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Former Ensemble designer hits back at crunch claims

All projects made profits; Bettner was never in senior role, claims lead designer

A lead designer at the now defunct Ensemble Studios has hit back at claims that the Age of Empires developer closed because of a combination of ingrained crunch culture and spiralling costs.

Writing on his website, Ian Fischer disputed claims made by Paul Bettner at GDC last week, in which he implied that over-spending and excessive work hours irreparably damaged the respected development team.

"Ensemble Studios, while certainly fond of numerous inefficient development practices, was no costlier or less efficient than any other developer of our calibre during this period of operation," wrote Fischer.

"Every single game Ensemble Studios made, across more than a decade, paid for it’s development and made a profit.  Microsoft had it’s reasons for closing the studio but to imply that it was because we cost too much is fiction."

Bettner had said that as a manager he had not stood up to crunch culture at Ensemble, but Fischer claimed the company did not pressure staff, and was in fact more laid back with regards to working hours - although his open letter does confuse comment made about Bettner's time at Ensemble with comments made by Bettner on crunch culture at other studios including Rockstar and Electronic Arts.

"Of the people who worked at other developers prior to Ensemble, the most common complaint was that the studio was too lax, that we allowed our people too much freedom and did not hammer individuals for playing games or not being at their desks by the official start of the workday," wrote Fischer.

"There were certainly people at Ensemble who did not like working long hours for extended periods (all of them, in fact) but your implication that it was a place that used people up is wholly untrue and contrary to all evidence. The leadership of Ensemble Studios saw crunch as a failure. While it was certainly used, it was never 'institutionalised' or accepted."

Fischer ended his attack on Bettner by disputing his role at the studio, suggesting he was never in a position of authority and that his public CV is incorrect.

"You were never a member of the management team at Ensemble Studios," added Fischer. "For that matter, neither you, nor anyone else, was 'creative director' at our studio. You were in no way involved in any of the conversations between Ensemble’s and Microsoft’s leadership regarding the closure of the studio."

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Matt Martin avatar
Matt Martin: Matt Martin joined GamesIndustry in 2006 and was made editor of the site in 2008. With over ten years experience in journalism, he has written for multiple trade, consumer, contract and business-to-business publications in the games, retail and technology sectors.
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