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Irrational Games to be dissolved

Irrational Games to be dissolved

Tue 18 Feb 2014 5:42pm GMT / 12:42pm EST / 9:42am PST
BusinessDevelopmentJobs

Ken Levine starting up "small entrepreneurial endeavor at Take-Two" as all but 15 members of the studio will be laid off

It's a sad day for the hard-working employees at Irrational Games today, as studio boss Ken Levine just announced on the developer's official site that Irrational is "winding down," and that all but 15 members of the studio will be downsized. Levine, himself, is looking to start something new within publisher Take-Two.

Here's his full, unedited letter to the world:

When Jon Chey, Rob Fermier and I founded Irrational Games seventeen years ago, our mission was to make visually unique worlds and populate them with singular characters.

We built Rapture and Columbia, the Von Braun and The Rickenbacker, the Freedom Fortress and some of the nastiest basements a SWAT team ever set foot into. We created Booker and Elizabeth, the Big Daddy and the Little Sister, MidWives and ManBot. In that time, Irrational has grown larger and more successful than we could have conceived when we began our three-person studio in a living room in Cambridge, MA. It's been the defining project of my professional life.

Now Irrational Games is about to roll out the last DLC for BioShock Infinite and people are understandably asking: What's next?

Seventeen years is a long time to do any job, even the best one. And working with the incredible team at Irrational Games is indeed the best job I've ever had. While I'm deeply proud of what we've accomplished together, my passion has turned to making a different kind of game than we've done before. 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.

I am winding down Irrational Games as you know it. I'll be starting a smaller, more entrepreneurial endeavor at Take-Two. That is going to mean parting ways with all but about fifteen members of the Irrational team. There's no great way to lay people off, and our first concern is to make sure that the people who are leaving have as much support as we can give them during this transition.

Besides financial support, the staff will have access to the studio for a period of time to say their goodbyes and put together their portfolios. Other Take-Two studios will be on hand to discuss opportunities within the company, and we'll be hosting a recruiting day where we'll be giving 3rd party studios and publishers a chance to hold interviews with departing Irrational staff.*

What's next?

In time we will announce a new endeavor with a new goal: To make narrative-driven games for the core gamer that are highly replayable. To foster the most direct relationship with our fans possible, we will focus exclusively on content delivered digitally.

When I first contemplated what I wanted to do, it became very clear to me that we were going to need a long period of design. Initially, I thought the only way to build this venture was with a classical startup model, a risk I was prepared to take. But when I talked to Take-Two about the idea, they convinced me that there was no better place to pursue this new chapter than within their walls. After all, they're the ones who believed in and supported BioShock in the first place.

Thanks to Irrational and 2K's passion in developing the games, and the fans who believe in it, BioShock has generated retail revenues of over a half billion dollars and secured an iconic place in gaming. I'm handing the reins of our creation, the BioShock universe, to 2K so our new venture can focus entirely on replayable narrative. If we're lucky, we'll build something half as memorable as BioShock.

We do our best to update an FAQ in this space as questions come in.

-Ken Levine

@iglevine

*If you're a 3rd party interested in interviewing some of the best game developers in the world, please contact chris.bigelow@2k.com

31 Comments

Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys!

2,193 1,170 0.5
Well... at least they're taking care of those soon to be former employees, so good going on that front. It was a brilliant run, that's for sure. Best of luck to all and it'll be interesting to see what comes of this over time...

Posted:8 months ago

#1

Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd

1,020 1,467 1.4
This is genuinely depressing. I'm really sad to hear it. I hope Levine keeps making interesting creative projects in the future, and best of luck to those affected by the cuts.

Posted:8 months ago

#2

Andrew Ihegbu Studying Bsc Commercial Music, University of Westminster

461 172 0.4
It's never good to hear about layoffs, but in case Levine reads this: BioShock Infinite was truly the best FPS I have ever played, purely because of the storyline. I thank you for that.

Posted:8 months ago

#3

Kevin Patterson musician

187 103 0.6
"I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror"

I was looking forward to the new thing from irrational, this is very sad.
Last update - Missed that last line before that they are handing the reins over to 2k for bioshock, so at least we have hope we get more games in that world. I'm surprised that they don't just build a new studio from irrational's crew then for just that purpose.

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Kevin Patterson on 18th February 2014 7:06pm

Posted:8 months ago

#4

Shaun Farol Studying Computer Information Systems, California Polytechnic State University

40 12 0.3
Its sad any time a long running team is dissolved but its nice to read that they are taking care of the departing staff and with new ventures on the horizon maybe we can see something new and awesome from Ken Levine. He has made some truly awesome games and maybe with a newer, smaller team, we can see some new IP and more great games on the horizon.

