Yesterday, we were told that Microsoft Games Studios had taken the decision to close Ensemble, long-time custodians (and creators) of the Age of Empires series. The rank and file were to be absorbed (where possible) into other MGS studios, while the Ensemble leadership left and formed a new studio. And hey, at face value, that's what happened. But comments made today by Microsoft's Shane Kim have thrown up an additional piece of information. According to Edge, "Kim made clear that this new studio was to be an independent entity not owned by Microsoft, and that it was a venture being taken by the heads of Ensemble". This venture, while independent, would have an "ongoing relationship" with Microsoft. Which would, as disclosed yesterday, involve looking after Halo Wars post-release. But what about Age of Empires?
Just like Bungie with Halo, the newly-independent, ex-Ensemble studio doesn't own the Age of Empires IP. Microsoft do. And here are Microsoft, talking about an "ongoing relationship" with the new team despite thier new-found independence. So all that's really happened is that Ensemble has been "closed", while the brains (and surely most of the brawn as well) set up a new studio, one that will be given the chance to work on their own stuff if they want, but will also be tethered to Microsoft. Just like Bungie with Halo.
As it stands, Microsoft aren't saying much more, only wishing to "reassure you that Microsoft will still own the Age of Empires intellectual property". Phew, for a second we'd worried you'd lost it behind the couch! They're also saying "stay tuned" for news on the future of the franchise. If the new, ex-Ensemble studio isn't part of that future, I'll be very surprised.