Ken Levine radically downsizing Irrational Games, moving on from Bioshock

irrationalEven in an industry which has sadly grown accustomed to studio layoffs, this one came as a shock.  Ken Levine, co-founder and creative director of Irrational Games, is radically downsizing his studio, and relinquishing control of the Bioshock franchise back to 2K Games.  Read on for the details, and to read Ken’s statement.

The news came earlier today in the form of a letter posted on the Irrational Games homepage.  After taking time to say how proud he was of everything his studio has accomplished over its 17 years of existence, Ken states that “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.”  And with that, the Irrational Games that we all know has ceased to be.

In its place, Ken will be remaking his studio to create completely digital “narrative-driven games for the core gamer that are highly replayable.”  Initially assuming that he would have to begin an entirely new startup company, Ken was convinced by those at his parent company, Take Two Interactive, to stay onboard.  But Ken will be one of the few people staying.  The vast majority of his staff, which swelled to nearly 200 while Bioshock Infinite was in development, will be laid off.  According to Ken, only “about fifteen” people will remain at Irrational Games to work on his next project.

For those being laid off, Take Two will be providing financial support, and will allow those being let go access to the studio to work on their resumes and portfolios.  Take Two will be moving some staff members to other company studios.  They will also be hosting a recruiting day, during which third party studios and publishers will be able to interview departing staff members.  Beyond that, a rapidly growing Google doc has been set up, listing the contact names of recruiters and studios currently hiring.  At last count, there were over 120 companies listed.

So what does all this mean to you, the gamer?  First and foremost, it means that once you finish Burial at Sea Episode 2 next month, you will likely never again play a new Bioshock game from Ken Levine.  While there will undoubtedly be more Bioshock games in the future, they will be developed without Ken’s unique design and storytelling style.  This also means that a large number of highly talented programmers, designers, artists and writers have suddenly found themselves free to pursue new projects.  While losing a job is never a good thing, it’s important to point out how much the indie game market has grown since many at Irrational probably started working there.  Cut loose from a years-long development push, they now have the chance to either take their talents to another studio, or to perhaps finally make that dream game that’s been floating around their brain.  The next great indie gem might be right around the corner.  Finally, this move frees up Ken Levine to do once again reinvent himself, and do what he does best: tell amazing stories.  Having spent seven years crafting Bioshock Infinite, he was likely ready for something new.  Without the burden of a multi-million dollar operation weighing him down, there’s no telling what he’ll able able to create next.  It’s just a shame that his freedom had to come at the expense of so many jobs.  I have no doubt that if Ken Levine wanted to make another AAA title, no one at Irrational would have lost their livelihoods today.

About the Author: (@Joe_of_the_Dead) Lead Editor, Writer

Joe was born in a time of war. A console war. Two electronic titans were locked in a heated battle for the living rooms of America. Which titans, you ask? Well, the Fairchild Channel F and the Atari 2600 of course. You see, Joe is old. So many of his favorite games tend to be on the older side as well. But that hasn’t stopped him from developing unhealthy obsessions with such modern franchises as Halo and Mass Effect. Just don’t tell him how long it’s been since the original Metroid was released. His aging heart can’t take the shock.

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