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BioShock Developer Irrational Games Is Dissolving

Studio head Ken Levine plans to start a new, smaller team at 2K following the dissolution of the current development team.

BioShock Infinite developer Irrational Games is shutting down, according to a post on the company's official website this morning.

Though the current Irrational team is still putting the finishing touches on BioShock Infinite's last piece of DLC--the second episode in the Burial At Sea storyline--that content will apparently be the last thing the team produces in its current incarnation. In the posting on the company site, studio head and creative director Ken Levine explained the reasoning behind the studio's eventual closure.

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.

Levine goes on to explain that his new team's goal will be to "make narrative-driven games for the core gamer that are highly replayable," and "foster the most direct relationship with our fans possible" by focusing exclusively on digitally delivered content.

Irrational Games was founded in 1997 by Levine, alongside Jonathan Chey, and Robert Fermier, all of whom worked together previously at System Shock developer Looking Glass Studios. Over the course of its 17-year history, the studio produced seven titles, including System Shock 2, Freedom Force vs. The Third Reich, and SWAT 4. Of course, its biggest hits were its two games in the BioShock franchise, which garnered the studio both critical acclaim and strong sales. According to Levine, the BioShock franchise will now be in the hands of publisher 2K Games, as his new, smaller team begins work on whatever it has planned next.

There is no word yet on exactly how many people will be laid off as a result of the developer's dissolution. As of 2012, Levine had cited the studio as having around 200 employees, though that may have changed in the time since.

We'll bring you more on this developing story as it becomes available.

Alex Navarro on Google+
225 Comments Refresh
Edited by IndustryApologist

Wait a minute... THAT STUDIO

Posted by GorillaMoPena

pretty irrational decision if you ask me

Edited by Matt_F606

Sucks for the guys getting laid-off but it will be interesting to see what Ken does with smaller projects.

Posted by beef5layer

Yeah, rip.

Posted by TekZero
Posted by JayCee

Super gross.

Edited by Donos

Makes sense, the main strengths of the the Bioshock games seemed at odds with the necessity of being a Big Triple A Action Blockbuster Game, hopefully a smaller studio will let him focus on the stuff that actually matters in whatever game they make.

Posted by Nightriff

Hey Alex, there is a thread about this already. Should lock this article down.


Posted by AlwaysBeClothing

Tragic for all the people who are now looking for new jobs. I hope that the bioshock pedigree on their resume speeds them to new studios.

Edited by FinalDasa

Wow. That was sudden.

Edited by Milkman

This is what the future of games is going to look like. Big studios do nothing but hinder creativity and add unnecessary obstacles that get in the way of creating great games. Small studios of talented, creative people is how the medium is going to be pushed forward.

Posted by Wilshere

Maybe we can understand what happened in the studio by listening to audio logs.

Edited by TimesHero
Edited by The_Vein

@gorillamopena: Well, this is pretty much all that needs to be said. Everyone stop commenting now please.

Posted by irishalwaystaken

"BioShock has generated retail revenues of over 500 million"

"Oh btw you're all fired, now fuck off, I need to make a 2deep4u walking sim"

Posted by YarHar707

Considering how much they spent on the BI through its development hell, it's not surprising they had to turn it into a super linear CoD reskin in the last year and market it heavily to the fratboy audience to try to recoup those losses.

Guess it's better for them to go out now before they make more garbage. Bio1 is still by far their greatest work in both gameplay, story and atmosphere.

Posted by parabolee

Oh my. I'm not sure what to think about this. Ken's small team might end up making even better games (and more of them). But closing the studio that made what is probably my third favourite game OF ALL TIME before they can make a follow up?!?!! (didn't have to be a new Bioshock).

Kind gutted. Sad for those losing their jobs! Irrational Games was amazing!

Good luck to everyone!

Edited by chazzlabs

What the hell is a "core gamer"?

Posted by DorkyMohr

Hopefully the transition for those employees goes well. The nature of the dissolving would suggest that this wasn't a sudden thing so I'm hopeful. And I can at least appreciate Ken and the team's ability to know when it's time to move on, in a time where a lot of AAA developers and publishers just seem to get more and more bloated.

Posted by VarrosAnon

I think it's gross to announce your new studio in the same release that you mention all the people you're firing.

I'm all for Ken starting a new studio but he doesn't need to announce it in the same breath as this. Poorly done.

Edited by Spiritof

It'll be interesting to see who Levine's 15 disciples end up being.

Posted by yinstarrunner


Posted by TheBarrylad

This is really weird. Ken's statement is basically that he wants to downsize for creative reasons; which would be a baffling reason to fire that many people in any day and age but in the current climate? Those people aren't exactly just going to walk in to another booming developer (some will, perhaps).

So, either that's BS and there's more too this... or an incredibly tactless decision was just made.

Edited by CaLe

interest for see what come of this development. more number of small game maybe it isn't it? can be good for me.

edit: it's a big shock.

Edited by Oldirtybearon

This is fucking stupid.

I get that things went off the rails during development of Infinite and that the studio needed to refocus and figure out what they wanted to do next, but closing the whole circus down because one guy wants to do something else?

Fuck sakes.

silver lining: Shawn Elliott can probably make more time for podcasts now.

Posted by ArbitraryWater

This is just opening the door for Ken Levine to make the weird artsy games he clearly wants to make, right?

Edited by StriderNo9

Wow, pretty crazy sis. (I know). It would have been nice to split the team in two, Ken's smaller team and a bigger one, but I suppose that wouldn't make much financial sense. Also @chazzlabs a 'core gamer is just short hand for a hardcore gamer, what that means is up for debate but it usually means people that make gaming as a major priority in their lives. Sometimes it's used to describe the types of gamers that come to and frequent sites like Giant Bomb, although many other variations exist. I know you were probably being sarcastic but I wanted to ignore that for the moment.

