Ensemble Studios has developed a reputation for creating consistently high-quality real-time strategy games, thanks in no small part to the success of its Age of Empires franchise. Consequently, it was grimly received this week when Microsoft confirmed that it would be closing its internal studio after Ensemble's current project, Halo Wars, ships for the Xbox 360 in early 2009.
Although Microsoft noted that the Ensemble management team intends to open a new, independent studio, the publisher made no mention of what would happen to the lucrative Age of Empires franchise. Posting to its marketing venue GamerScoreBlog today, Kevin Unangst, director of Microsoft's Games for Windows PC label, confirmed that it has retained the rights to Age of Empires.
"If you're a PC gamer, you've likely played some version of Age of Empires somewhere along the line," said Unangst. "I want to reassure you that Microsoft will still own the Age of Empires intellectual property. As a company, we're very excited about the future potential for Age of Empires, and as a PC gamer I'm looking forward to what that future holds. Stay tuned."
Ensemble released Age of Empires III to critical approbation and commercial success in 2005. Two expansion packs were subsequently added onto the game, The Warchiefs and Asian Dynasties, the first of which was developed by Ensemble and the second created by THQ-owned Big Huge Games.