Ensemble Studios is one of the few companies that if they called me up, I’d go work for them sight unseen, just based on the games they’ve made so far.
And they aren’t closing because they aren’t successful. The Age series of real-time strategy games has sold over twenty million copies so far. They are currently working on Halo Wars and it looks like it’ll be a damn fine RTS.
They’re closing because they inhabit a space Microsoft doesn’t care about any more: the PC. Even though Halo Wars will ship on the 360, Microsoft doesn’t consider Ensemble a console developer, like Lionhead or Rare. Another problems is that Ensemble is huge now – over three hundred employees. Microsoft just doesn’t want to pay upkeep on such a large PC studio no matter how many copies future Ensemble games sell; it’s just not part of Microsoft’s strategy.
The result is that Tony Goodman, who was one of the founders of Ensemble, has already founded a new company and sent out invites to some of the current Ensemble employees to join it as soon as Halo Wars ships. We don’t know the new company’s name yet; right now it’s just being called “Newco”. Other people not invited to join Newco may be able to get jobs at other studios in the Microsoft Games family, but I’m sure there will be some people to whom neither are these offers are extended and, well, it sucks to be them.
Now, Newco’s first game will almost certainly be for the PC, and it’ll almost certainly be published by Microsoft. But Microsoft won’t be paying the light bill or the gravity bill at Newco and thus will be insulated from its possible failure. But this is the type of thing you do to a studio that has lost you money, not made you money. Unless there’s something in Ensemble’s financials that I don’t know about, it seems that Microsoft is throwing away money just so they can “consolidate their business plan”. I can’t help but wonder if they would do the same thing if the company involved were Blizzard.
Well, rest in peace, Ensemble. Once I purchase Halo Wars I’ll have bought every single game you ever produced.