DJ Arruda ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Ken Levine, one of the gaming industry’s most influential and creative figures, has just announced that his studio, Irrational Games, will be closing after next month’s release of the final BioShock Infinite DLC (downloadable content): Burial at Sea – Part Two. This shocking announcement comes just two weeks after the March 25th release date was announced for this final DLC, which looks to put a cap on the BioShock franchise by bringing characters from the entire series together for one last hurrah. The fact that this DLC will be the swan song for the studio is surprising, yet also fitting, as BioShock Infinite was one of last year’s best games and brought the series that defined the studio to new heights.
Levine states, in an open letter on the Irrational Games website, that when he first founded the studio with Jon Chey and Rob Fermier, their “mission was to make visually unique worlds and populate them with singular characters.” As the studio (then located in Cambridge, MA, now in Quincy) grew from their three man team to the enormous success of today, Levine says that “it’s been the defining project of my professional life.” He goes on to say the past 17 years have been the best job he has ever had, but that he has decided to refocus and work towards making a different kind of game, one with “a small team making games for the core gaming audience.” To meet this challenge he will need “a smaller team with a flatter structure and a more direct relationship with gamers,” and will be taking about fifteen of the studio’s current employees with him.
As sad as it is to see Irrational Games closing, Levine seems passionate about his decision and will not be leaving his current team to fend for themselves. “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 says in regards to the plans for the employees not going with him to his new studio. It is admirable and noble of him to acknowledge the consequences of his actions, but also stand by those who got him and the entire studio where they are today. He also offers ways for other gaming studios to contact the developers who will soon need new jobs, and speaks of a recruiting day and giving time to his staff to properly say goodbye to a great studio and job.
Little is known of what Levine will be producing with his new studio, but what he does offer is this statement: he wants 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.” Instead of creating a new start up, Levine will be staying in house with Take-Two in a “smaller, more entrepreneurial endeavor.” Take-Two is the company that released the first BioShock, a game that rocked the industry all those years ago. The future of the BioShock series is unknown, and will no longer be in Levine’s hands. He is handing the reins to 2K, the publisher of the series thus far and the creator of BioShock 2. Burial at Sea –Part Two looks to be wrapping up the story of the series as it stands, and in this way there may not even need to be another sequel given the ending of Infinite and the end of Burial at Sea – Part One.
Levine ends the letter by thanking 2K, Irrational Games, and the fans, saying that “BioShock has generated retail revenues of over a half billion dollars and secured an iconic place in gaming.” As Irrational Games winds down, Levine and fifteen other studio employees move on with the hope that, as Levine says, “If we’re lucky, we’ll build something half as memorable as BioShock.” That hope seems to be well grounded, and if anyone can breathe a breath of fresh air into the industry, it is Ken Levine.
Read the message from Ken Levine here