Ensemble dev speaks out on closure

Age of Empires creator Bruce Shelley says team was shocked, disappointed; adds he won't be working at upstart offshoot.

Earlier this month, Microsoft announced plans to shutter Halo Wars developer Ensemble Studios after the Xbox 360 real-time strategy game ships early next year. The news came as a surprise to gamers, considering the consistent success of Ensemble's Age of Empires franchise and the high-profile project it is currently working on. The news also surprised the Ensemble developers themselves, according to Age of Empires creator Bruce Shelley's blog on the Ensemble Studios Web site.

"Everyone at our studio was shocked, and I think remains very disappointed that this is going to happen," Shelley said. "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."

As for why Microsoft decided to close the studio, Shelley passed along what he'd been told by the Xbox 360 maker.

"The decision, as I understand it, was based on several major factors," Shelley said. "First, they want to divert the headcount tied up in [Ensemble] and the costs that are expected to be required to run [Ensemble] for the next few years into other projects. Second, it sounded like it cost more to run [Ensemble] 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."

When the news was broken to the team, Shelley said Ensemble stopped all development on non-Halo Wars projects and moved employees over to work on the sci-fi RTS game. Shelley stressed that nobody has been laid off yet, and cuts aren't expected to come before the studio finishes Halo Wars. Although the game isn't scheduled to be released until early next year, Shelley said that the studio hopes to have development finished by the end of this year.

Softening the blow of the closure somewhat was news that the studio's "leadership team" would strike out on its own with an independent studio that would provide postlaunch support for Halo Wars "as well as work on other projects with Microsoft Game Studios." However, Shelley won't be going along. The developer said that he didn't expect to be part of the operation, although he did say he believes "the spirit and mission of [Ensemble] will be carried forward in this new company if enough of the key leaders agree to take part, which I expect to happen."

The new studio will be run by current Ensemble head and founder Tony Goodman, according to Shelley.

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Discussion

141 comments
TehEliteElite
TehEliteElite

Are you a COMPLETE idiot, DullBozer? They've created Halo Wars, a game that may be one of the few console RTS's that doesn't blow huge hairy chunks. I'd call that pretty innovative, so go troll elsewhere.

youssefzm
youssefzm

aoe1.aoe2.aoe3 was a greate games

DullBozer
DullBozer

Seriously they had it comming, AOE 1 and 2 were great games, but that studio never stood out after that. They never tried new things or pushed the boundaries to stay competitive. They were old and out of touch, and in this day and age there are too many newcomers with new ideas and energy to just sit on your initial success and re-release the same thing over and over.

VolcanoMan001
VolcanoMan001

Hmm, how can they expect the crew at Ensemble to put their heart and soul into Halo Wars if they know that they will be laid off soon? It seems like they would have waiting until the game was completed before they took a huge dump on them. Oh well, that is just me.

Uddermaddness
Uddermaddness

Personally I'm shocked because I didn't think Ensemble studios would close anytime soon. They made one of my all time favourite games, Age of Mythology. But looking at it with a different perspective, it figures that this happened when Microsoft's CEO is a weirdo (he probably didn't even realize what he let happen). See the below link for confirmation: www.youtube.com/watch?v=wvsboPUjrGc

dzimm
dzimm

And people wonder why we get nervous whenever a quality developer gets bought up by one of the major players like EA or Microsoft. RIP, Ensemble.

BorkaBonum
BorkaBonum

Esemble was great, but has over the past years not been working in the way that fits my highly personal interests. But hey, Age of Empires "one" and 2 were games I grew up with so it's a shame to see them disband. Esemble, Valve and Massive Entertainment are probably the developers I look up to the most, they all deliver fantastic products and extremely polished games going on upgrading the game over time instead of fixing it like we always see with EA Games...

dannyodwyer
dannyodwyer staff

A horrific development. Such a shame that MS thinks so little ahead of time. As if Ensemble couldnt develop more hits in time.

