or more, and those employees disappear, with your score changing to indicate how much money your company has "saved" by "laying them off." They appear at screen bottom walking back and forth in front of the "unemployment office." Some of the nodes are replaced not with other employees (i.e., jewels), but with "bankers," who cannot be removed.
It runs as slow as molasses on my 1.5GHz machine, for which there is little excuse; it should be possible to do a Flash match three game that runs zippily, so I assume it is simply coded sloppily.
From a gameplay perspective, therefore, Layoff is simply an inferior Bejeweled clone. Which raises the question of whether its political statement is effective and insightful, since there's nothing meritorious about it as a game qua game.
The rubric I normally adopt when examining a serious game or "game for change" is that "the mechanic is the message." Or to put it another way, the only reason to do a game on a particular subject rather than, say, a documentary, manifesto, or blog post, is to exploit what games do that other media cannot -- and that is to place the player in a system, make him complicit in operating it, and allow him to explore the complexities and problems of the system. Thus, a good game on the subject of the current financial crisis, the bail-out, and our increasingly high level of unemployment should choose at least some elements of this highly complicated system, simplify them so that they can be portrayed in a game context, and allow the player to come to a better understanding of the problems.
Therefore, the question is: to what degree is a match-three game an insightful potrayal of the current economic crisis? And the immediate answer, of course is: Not at all.
In a single word, then: Fail.