Microsoft to scatter Ensemble?

Source: See below. What we heard: Whereas the Bungie-developed Halo 3 was the cornerstone of Microsoft's E3 2007 press conference, Halo Wars garnered not even a mention at this year's media gathering, despite being slated for release within the next few months. The game's marked absence highlights...

Source: See below.

What we heard: Whereas the Bungie-developed Halo 3 was the cornerstone of Microsoft's E3 2007 press conference, Halo Wars garnered not even a mention at this year's media gathering, despite being slated for release within the next few months. The game's marked absence highlights the relative media opacity that has surrounded the Xbox 360-exclusive real-time strategy game since it was first unveiled in 2006. The absence of hype for the game is especially curious given that it's being developed by Microsoft's wholly owned Ensemble Studios, the acclaimed outfit behind the Age of Empires franchise.

With Microsoft maintaining its stance of limited visibility for the title, curiosity over the game's particulars has given way to questions of potential quality and inner-studio turmoil. The latter of those questions may have been given an answer today, however. Independent reports from gaming industry news sites Gamasutra and Shacknews indicate that Microsoft plans to shut down Ensemble once development on Halo Wars has wrapped.

According to Gamasutra's sources, Microsoft laid off the majority of Ensemble's staff this morning. Shacknews' sources claim that the layoffs pertained to all persons not directly working on Halo Wars, with those still attached to the project having been offered incentives to stay on and complete the game.

While Microsoft has yet to comment on the reports, it seems highly probable that the publisher has in fact let go a portion of the staff working at Ensemble. However, it remains to be seen whether the staff cuts translate to a full-blown studio closure or are simply a product of the cyclical nature of the gaming industry. In June, similar reports concerning LucasArts and its internal development operations arose, whereby reactionary claims from various sources painted project-end staff reductions as cataclysmic closures. With The Force Unleashed out next week, the publisher has shown no signs of following through in accordance with those initial reports.

It's also worth noting that Microsoft is unlikely to so casually discard a studio that has created one of the best-selling franchises of all time. As per Ensemble's Web site, 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.)

The official story: [UPDATE] Shortly after this article was posted, Microsoft confirmed that Ensemble Studios will be shut down upon the completion of Halo Wars early next year. The publisher noted that the current Ensemble leadership team will form a new studio and will continue to support Halo Wars post-launch, "as well as work on other projects with Microsoft Game Studios."

Bogus or not bogus?: Not bogus.

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Discussion

66 comments
IndianAtWar
IndianAtWar

Sad than Ensemble closes - but hey, those guys will still be around, may be start their own studio.. You can fire a guy but you can't take away his brains and creativity...

Vote_For_McCain
Vote_For_McCain

I hope Microsoft keeps the main employees from Ensemble and just intergates them into different Microsoft departments

loopykill
loopykill

you know, i used to be quite the ms fanboy until recently, because it's hard to like a company that says "gee, us executives only made 38 million a piece last year, let's fire some poor people." MS is quickly becoming the WAL-MART of software development. i don't care how good this game is, i refuse to spend my hard earned money lining "the man's" pockets.

MBrahv23
MBrahv23

"Epic phail. I'm beginning to wonder if Microsoft is going to own any or be contracted with any first party studios anymore. Bungie, FASA, Cryptic, Team Ninja, BioWare, Bizarre, DICE, Day 1 Studios, and Realtime Worlds are no longer working with Microsoft Game Studios for future titles. And now with Ensemble being just straight up shut down (much like FASA), they join that list as well. What is happening to MGS?" Except you'd be completley and utterly wrong child.

jameslee1997
jameslee1997

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

Agreb91
Agreb91

Wow. That is really sad to see Ensemble close.

ctg867
ctg867

Epic phail. I'm beginning to wonder if Microsoft is going to own any or be contracted with any first party studios anymore. Bungie, FASA, Cryptic, Team Ninja, BioWare, Bizarre, DICE, Day 1 Studios, and Realtime Worlds are no longer working with Microsoft Game Studios for future titles. And now with Ensemble being just straight up shut down (much like FASA), they join that list as well. What is happening to MGS? Side note: Sony continues to pump up first party development. >_>

Dreamerdude26
Dreamerdude26

The only Halo game that I'll probably love but it's not going to get the attention it deserves? I really hate Microsoft.

prioritymail
prioritymail

Noooo!!! M-soft is slowly becoming another EA!

LucASPrime
LucASPrime

I still hope they know what they are doing!!!Age of Empires & Age of Mythology are definitely 2 names to be remembered in the hall of fame of the RTS games no matter what some people say...It would be a pity for them to end like that...It would be a terrible blow for the RTS games.With Starcraft II still TBA only EA Games rocks...for now.And this is not good comrades!

Skrewdriven
Skrewdriven

the games were alright, but i dunno for me the whole cave man babble talk got on my nerves and took alot away from the games, i dont care if its historically accurate or not to have greeks speaking english, I WANT ENGLISH.

elozl
elozl

Age of Empires is real Good but not as good as others, that is why the company needs a fresh start...

Rickhavoc2
Rickhavoc2

LOLZ age of empires was never good and people are annoying that the developer is going good riddense I'd play an EA RTS over that trash and day

Avenger1324
Avenger1324

I really hope there will be more Age of Empires and Age of Mythology games. It's sad to see the studio that made some great games get shutdown :(

hector530
hector530

alot of RTS fans upset about this, dont be sad. starcraft2 is coming and halo wars doesnt look all that good

marvelx3
marvelx3

i guess there can never be an end to controversy in Microsoft's world.

zgreenwell
zgreenwell

The Ensemble Studios Site still says they're hiring. I think someone should tell them to take that link down.