Posted by The_Nubster

I think it's gross to announce your new studio in the same release that you mention all the people you're firing.

I'm all for Ken starting a new studio but he doesn't need to announce it in the same breath as this. Poorly done.

The reason he's closing Irrational is to start a new studio. They're intertwined, basically the same piece of news. how else would he have done it? if he announced it with time in between, people would begin to wonder about why Irrational was being closed and jump to awful conclusions about Ken, his team, his works and 2K as a publisher. It's better to get it all out into the open in one statement so no one is left wondering.

Edited by Deathpooky

I find it strange that Ken decided to kill the studio and fire everyone instead of just forming a new, smaller studio and handing the reins at Irrational to someone else. I suppose it would have gutted Irrational to take away it's creative leader and 15 of its (likely) best employees, but that seems like a better result than killing the studio entirely and letting almost everyone go because the leader wants to do something new. Though someone has to work on whatever Take Two wants to do with Bioshock, so maybe those remaining employees will end up sticking around to do that.

Regardless, I am very interested in what Ken decides to do next. You could tell he was constrained in how he told his stories and the gameplay within because he was making a big budget AAA game. He all but admitted that Bioshock is a shooter because you need to make a shooter for people to buy it and hear his story. Unshackled from the requirements of big budget game development, they could do some fun stuff with story and gameplay, instead of standard gameplay with a big idea story/world.

Posted by Lomilias

Wow, thats a shocker. I really hope 2K treat the Bioshock franchise with respect, or even better; put it in the books. No Ken Levine, no Bioshock.

I'm excited to see what the new company comes up with though!

Posted by Spiritof

It would also be great if Levine would come out and say that it's because of Obamacare.

Posted by HS_Alpha_Wolf

What the hell is a "core gamer"?

The kind of people who know what you are talking about when you bring up System Shock, BioShock, or Ken Levine

Edited by MrKlorox

Well, I'm sure anybody with a credit on a Bioshock game won't have too incredibly much trouble getting a new position in the industry, or coverage if they start new indie studio. Steve Gaynor rode that wave for a good while.

Posted by Phatmac

I guess Infinite's long dev process cost a fortune. It sucks that Infinite was a popular game that had critical fame as a great game. I'm sure Ken didn't want to let go of most of the staff but it had to since 2k didn't think Irrational was making enough money to keep it working. This is crazy news, I won't say that I'm glad Ken gets to make new games with creative freedom as many people have just lost a lot of jobs. It's a heart breaking reminder that game development is a risky business that no one is safe from.

Posted by FriendlyPhoenix

It makes sense for Ken Levine to have a smaller team that isn't trying to make "AAA" games, but damn this still sucks. Irrational has made nothing but pure gold. But, to look at the silver lining here, the people that are sadly getting laid-off will probably get picked up rather quickly with the pedigree of Irrational behind them.

Posted by YOU_DIED

I hope this means they will be going back to the days when their games had fun gameplay

Posted by BBAlpert

Rich Gallup summed it up best.

Edited by IndustryApologist


Maybe Ken's really trying to make a name for himself as "the George Lucas of video games". It's probably why Infinite went off the rails in the first place, Ken tried to shoehorn her in harder than Toriyama tried with Lightning.

In both cases, the gameplay and overall game structure suffered severely, but at least one of these games was more than pressing LT and RT.

Edited by Lolzhacked

This gaf post is kinda telling as to what happened,

Posted by Ohvee

silver lining: Shawn Elliott can probably make more time for podcasts now.

We can only hope!

Posted by Cheesebob

But I want a SWAT 5 and Freedom Force 3!

Posted by flasaltine

Does this mean SWAT 5? SWAT FUCKING 5.

Posted by Brodehouse

So when is GonehomeShock? HomeShock?

What if you were in a lesbian's apartment but you could shoot fire from your hands whoooooaaa

Edited by BeachThunder

So, Flappy Booker incoming?

Posted by DickSocrates

@oldirtybearon: I suppose it's a matter of Ken Levine believing he IS Irrational Games, and simply leaving to do something else doesn't make sense. Probably didn't want his old studio to be seen as competition for his new one, the old name being out there making games, claiming to be the 'BioShock studio' when BioShock is largely what he comes up with. It's sad news for those working there, but they'll all get works elsewhere, and who knows what was going on in there, maybe it had become disfucntional and the best thing was to shut it down.

Posted by UncleBenny

Jesus, Ken Levine has expressed about been pretty bummed about being a business owner rather than just a pure game maker, but this seems extreme. I hope the rest of the irrational guys can pick up and do their own thing pretty easily.

Edited by Pie

Quite a shock to the system

Posted by Beomoose

@pie said:

Quite a shock to the system

Edited by MonkeyKing1969

I really don't understand why he cannot just leave the company or sell off his share?

My guess is this is a tax dodge, sorry but imploding your own successful company and laying everyone off just seems like something someone would do to to write off a loss in State & Federal taxes. Why not sell or just leave? Even if he wanted top leave with most of the top people, I can't see why they need to do it this way. Why not move other people up make a few new hires and leave a 'successful strong company' to move on without him or the 14 others?

Massachusetts is home to more than 75 video game developers that employ about 1,300 workers, making it the fifth-biggest cluster of video game production in the country, after California, Texas, Washington, and New York. It is also an academic center for video games and tech, but when an 'anchor' developer leaves it hurts the region and other developers. He better be staying in Massachusetts; otherwise, such slash and burn tactics will hurt more than one company.

Edited by swat200

Bioshock is now back in the hands of 2K when it comes to development???? Aww shit, here we go again with another Bioshock 2.