Ken Levine: Irrational Games ‘Winding Down,’ Layoffs Coming

Irrational Games founder Ken Levine has announced that he’s “winding down” the studio after the newest (and apparently final) Bioshock Infinite DLC is released.

In a statement posted to the developer’s website, Irrational Games co-founder Ken Levine wrote, “I am winding down Irrational Games as you know it. I’ll be starting a smaller, more entrepreneurial endeavor at Take-Two.” In the wake of this, Irrational Games will apparently cease to exist.

As part of this massive change, 2K will be laying off all but 15 members of the Irrational team. A check of LinkedIn turns up 109 people who list themselves as part of the company, although that number may not be accurate. The remaining 15, along with Levine, will be the core of the new project. This project’s goal, according to Levine, is, “To make narrative-driven games for the core gamer that are highly replayable,” and will require, as he writes,

“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.”

While there’s nearly no info on what the new project will be, this isn’t a huge surprise, as Levine has been talking about replayable, narrative-driven games since right after Bioshock Infinite released. Still, I don’t think anyone could have predicted that to realize that vision, he’d be starting over with a smaller team and doing away with Irrational entirely.

We’ve reached out to 2K for more information about this situation, including an accurate count of the layoffs, and we’ll update as we hear more. For now, if you’re a part of Irrational Games and are affected by these layoffs, we’d love to talk with you. Drop us a line at tips(AT)gamefront.com.

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6 Comments on Ken Levine: Irrational Games ‘Winding Down,’ Layoffs Coming

AxΣtwin

On February 18, 2014 at 10:29 am

So let me get this straight.

Ken Levine wants to start all over again, with a smaller team to work on a different type of game. So instead of handing the keys of the company that has been in business for 17 years over to his number 2. A company that employs who knows how many people. He just shuts the whole thing down putting a ton of people out of work simply because ………reasons?

Yesterday Jim Sterling presented the argument for the Entitled Gamer. Today I present you the argument for the Entitled Developer.

Ron Whitaker

On February 18, 2014 at 10:32 am

@Axetwin – I wonder what the story is there. I doubt we’ll find out anytime soon, but there has to be a reason that they didn’t just hand they keys to Irrational over to 2K. I don’t know what the reason is, and I’m not sure how many people are getting hit by these layoffs yet, but we’re trying to find out more.

R.J.

On February 18, 2014 at 5:38 pm

While the new direction sounds good, I am quite surprised that laying off almost the entire staff was necessary. Since Levine is still working with Take-Two, I hope he worked something out so that perhaps the people that worked at Irrational could find work with Take-Two’s other developers.

quicktooth

On February 19, 2014 at 3:57 am

Am I alone in thinking that Bioshock Infinite was sort of obscene? It’s not even any one particular event (although I never saw the whole game by any means), it’s the too-slick too-pretty too-warm art style in which they showed ultra violence and awful race hate that did it for me. Not to mention the religeously offensive and unnecessary “baptism” near the start (actually that scene has been game-ender for some). I wonder if there wasn’t a reaction against that. I wonder if this closure isn’t the result of poor sales or even lots of returns of the game. I hear people are unable to understand the game’s ending- that could be part of it too… can Game Front find out? I’d love to know whatever it is that was the killer for the studio. Levine’s cap has an awful lot of feathers in it, and everyone in the games press seem to sing his praises. This is an interesting story.

Daymz

On February 22, 2014 at 4:01 am

Bioshock Infinite definitely didn’t lead to poor sales, I couldn’t possibly believe that. It was a huge success and made a ton of revenue, and the mentioned problems some people might have had with it definitely didn’t impact it strongly enough to warrant such a reaction.

I also do think that it’s quite a bit of a move by Levine (who I otherwise admire for his games) to completely obliterate a studio, or rather ~100 employees, simply because he’s head of that studio and now wants to do sth smaller. Hell, he could have done that within his current setup, no? I think he has not considered the consequences enough. At least looking at what we now know.

Phil Hornshaw

On February 22, 2014 at 10:26 am

@quicktooth

Nope, you’re definitely not the only one.

@Daymz
I’ve actually been digging around a bit and I think that BioShock Infinite’s success might be overblown a bit in context. For one, the game must have had a huge budget, and saw several delays — so it was definitely expensive. The last sales numbers Take-Two released, which, admittedly, were way back in July, were for 4 million sold — which is, high estimate, about $240 million. Subtract whatever the budget for the game was (which is hard to guess at but given other big-budget games, had to have been pretty high), plus factor in the fact that Irrational hasn’t sold a game for six years, and suddenly the profit margins look a lot smaller, especially to Take-Two’s investors. You’re right that BI was most probably a profitable game, but it wasn’t a runaway success of a game necessarily, especially when taken against titles like Grand Theft Auto V, which was a crazy success, and Borderlands 2, which has had a really long sales tale.

The point I’m getting at with all this is that Irrational was probably more of a prestige studio than it was a big moneymaker for Take-Two. With Levine departing and probably not a ton of money coming in from the studio, suddenly the decision to shutter it makes more sense, at least from a corporate standpoint; so too does the effort to find new jobs for Irrational personnel, since their studio didn’t close out of failure. But at the same time, Take-Two clearly puts a lot of stock in Levine, and without a compelling reason to leave Irrational open without him (which is kinda screwed up, since it assumes he’s waaaay more important than the 100+ people laid off with him departing who also made BI happen), I think the logic of the decision at least is fairly clear.