Bruce Shelley is an industry legend. Helped Sid Meier make Civilization, created Age of Empires, then joined Ensemble. Now, though, Ensemble are gone. And Shelley is trying to explain why that happened.
Taking the stage at this year's DICE get-together in Vegas, Shelley's address was devoted to pondering aloud how a studio that had only ever made highly-acclaimed games would be shut down. And while he doesn't settle on a single, over-arching thing that can be blamed, he does a good job of being honest and highlighting the flaws - both internally and at former owners Microsoft - that, combined, led to the studio's demise.
- Failure to diversify. Ensemble were responsible for many of the finest strategy titles ever developed. And... that's all they were responsible for. Strategy games don't make money like they used to.
- The studio grew too big. It had always employed around 40 people, and those 40 were a close-knit team. But as the years progressed, staff numbers swelled to around 75, meaning that much of that strong feeling was diluted.
- Two major projects the company were working on - one the Halo MMO - were canned by Microsoft. Yet after they were canned, Ensemble didn't downsize, which would have increased overhead and may have contributed to Microsoft's decision to let the studio go.
You know what it sounds like to us? This is like when you see a couple who have been married for 20-30 years get divorced, and there wasn't any one thing you could blame. Nobody slept around, nobody hit anybody, they just... grew apart. Weren't as right for each other as they once were.
There doesn't always have to be a reason.