We talk a lot about BioShock Infinite here at Agents of GUARD, both on the site and IRL. So, when this came down the pipeline this morning it was all a bit shocking. Oh, gods, that pun – it was unintended. This message from Ken Levine was posted on the Irrational Games website front page this morning. Full text:
A Message From Ken Levine
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.*
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.
*If you’re a 3rd party interested in interviewing some of the best game developers in the world, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
The conversation online is rife with speculation and possible theories as to the closure. It’s expected, as I don’t think anyone really saw this coming. Some point to BioShock Infinite running way over budget, and having a longer than expected development time, thus no longer making them commercially viable to 2K Games, and in turn, Take2 Interactive. Others are taking it at face value. Maybe Ken Levine just wants to focus on something other than huge, AAA titles. Having witnessed a couple AAA on a development side , myself, albeit as QA – I can say that pressure does run high. Hours get extremely long. Milestones and deadlines are killer.
Whatever the reason, everyone is wondering what’ll happen to 1) it’s flagship BioShock series, and 2) their team of developers. It seems that Irrational is giving everyone being laid-off some time to gather themselves, and at least start the search for new job prospects, so kudos there and good luck to everyone. I don’t pretend to know the job climate for video game devs, so I can’t comment much. I do hope that having a hand in creating one of the more kickass video game franchises in recent history will count for something.
What’s going to happen to BioShock? It’ll stay under 2K banner for sure, who’ll develop further titles in the franchise, however, is a matter of question. Other dev houses under 2K, like Cat Daddy and Firaxis have little experience with games like the BioShock series, which leads me to believe they’ll hand it off to someone like Gearbox Software, developers of Borderlands and Duke Nukem Forever.
What’s in store for Ken Levine and folks? He’s scaling down to a team of 15, and creating a new endeavor, still under Take2. They’ll be focusing on narrative games with high replay value. This definitely sounds like something I could get on board with. Whatever their new venture churns out in the coming few years, count me in.
Cuz… BioShock Infinite. Mind blown.