Studio's Bruce Shelley offers inside view on closure of a Microsoft Game Studios' internal team

‘We thought we were immune to shut-down,’ says Ensemble

Ensemble Studios advisor and designer Bruce Shelley has been describing the shock at the studio following Microsoft’s decision to shutter the team.

Speaking in a post on the studio’s blog, he said the team had never expected to be closed and ‘thought we were immune to shut-down talk’.

Microsoft made the decision to close the team earlier this month, citing financial and strategic motivations. Staff at Ensemble are finishing up Halo Wars; after that the team will close.

Added Shelley: "I have mentioned with regret the closing of several quality game studios over the past several years but I never considered that ES would join the list. Everyone at our studio was shocked, and I think remains very disappointed that this is going to happen. 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. 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.

"A senior executive of MGS addressed the studio in early September and gave us the news. He did not go into a lot of detail about why, but basically the decision, as I understand it, was based on several major factors. First, they want to divert the headcount tied up in ES and the costs that are expected to be required to run ES for the next few years into other projects. Second, it sounded like it cost more to run ES on a per person basis than other first party studios (Rare, Lionhead, Forza, Flight Sim) putting us at a disadvantage. (Plus they avoid the expense of a new office that we were planning.) And third, games those studios are expected to deliver in the next few years are expected to be more strategic and profitable to the company than anything we would be finishing after Halo Wars.

"You may recall that the mission for our studio from the start in 1995 has been to create great games and a great place to work. Overall we think we have built a studio consistent with that mission. But within the framework of a larger organization other stuff matters and perhaps has higher priorities, including costs of operation and overall strategic direction of the larger business. The new leadership of the game group at Microsoft has a new plan for making the game group consistently profitable, especially over the next few crucial years, and we are the odd group out."

Shelley also added more on studio head Tony Goodman plans to start a new independent studio following the closure of Ensemble: "A number of the existing ES employees have been offered a position in this company," explained Shelley.

"[Goodman] felt he had to get a plan for that in place, even though it will not being operating until after ES closes down, so that all employees can know where they stand and begin making plans for their futures. I believe the spirit and mission of ES will be carried forward in this new company if enough of the key leaders agree to take part, which I expect to happen. There has been no announcement about what the new studio will be working on when it gets going."

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