BioShock Studio Irrational Games Is Shutting Down

BioShock Studio Irrational Games Is Shutting Down

Irrational Games, the studio that makes BioShock, is shutting down. BioShock creator Ken Levine said today that he plans to move on to smaller, narrative-heavy games that will be released digitally.

Levine, who ran Irrational, announced the news on the Irrational Games website today, noting that he’ll be starting “a smaller, more entrepreneurial endeavour at Take-Two” and laying off all but 15 people.

“While I’m deeply proud of what we’ve accomplished together, my passion has turned to making a different kind of game than we’ve done before,” Levine wrote. “To meet the challenge ahead, I need to refocus my energy on a smaller team with a flatter structure and a more direct relationship with gamers. In many ways, it will be a return to how we started: a small team making games for the core gaming audience.”

The troubled development of BioShock Infinite was no secret — Levine’s latest game was an expensive production, affected by multiple delays and scrapped features, which might explain his new focus.

Levine’s new goal, as he wrote today: “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.”

Irrational’s final project will be part 2 of the BioShock Infinite: Burial at Seadownloadable content, which is out next month. We’ve reached out to Take-Two for comment, and for more details on the future of the BioShock franchise.


  • What the shit? If I had bought the Season Pass I’d be right pissed right now.
    The article doesn’t say that part 2 will be the end of the Season Pass content, of course, but knowing that all future content would be handled by, nay, passed onto another company must surely not sit well.

    • The season pass was only for 3 DLCs:
      Clash in the Clouds
      Burial at Sea – Episode 1
      Burial at Sea – Episode 2

    • It says that Irrational’s final product will be part 2, implying that the layoffs will be after the release.

  • Narrative Heavy games? Why not join Naughty Dog or Sony Santa Monica, and work on a new IP there.

    • Because you missed the ‘smaller’ in “smaller, narrative-heavy games that will be released digitally.”

      • I meant more in the spirit of collaboration, like Giant Sparrow or ThatGameCompany and their collaborative efforts with SSM, but really, Ken Levine’s reputation is such that he could literally join those studios and command a small team and do whatever the f*ck he wants.

    • Also because Naughty Dog aren’t narrative heavy, they’re set piece heavy. They craft they’re story around the gameplay scenes they want to make, whereas it seems Levine has a much more traditional way of building his narratives.

      • That was the definitely the case with Uncharted, but I don’t believe that’s true for the Last of Us. The Last of Us was built around the story first, to the point where there are playable scenes in the game which originally where going to be pre-rendered cinematics, just to tell the story, and where only changed to be playable much later in development.

        Interestingly, the original BioShock was completely built from the gameplay up, with the narrative layered on and adapted to the gameplay. Originally there were no Little Sisters and Big Daddies, just the protect and harvest mechanic, and if memory serves me the little Sisters were originally a bug like creature (? can’t find a source).

        But from playing through Bioshock infinite, it is pretty clear that the narrative was the priority, and the gameplay suffers massively because of that… but what a narrative!

        • Its funny because I had a huge amount more fun playing Uncharted vs The Last of Us.

          In games being narrative heavy doesn’t always equate to more fun and often they will use a good narrative to carry a sub par game. (The last of us as a game was Competent, I mostly just mean in general)

          • Yeah I understand what you mean, but for me personally I enjoyed The Last of Us more because I really dug the narrative. I thought the gameplay was actually brilliant as well (I love stealth + high stakes gameplay).

            I loved the set pieces in Uncharted, but one thing that constantly bothered me was how “gamey” the shooting was. Bang bang bang bang, popping constantly spawning bullet sponges, those are the parts I enjoyed the least. When I killed somebody in The Last of Us, I could almost believe it was a real, fleshed out NPC living in this world, and not just enemy goon clone #752. Some of my favourite parts of Uncharted were actually the slower sections without combat, where you could take in the environmental storytelling. I think they struck a good balance in The Last of Us.