Crazy_Master
Crazy_Master

Indeed. While not the end of the world expected today, it's certainly the end of the RTS.

CureForLiving
CureForLiving

I would really like to know exactly why microsoft is doing this? Its not like the studio wasn't performing.

Beeck
Beeck

I hope this doesn't affect the way Halo Wars turns out. With all this going on i have my doubts about it.

shawnship
shawnship

Quick guess...the leadership let it be known they where leaving after the game was released and forming their own studio so MS made a deal with them ala Bungie to at least keep them as publisher for any future games and to continue upkeep on Halo Wars. That gives them the "continue working with part" even though they are not owned by MS.

Anderjak
Anderjak

This is just a little odd. I wonder what the benefits are... Maybe they're taking a very roundabout way of laying off a bunch of employees at Ensemble by claiming they're just "building a new studio"? Maybe it's just a legal rights thing. I don't know. It's just perplexing news, though it looks like a healthy amount of the staff will still have work. It works out well enough in the end, but I'd really like to see some more information on what exactly went down.

SEEDman_X
SEEDman_X

THIS IS F***ED UP!!! Ensemble is a great studio. MS has lost Bungie and Big Huge game already. I have no f*****g clue why they would do this

ColdGen
ColdGen

Man that sucks to see talented developers treated in this way. I hope they all manage to find jobs at other studios.

vf21x
vf21x

This marks another sign that Microsoft is going the way of SEGA. My how the mighty fall....... In the end, there was only one.....PS3!!!!

hampton2003
hampton2003

Well that sucks. Whats strange is then are keeping some of the staff and create a new name. From a distant perspective it looks stupid. But there might be reasons for killing Ensemble Studios, like as a loophole to finally get rid of any rights they still contain when they were bought by microsoft(if they were bought long ago, dont remember) ... we just dont know the whole story. But its sad news just the same, more layoffs in a troubled economy.

Pete5506
Pete5506

dang this is not good, there made good games

Pablo620
Pablo620

Im telling you. Next up is Microsoft Games leaves Microsoft

HOMIE_G64
HOMIE_G64

ZOMGY? But you have to remember, the leaders of the studio is just going to get a new name. And the brand never guarantees quality. EA is living proof. The reason for the layoffs were probably because they were lacking quality or something. I doubt even M$ would be stupid enough to trim production costs by letting go good developers.

theunloved
theunloved

I'm still sad to hear this news. I love the work Ensemble has down with the Age of Empires series and own each one that has ever come out. I wonder what this means for the future of RTS from those talented hands. Hopefully, this new development house will keep the franchise alive.

Yuck_Too
Yuck_Too

Look carefully here. MS has canceled more then a few titles, all of which in hindsight were lost leaders. Now for one I am disappointed...after AoE3 which I so enjoyed I was looking forward to this. Having said that, and one again look it up...check out the titles MS has delayed, canceled and put on the back burner...including MechWarrior. Not only that but look at the reasons and argue why it was a mistake...

jasonbarbour
jasonbarbour

AGE OF MYTHOLOGY 2 (will we never see this now?)- if so then Microsoft can go #%$#^ $^$%^ #^^%$%^$%^

jasonbarbour
jasonbarbour

NOOOO ensemble? WHY? no really, why - they are a great studio that has generated many excellent titles and lots of $$$, so wtf?

buzzguy
buzzguy

Why dump Ensemble? First FASA, now this? I love my 360,but MS...what are you thinking?

peeweeshift
peeweeshift

no does this mean AOE franchise is gonna be screwed.

Led_poison
Led_poison

What a shame, Soooo many memories i had with Age of Empires 2, LAN PARTY FTW!

chandlerr_360
chandlerr_360

I agree. I am the biggest fan of Halo, and RTS games for that, you can find...but Halo Wars looks like ****, and its because of Ensemble. Terrible company, terrible games. Dawn of War 2 and SC2 are going to crush Halo Wars into the ground and **** all over it...unfortunately.

VirtuaCast
VirtuaCast

Don't over saturate the Halo name with knock offs like RTS or Master Chief racing and all that crap.

lettuceman44
lettuceman44

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

ciaxhieu
ciaxhieu

fake, i refuse to believe this

Lord_Foortwenti
Lord_Foortwenti

This totally blindsided me when I first read it. Close Ensemble Studios?!?!? Are they freaking mad? Ensemble is one of the premier developers of RTS's, and have made some truly legendary games. Even if the core team members that helped make those legendary games aren't w/ the studio anymore, why close it? Even the Ensemble name alone is valuable and widely known for the quality of their games, so why not just keep the studio running. I guess they could close the studio and just slap it's name on any MGS project...but still. I really hope this story is just out-of-control gossip, and that it's wildly inaccurate. I'm dying for Age of Mythology 2, or another Star Wars RTS from those guys, forget Halo Wars...although it does look pretty good for a console RTS.

ParkCarsHere
ParkCarsHere

...you have to be kidding me. Ensemble Studios is one of the best RTS developing companies around. Age of Empires alone makes them the best. Microsoft, don't be stupid. You want Ensemble Studios in your lineup.