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Bioshocked: Irrational Games Is Shutting Down

In a recent press release on their main homepage, Irrational Games, makers of the Bioshock franchise, are shutting down as we know them, and re-emerging in a smaller, unknown state at 2K Games, their publisher and owner. They’re laying off all by a core group of people and retooling their focus to be more of a “start-up” as head Ken Levin states. Ken Levine has been the public face of Bioshock and by extension Irrational Games for as long as we can remember, so it’s appropriate that he would deliver such unexpected news.

Wow. I did not see that coming, but in retrospect, I can’t say I’m too surprised considering the volatile nature of the triple-A games market recently. Here’s the most telling moment of the press release:

“In time we will announce a new endeavor with a new goal: To make narrative-driven games for the core gamer that are highly replayable. To foster the most direct relationship with our fans possible, we will focus exclusively on content delivered digitally.”

Narrative driven and replayable, all digital. Also, they’re letting go of the $500 million Bioshock franchise to 2K to focus on new IP’s. It’s like he’s pressing a reset button on his whole company.

irrational games


Here’s what you should take away from this:

  • They’re laying almost all of their staff, but they seem to be making an honest effort to find them new jobs. It’s a sugar-coated poison pill and honestly kind of a dick move. My cynical side say you’re laying people off in an hyper-competitive industry so you can go be an intentionally small studio again. You don’t have to worry about finding a job, you’re Ken Levine. I don’t know how to feel about this.
  • My more optimistic side says by scaling down, Levine and Co. want to recapture the energy of working within constraints and be able to take more risks. They want to flatten out to have a better conversation with their audience and I’m all for that. The finely crafted narrative of Bioshock: Infinite, mixed with its lackluster, grindy combat felt plastered together in a marketing meeting and was one of the biggest disappointments of last year. When people say good things about Infinite, it’s almost never about the combat.
  • Levine and Co. do not want to milk Bioshock to death. They’ll let 2K games do that for them. They’re leaving on a high note. Expect an Arkham Origins-type miscalculation from the next non-Irrational Bioshock game.
  • And most importantly, Levine and Co. didn’t have to do this. This was a very deliberate choice from a big time development studio seeing what Activision, EA, Nintendo, Eidos, Microsoft, and Capcom may not be aware of: the changing and unknown nature of the future of triple-A games development.

We’ll just have to wait and see what Levine and friends will do with their new fledgling endeavour. UPDATE: The more I think about this, the more of an absolute dick move I consider it to be. If you’re a development studio who is currently looking for some crazy-talented people, go here for a list of people being laid off.

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Carl Wilhoyte

Carl Wilhoyte

Carl Wilhoyte is the Video Games Editor of a class warrior poet who writes about all things video games. He's sure everything is not under control and is not going to be okay. For a good time, follow his angry rants and smart thoughts on Twitter: @carlwilhoyte.