Ken Levine, head of Irrational Games and lead designer on last year's smash hit, BioShock Infinite, has announced that Irrational Games is essentially shutting down with all but 15 personnel laid off as the company transitions towards building different kinds of games. Levine didn't offer much in the way of hints about what those games might look like, but said:
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
Normally, when we see studios shut down after huge financial successes, it's because the parent company isn't quite happy with the results. BioShock Infinite
sold more than four million copies from March to August of last year. As always, the majority of these were console sales -- PC sales of the game accounted for 12% of the total sales for the first 10 weeks of its life, as reported by VGChartz. Still, after Steam's holiday sales, it seems likely that the game has chalked up good figures -- especially given the high-profile DLC that's been released.
Levine's decision to close down Irrational Games seems driven more by personal desire for something new and different than by an acrimonious relationship with 2K or as punishment for missing sales figures -- but we're hoping the transfer of the BioShock
IP won't harm future products in the universe or result in substandard fare. According to Levine's letter, Irrational will wind down as soon as the latest DLC is published, with the company giving its departing employees an opportunity to job-search and use studio space while prepping for interviews. The transition is clearly planned for an orderly departure, not a trainwreck.
I wish Levine all the best, but I can't help being sad to see him make this leap. The BioShock and Freedom Force series are two of my all-time favorites. We could scarcely begrudge the man a chance to do something different after 17 years in the saddle at IG, but hopefully whoever picks up the reins will have as skilled a touch as he did. There's some discussion over what this transition means for IG, the brand -- Levine refers to this as "winding down" Irrational Games in his letter, which implies that even if the brand survives, the mission and focus of the company will be very different going forward.