Surprisingly, Irrational Games’ co-founder Ken Levine recently announced that he’s shutting down that studio. This means that future Bioshock games will almost certainly have much less of his handiwork. He did also say that he will start a new studio under publisher Take-Two that will focus on smaller, digital-distribution games. The new studio will only include about fifteen hand-picked heroes from Irrational.
With an announcement like this coming so hard on the heels of a well-received game like Bioshock Infinite, you immediately start to analyze the announcement and speculate about what happened behind the scenes. Levine’s rationale is put thusly:
To meet the challenge ahead, I need to refocus my energy on a smaller team with a flatter structure and a more direct relationship with gamers. In many ways, it will be a return to how we started: a small team making games for the core gaming audience.
Fair enough. Certainly you could guess that part of the problem was an unwieldy team rent apart by politics and backbiting.
For some really interesting analysis, go to the Gamasutra article comments to see what actual game developers are saying. Here are some of the more plangent thoughts and memes, paraphrased for your pleasure:
- It’s serious trouble for the industry when a developer that released a top title a few months ago cannot sustain itself. You don’t implode your team without a good reason.
- Take-Two may have decided to shut Irrational down after Levine picked the top 15 people and announced his intention to move on. But why didn’t he just form a small “special project” team of 15 within Irrational?
- Bioshock was a critical success, but not a blockbuster and possibly ran a loss.*
- Maybe it wasn’t Levine who shut down Irrational, but rather Take-Two, whose stock jumped at the news of the shuttering. Maybe Levine simply saved what he could from the smoking ruins.
None of these are particularly savory, but all of them sound quite plausible. I’d like to point to our article on why becoming a game designer isn’t all we’d hope it would be. Best of luck to all the Irrational staff who are reacting to this dramatic change.
* According to Wikipedia, BioShock Infinite was the top-selling console game for March 2013 and shipped 4 million copies by late July 2013. However, it wasn’t one of the top 10 selling games of 2013 and it placed #16 in the UK, where it sold particularly well.