Posted:8 months ago

#5

John Pickford Owner, Zee 3

46 152 3.3
Popular Comment
Did he get bored and put a bunch of people out of work or am I reading it wrongly?

Posted:8 months ago

#6

Murray Lorden Game Designer & Developer, MUZBOZ

199 72 0.4
That's exciting, I'll be keen to see what the true nature of this new project is. It's bold to make such a big change when the whole world expects you to do "more of the same", but reinvention is often the way to really grow and progress in interesting new directions.

Posted:8 months ago

#7

James Wells Gaming Contributor - digboston.com

72 32 0.4
Popular Comment
@ John:
No, that's exactly what it sounds like to me too, and frankly I'm shocked there are so many gushy fanboy comments here. As much as I enjoyed Bioshock, this is kind of a dick move for Levine to pull on his team, and puts him only slightly higher than Curt Schilling in my eyes.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by James Wells on 18th February 2014 8:06pm

Posted:8 months ago

#8

Thomas Dolby Project Manager / Lead Programmer, Ai Solve

340 292 0.9
Yeah I've got to say I feel really bad for the team. I feel as an employer you really have to look after your employees more than this. They depend on you to make a living and he's essentially put them all in a very difficult situation because he seemingly got bored (I hope I'm reading into it wrong). He should have put someone else at the helm of Irrational and then left with a selection of staff.

Good luck to all of those affected. From the amazing games the studio has put out I'm sure most of the devs will easily pick up new work.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Thomas Dolby on 18th February 2014 8:21pm

Posted:8 months ago

#9

Alan Resnin Journalist

19 15 0.8
The games industry is not healthy, thats for sure.

Posted:8 months ago

#10

Carl Crawford Studying Bachelor of Information Technology, Otago Polytehnic

18 19 1.1
Wow, they made $500 millions and people still lost there jobs? Thats it, I give up on joining the industry. Wow!

Posted:8 months ago

#11

Mbuso Radebe Associate Producer, Smoking Gun Interactive Inc.

55 23 0.4
I wonder if this means he's dedicating all his time and attention on his ambitious "narrative LEGOs" idea.
http://www.polygon.com/2013/10/9/4816828/ken-levines-next-big-thing-isnt-so-much-a-game-as-it-is-a-reinvention

Posted:8 months ago

#12

Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer

576 319 0.6
Project-based development.

Posted:8 months ago

#13

Adam Campbell Associate Producer, Miniclip Ltd

1,183 973 0.8
I'm a bit surprised Irrational has to be closed as opposed to seeing Levine move on to new things independently.

That said, hopefully the staff will receive suitable compensation and I feel confident about everyone's ability to go forward and do great things in the future.

Posted:8 months ago

#14

Michael Vandendriessche Studying Computer Science, K.U. Leuven

85 12 0.1
Well this is surprising.
I don't see the need to lay off most of his staff and stay with IG.
"starting a smaller, more entrepreneurial endeavor at Take-Two" sounds like actually starting a new company under the wings of T2, which to me sounds like a more logical thing to do.

Thank you for the wonderful games, I hope many more will come.
Good luck to the staff.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Michael Vandendriessche on 18th February 2014 10:59pm

Posted:8 months ago

#15

James Barnard Founder / Developer, Springloaded

12 17 1.4
can irrational really not exist without him!? it seems odd to me....

Edited 1 times. Last edit by James Barnard on 18th February 2014 11:33pm

Posted:8 months ago

#16

Gareth Eckley Commercial Analyst

88 67 0.8
First of all, anyone who worked on Bioshock is guaranteed a job, these are people moving off the freshest of titles. Have a thought instead for people ditched last year from minor publishers and satellite studios - a lot of them are still looking for work.

Second of all - Looking Glass Games -> Irrational Games -> Core Team being financed to work on auteur projects

Am I the only person both seeing a trend and becoming somewhat excited as to what that trend may entail?

Posted:8 months ago

#17

Justin Biddle Software Developer

159 484 3.0
Popular Comment
I can only imagine that the people who worked there and worked hard to make the company what it was are very excited about the new opportunities losing their jobs must present them! Many I'm sure will find a job but in no way can all feel a new job is guaranteed. especially the further down the corporate pecking order you go.

And what about those who didn't directly work on the games? The secretaries, receptionists, cleaners etc? I'm sure they can excitedly look forward to being head hunted too because they worked at irrational.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Justin Biddle on 18th February 2014 11:32pm

Posted:8 months ago

#18
I think he needs to give a better explanation than he wanted to try something different. If that's the case he could have left and found a buyer for the company.

