Bruce Shelley

Ensemble Studios Closing

Ensemble Studios Closing: I have mentioned with regret the closing of several quality game studios over the past several years but I never considered that ES would join the list. Everyone at our studio was shocked, and I think remains very disappointed that this is going to happen. I believe we thought we were immune to shut-down talk because our published games have done so well and have been so profitable. Plus we felt we had built a really stable (low-turnover), talented, hard-working, and creative team, which is not easy to do. We thought we were among the best studios in the world, and that may be true, but we don’t fit in the future plans of MGS as an internal studio so we’re out.

A senior executive of MGS addressed the studio in early September and gave us the news. He did not go into a lot of detail about why, but basically the decision, as I understand it, was based on several major factors. First, they want to divert the headcount tied up in ES and the costs that are expected to be required to run ES for the next few years into other projects. Second, it sounded like it cost more to run ES on a per person basis than other first party studios (Rare, Lionhead, Forza, Flight Sim) putting us at a disadvantage. (Plus they avoid the expense of a new office that we were planning.) And third, games those studios are expected to deliver in the next few years are expected to be more strategic and profitable to the company than anything we would be finishing after Halo Wars.

You may recall that the mission for our studio from the start in 1995 has been to create great games and a great place to work. Overall we think we have built a studio consistent with that mission. But within the framework of a larger organization other stuff matters and perhaps has higher priorities, including costs of operation and overall strategic direction of the larger business. The new leadership of the game group at Microsoft has a new plan for making the game group consistently profitable, especially over the next few crucial years, and we are the odd group out.

We have had a week now to get over the shock and have begun the process of finding new work, considering relocating, etc. We have heard from many recruiters and other studios with openings. There may be opportunities for ES people in other MGS studios, including the new one in Redmond. Microsoft HR has begun the process of getting us information on what to expect as we leave the company. In the meantime, we still have uncompleted work to finish.

Halo Wars All Hands: In August we shut down work on everything non-Halo Wars related and now the entire studio is focused on finishing this game by the end of this year. Everyone in the studio has a job until Halo Wars is finished. There have been no layoffs and none are expected. We have received fantastic feedback on the game at a variety of game shows and events, and want to deliver on the promises we have made as our last hurrah. We want a great Halo Wars game to be the final tribute to everything that ES has come to mean to us and perhaps you as well, over the past 13 years.

Newco: Studio head Tony Goodman has a plan to start a new independent studio following the end of ES and a number of the existing ES employees have been offered a position in this company. He felt he had to get a plan for that in place, even though it will not being operating until after ES closes down, so that all employees can know where they stand and begin making plans for their futures. I believe the spirit and mission of ES will be carried forward in this new company if enough of the key leaders agree to take part, which I expect to happen. There has been no announcement about what the new studio will be working on when it gets going.

Fate of the Blog: This was a sort of special edition blog focused entirely on the news about the coming closure of Ensemble Studios. I expect to continue with more typical blogs in the coming months through the completion of Halo Wars and my employment with the company. I do not expect to be part of the new company formed after ES is shut down, so the blog will probably end at that point. It was intended to keep our gaming friends informed about our games and give you a look inside the life and processes of a game development studio. I hope you have found it interesting over the years.

Bruce Shelley 

Published Monday, September 22, 2008 12:21 PM
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