OneBadLT123
OneBadLT123

Gaming is officially dead to me. No longer will I go out of my way and stand up for any super company like EA, MS or Sony. This is insane. Ensemble is an example of one of the true developers who actually cared and responded to their fans. They were always looking for imput, and welcomed newcomers to their community with open arms. Goodbye Ensemble, one of the few developers that really did care about their fans, and gaming in general.

darkride66
darkride66

And people slag EA. Microsoft studios terrible for buying up studios, under utilizing them and then breaking them up or selling them off. But then, this is Microsoft we're talking about. Their business practices still rank up there with a software company version of Stalin. And yet I still enjoy my 360, despite being on my 4th console. *sigh*

Knighty
Knighty

I love the devs reactions to the announcement. AoE 3 was a disaster, it had so many missing features that were even in the E3 presentation that it was astonishing it launched the way it did. Then they produce a lack-luster expansion and BHG does the second one. In addition, they dropped all launch support for user created maps, completely killing a part of what made AoE 2 so great. All the while, there is page upon page of complete 3D models inside the art book, with no explanation of why they weren't included, and we are talking entire nations worth here. On the back of the artbook, there is a timeline of AoE, and the 4th spot has an image of a futuristic soldier... As it turns out, that was Halo Wars, which will be awesome. But doesn't remove the fact Ensemble completely screwed the platform their company was built on, and wouldn't even fight to get a dual-platform release. I view this as good news, because it should give the industry a swift kick in the pants saying "Just because you designed great games once upon a time, doesn't mean you are impervious to getting shut down."

magicalclick
magicalclick

Ensemble published one of the most popular franchise for MS. I really don't see how it can be less profitable than other studio. Even if it is less profitable, but come on, it is the developer of Age of Empire. What is MS planing? I hope it is something big that they are willing to dissemble Ensemble.

-DCCshadow-
-DCCshadow-

dkdk999 lol haze was developed by ubisoft not sony if you are gonna slag smethin off atleast get your facts right

ReckHavoc
ReckHavoc

Hey Yuck Two.. obviously you haven't made it to senior year of High School.. because that is precisely what happends, you slack off and don't give a crap senior year, uhh, durr? Your'll learn soon enough kiddie.

hypnotoad8128
hypnotoad8128

No they aren't if you read it PROPERLY. The studio closes AFTER halo wars is released.

combatsoldier
combatsoldier

wait does this mean they cancelled halo wars. Please pm me and let me know. I dont completely understand what im reading. Maybe cause I am just to sleepy still. Please pm and let me know what this means. Please dont be the end of halo wars.

Starsteele
Starsteele

@Angel-Cage-2 I agree. Were I working for ensemble I think my mind would be more focused on ...oh say... a new job. Especially if I was not guaranteed another position at Microsoft. It will be interesting to see how the "stable" employee sustains this period as I would expect to see alot of turnover during the next few months. It isn't as if they can fill these positions with new people.

daviwinn
daviwinn

Sorry Yuck Too, school and work are two different things. These devs are now like a lame duck president, they know they're leaving office so they don't bother introducing anything new while they're still there. Maybe, just maybe if they have an invested interest in the sucess of the game they might try their best, but I doubt that they will receive any percentage of the profits. I've been an employee who was notified that as of a certain date my services would no longer be needed, and like most people I slacked off quite a bit until the day I got my severance check.

Hvac0120
Hvac0120

My theory is that Microsoft is cutting back on it's internal studios to use the money towards exclusives and exclusive DLC on upcoming multiplatform games. Why pay an always-on-staff team, when you can consult studios for the development of your projects? I believe this is the plan because of the types of exclusive deals Microsoft has recently acquired with games such as Rock Band 2 and GTA IV downloadable content. The success of these types of deals has had a positive impact on the "quality" of Xbox Live and the Xbox360 in general. This is what leads me to believe that Microsoft has found it more profitable to go down this route instead of creating their games in-house.

xshinta9
xshinta9

I guess this only goes to show that you're only worth your last performance...after that it's anything goes. But still...men these guys go way back to my early PC days age of empires?! dude! I really loved that game, this really farts.

blackdreamhunk
blackdreamhunk

I think this proff that MS is turning it's back on pc gaming.

TWiSTEDmerc
TWiSTEDmerc

Wouldn't be a bad idea for sony to pick them up.

AngelCage-2
AngelCage-2

Number one: HAZE had nothing to do with SCE, haze is all work of ubisoft a third party, a exclusive game (a bad one) Sony, nor the PS3 had nothing to do with the crappy game ubisoft make. Now, esemble... thiy don't have any reason to put a lot of effort on halo wasr rigth now... i think that the quality of the final game will be affected by this low morale.

dennis8
dennis8

why?.... why?!.... WHYYY!!!!

Yuck_Too
Yuck_Too

Actually the funnier thing I see is the comments of "Now the dev's won't care and the game will suffer". Childish comments. Tell me, when you were in your last year of school (if you made it that far) did you say "Meh it's over after this who cares" and quit doing your best? Believe it or not people actually take pride in their work, plus it's your name that goes on the finished product and even if you are out of a job do you want a future employer to look at the last thing you did and say "You sure gave up and sucked on that one".