The only explanation I can think of is financially the company was worth more if he liquidated it and made everyone redundant rather than going through a pre-production stage on a new project with so many mouths to feed and he didn't trust anyone to take over bioshock franchise.

Maybe he just thought the risk with AAA is too great during this transitional period but I'm sure there's a lot of employees that would love a better explanation.

I hope I'm wrong about that and in doing him a disservice.

Plus just because the employees effected can get another job it's still a huge disruption to their lives possibly requiring moving to new cities etc.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by John Owens on 19th February 2014 12:19am

Posted:8 months ago

#19

Chris Nash QA Engineer

47 23 0.5
To me it sounds more likely that 2K tried to make some "executive decisions" regarding Irrational, and either Levine volunteered to take the fall for them, or he decided to torpedo the studio and abandon ship rather than allow them to mess with his baby.

Either way, I feel bad for all of the Irrational staff affected by this, especially those who - as Justin points out - were perhaps not in such key positions that they could just walk into another job on the strength of their tenure with Irrational alone. I'm sure none of them could've imagined that after producing one of the best reviewed and best selling games of the last generation, they'd be left out in the cold so soon.

Posted:8 months ago

#20
I don't understand. What baby?

Bioshock or irrational. 2K now have control of the bioshock franchise.

After doing a bit of reading I think it's Take Two that own the studio so once he left maybe it just wasn't his decision. Still a shitty thing to do whoever made the call.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by John Owens on 19th February 2014 12:56am

Posted:8 months ago

#21

James Brightman Editor in Chief, GamesIndustry.biz

247 387 1.6
@ John and others, yes TTWO owns Irrational Games. So those of you calling it a "dick move" and comparing it to 38 Studios are off base. Ken's been overseeing Irrational for 17 years and it's perfectly within his right to try something new and work on smaller projects. He can't control what TTWO does with Irrational afterwards. If it leaves a big enough hole in the studio, it may just be easier for TTWO to reassign as much of the talent to other top studios in their system.

Posted:8 months ago

#22

Richard Browne EVP Gaming and Interactive, Evergreen Studios

103 117 1.1
Popular Comment
Seems pretty clear to me that Take Two moved to close irrational because paying for 100 people while Ken did r&d is a bit daft. I doubt Infinite made anyone that much money, it sold well initially then churned as a single player game is want to. It was in development a long time, moreover the franchise was never good for 10m units that a company like Take Two is after in a high end console release.

Posted:8 months ago

#23

Russ Cogman Senior Game Artist, Serious Games International

22 47 2.1
I think it's pretty obvious there is more to this than Levine is saying. I hope the real story leaks out over the next few days/weeks/months.

Playing through Bioshock Infinite that just landed on Playstation Plus is going to feel a little bittersweet now.

Posted:8 months ago

#24

Simon Gardner CEO, Climax

3 0 0.0
Have to agree with Rich B.

Posted:8 months ago

#25

Paolo Giunti Narrative Designer

38 78 2.1
That's a pity. It was a good creative studio.
I wish them to rebuild and keep that creativity running.

Posted:8 months ago

#26

Stefan Pettersson Specialist Consultant, Fat Tuna

77 19 0.2
Popular Comment
Something smells very bad about this story. I simply don't buy the "fact" that he'd dissolve (read: fire) approx 180 friends and coworkers in a company he started 17 years ago because he "wanted to try new things with a smaller team". He could easily have done that without closing down IG.

I simply don't think T2 wanted to bankroll another 3-5 years development cycle for IG without Ken at the helm. By dissolving the studio they can handpick the talent and get rid of the rest. The games industry needs to mature, this is no way to treat people.

Posted:8 months ago

#27
I corrected myself by saying that Ken Levine may not have made the call but it's still a dick move.

Sure if a company is in financial difficulties and the game they released wasn't up to standard then I can understand but to hire people as fulltime staff and then essentially fire them because a project ends even though the project met all the expectations which the development team had control over then I'm sorry but that's a deceptive business practice. They should either just hire everyone on project based contracts or stomach the cost between projects.

Quite frankly I think this is worse the Curt Shilling. He seemed like a decent guy that just bit of more than he could chew and was thrown under the bus for political reasons.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by John Owens on 19th February 2014 1:02pm

Posted:8 months ago

#28

Andreia Quinta Creative & People Photographer, Studio52 London

224 590 2.6
Wrap it up the way you want, in the end if we open the package it still smells like shit.

At least they're giving a hand to (all?) the recently unemployed. But what about the 'lower caste' like the "cleaning lady"?

Posted:8 months ago

#29

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