Announced earlier this month, Microsoft’s plans to close down Ensemble Studio following completion of the upcoming Halo Wars was both a shock and a disappointment, according to studio boss Bruce Shelley.
“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,” said Shelley in a lengthy response posted on the Ensemble blog Monday. “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.”
After confirming plans for the upcoming closure of the studio in an official statement several weeks ago, Microsoft indicated the decision didn’t bear any reflection on Ensemble’s talent, and the game is still on track to be a quality work. “This was a fiscally-rooted decision that keeps (Microsoft Game Studios) on its growth path,” Microsoft officials noted in the statement. “While the decision to dissolve Ensemble was not an easy one, Microsoft is working to place as many Ensemble employees who do not move to the newly formed studio into open positions within Microsoft as possible.”
It appears Ensemble cost more to run on a per person basis than other first party studios, said Shelley, and Microsoft is seeking to free up some of the ongoing expense for other upcoming projects. Additionally, the company anticipates projects the development team would have worked on following completion of Halo Wars would turn less profit than projects by its other studios. Though progress on Halo Wars continues, Ensemble employees are exploring relocation, finding new work, and other opportunities, said Shelley. He reports a new independent studio is being planned by Ensemble head Tony Goodman and others at ES have been offered positions in the company.
Halo Wars lead designer Dave Pottinger said they’ve done all they can to retain Ensemble’s staff through the end of the development cycle on the title. There have been no layoffs, he said in a news post on the game’s website, and full-time employees will still have jobs elsewhere in the company after the game is completed. “Our goal is to keep everyone here until the game is done,” he said.
Known primarily for its work on the Age of Empires series, Ensemble was acquired by Microsoft in 2001 and is slowly nearing completion of Halo Wars – a real-time strategy variant of the popular franchise. The game is currently slated for release in early 2009 for Xbox 360.