Gen-Gawl
Gen-Gawl

Well, to be fair, I thought Too Human was pretty fun while I thought Haze was just plain awful. Too human may have gotten a low score here, but it has a higher critic average. Which I think is generally more important than one sites take on a game.

aussiehalofan
aussiehalofan

M$ have done this for a reason, and it better be a fricking good one

xXrebel666Xx
xXrebel666Xx

@dkdk999- Haze is published by Ubisoft and is in no way associated with Sony,please get your info right. You certainly can't tell us that MGS publish better games then Sony, have you ever played Too Human? Too Human is published by MGS and is rated lower on this site then Haze which is published by Ubisoft. You effectively bagged out the company your standing for there champ.

xXrebel666Xx
xXrebel666Xx

Probably a result of the 360's sales declining and getting outsold by the PS2 a last gen console, which lead to a price drop. The work undertaken on HW will now be carefree as the employees don't ahve a future with the business after the project, way to ruin the game.

masterdenis
masterdenis

M$ sux. This is just more one disrespect with all developers and gamers :/

Yuck_Too
Yuck_Too

lol...so many arm chair quarterbacks here... heck I'm not sure most of you even qualify as that, welcome to business kids it's not about what you personally feel it's how to run a large scale company with both present and future concerns in check. And like they even said in the article the reasons are well founded. After Halo Wars what do they have coming?...AoE4...the AoE series has been kind of beaten to a pulp and other then new graphics and bigger maps what really can you expect of the RTS genera at this point? Plus most kept their jobs, they cut costs and will be working on new projects...which if you've ever spent 1/2 a dozen years doing the exact same thing is actually a welcome change of pace for most.

eagles_band
eagles_band

Why wouldn't they wait till the game is finished? They're gonna be working and not caring cause they dont have a future with the studio

Targzissian
Targzissian

I'm still addicted to Age of Empires II: The Conquerors Expansion. There've been days when I'm on vacation that I've played eight games in one day. I almost always play single player on a huge map. They did something right with that game. Every new game I start, I never know how it's going to turn out. I am sad to see Ensemble go.

KhanhAgE
KhanhAgE

GG M$. So who's next? Rare?

jrregan
jrregan

The Great American business sense strikes again! Shut down a known good profitable biz for a shot at super mega bucks gamble. Or does M$ know they're on a bailout list if this screws up??

wally2nv
wally2nv

sorry Ensemble but nothing lasts forever.

RaNaBiR
RaNaBiR

Such a sad story to read.. They should be proud of their rich history and have a very positive outlook for the future.

choasgod
choasgod

@the_mitch28 -- Ensemble was a profitable studio that was a great asset for M$. M$ shut them in order to save overhead costs for funding a new unproven studio... M$ is quickly running out of 1st party developers. They have only a few devlopers left - thats ACES(Flight Sim), Lionhead, Rare, Turn 10, Wignut and XBLP. I don't think XBLP or Wignut have finished a game yet, Rare is rumored to be shut down which leaves Lionhead and Turn 10 ... not much compared Bungie, Ensemble, Carbonated Games, FASA and other 1st party devs shutdown or let go of by Microsoft...

Bgrngod
Bgrngod

Microsoft screwed up with this decision. Pure executive stupidity reared it's ugly head and the peeps at Ensemble got screwed. Some idiot must have read a memo where the numbers on one side were smaller then the numbers on the other and couldn't figure out how to fix it.

Pete5506
Pete5506

Thats to bad, but things happen

the_mitch28
the_mitch28

I dare say Microsoft has a better idea of what its doing than all you apparent business geniuses. Personally I don't know if they're making the right move or not, what I do know is Microsoft isn't new to the whole 'making money' and running a business game. So you have to assume there is reason as to why they did this, any business trying to make money especially in such a competitive market doesn't cut its assets without a good reason.

Old_Gooseberry
Old_Gooseberry

so its FINISH THE GAME, than you are fired! this will effect the outcome of Halo Wars... the employees won't give a damn now how the game turns out.

bs0ng
bs0ng

You know what they say, "You reap what you sow". This may bite Microsoft in the ass in the long run.

playa42018
playa42018

Very sad news, AoE1 and AoE:Rise of Rome were my favorite RTS games before Starcraft.

raghraghragh
raghraghragh

This is really dumb. Ensemble studios make fantastic games. Please keep Ensemble, Microsoft. :(

jangofett88
jangofett88

Makes me really nervous that the Flight Simulator team might be next on the chopping block.