Confirmation has come fast in regard to rumors surfacing earlier today that Microsoft would be closing its internal developer Ensemble Studios upon the completion of sci-fi real-time strategy game Halo Wars. In a statement issued today, Microsoft confirmed that Ensemble will be shut down once the Xbox 360-exclusive RTS set in the best-selling Halo franchise ships out early next year.
"The team at Ensemble has made invaluable contributions to the games industry with their Age of Empires and Age of Mythology games and with the highly anticipated release of Halo Wars," the publisher said in a statement. "This decision does not reflect at all on Ensemble’s talent or the quality of Halo Wars--in fact, many people who have had a chance to test drive Halo Wars agree that it is on track to being a fantastic game."
Though Microsoft will close the studio, Ensemble has plans to soldier on. As part of today's statement, Microsoft said that Ensemble's "leadership team" will form a new, independent development house and has already entered into an agreement with the publisher to continue supporting Halo Wars post-launch, "as well as work on other projects with Microsoft Game Studios."
Commenting on the reason for the closure, Microsoft said, "This was a fiscally rooted decision that keeps MGS on its growth path. While the decision to dissolve Ensemble was not an easy one, Microsoft is working to place as many Ensemble employees who do not move to the newly formed studio into open positions within Microsoft as possible."
As noted earlier today, the Age of Empires brand has sold more than 20 million units since the first installment debuted on the PC in 1997. According to the NPD Group, Age of Empires III for the PC has sold 1.15 million units in the US alone through July 2008, with The Warchiefs expansion tallying nearly 305,000 more. (The second expansion, Asian Dynasties, was developed by Rise of Nations creators Big Huge Games.)
Ensemble has been a Microsoft-owned studio since 2001.