            I love a good narrative, but I definitely agree that you can’t carry a poor game with narrative, I would say Bioshock Infinite is a good example of a game with a really interesting narrative being let down by a below average gameplay experience. I forced myself to finish that game just so I could complete the story, but it was a real chore at times. I know heaps of people loved it, but it just didn’t click with me at all.

  • I’m interested to see what they will eventually put out.
    I feel sorry for the people who got laid off though, that sucks. 🙁

  • Great, so instead of massive and epic full games, we get “indie” episodic adventures.

    If at any point they say “8 bit inspired graphics” I may weep.

    Not saying that indie games aren’t good, just that, if Bioshock’s cut scenes involved static Anime portraits of Booker and Elizabeth with text boxes you had to button mash through, it wouldn’t quite be the same.

  • Seems a bit ‘irrational’ to me… shutting down an entire studio because you got a new gig offered permanently at TakeTwo.

    • He already had a permanent gig at Take Two, since Take Two wholly owned Irrational Games. I doubt he could have made the decision to shut down the studio without their support, and it may have even been at their request.

  • So instead of appointing a new lead and just overseeing in his spare time he decides to shut the whole studio down. Costing many people their jobs. What a dick move. They could have started on new IP, doesn’t have to be bioshock.

    • I can totally agree with your comment. I don’t see the logic behind putting people out of work because he had some sort realisation that he wants to make smaller games.

      • Yeah, there’s not a lot of logic there, but I’m sure there’s more to this story than meets the eye. I doubt anyone in a position such as Ken Levine makes the choice to lay off that many people on a whim.

        • From speculation, this was a softer way for the company to lay off a lot of staff. When was the last time a company laid off a ton of people because of 1 creative person? Apple didn’t when Steve Jobs left for example

      • It is an incredibly competitive industry and with a lot of the cg and programming work heading over to china and india, I’d say it might be as easy as you think.

    • Yeah that was my first thought too.
      WTF man….. at least just sell the studio or hand the reigns over to someone else. Shutting it down because you want to move on, talk about ignoring your corporate responsibilities to your employees.

      Guess how many people will apply for jobs at the new company once they learn their boss is Ken Levine?

  • OR perhaps given that it was his company, he doesn’t want to ‘hand it off’ and watch them release Bioshock Infinite 2 under the Irrational Games logo and dick around a lot of gamers. I am sure if this is getting announced today it’s been in the works for months. I highly doubt the Irrational staff were unaware that this could happen, given that this is how the gaming industry works.

  • Cameron Lee from Bioware said it perfectly on twitter with 2 posts –
    My sympathies to everyone @IrrationalGames. You shouldn’t have a studio close for one guys aspirations.
    Right now the press release reads as “I wanted to do something else so I fired everyone”

  • Dayum! I hope they at least release game of the year/complete editions of Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite before they close up completely.

    While I know there is DLC, I’d prefer the DLC to be on disk so later generations of games can enjoy the complete game.

  • yes it sucks that people are losing their jobs, but if it means the end of Bioshock games, then good – not because I don’t enjoy them, but BECAUSE I enjoy them. I was worried they were going to turn it into some kind of yearly release cycle, like what they did to Assassin’s Creed.

    • It doesn’t mean that necessarily though. As Ken has said, Take Two own Bioshock so they may have another studio develop future Bioshock games.

      I’d love to have that promised, ethereal Bioshock game for the Vita, myself.

  • While I am excited to see the sort of narrative heavy games that Levine wants to produce, I am really dissapointed to hear this news. No other game has left me reeling like Bioshock and Infinite and I really respect the work that Irational do.

  • Godammit. This is stupid. Movie studios don’t need to do this every time somebody needs a change. People can move and shift position at different studios they don’t need to shut down and restructure at the drop of a hat.

  • I think this is what the industry will boil down to eventually. The time and expense required to develop a quality game like Bioshock Infinite is no longer as a cost effective method. According to IGN development of Infinite started at Irrational after the original Bioshock was released. Let’s assume they started Q4 2007. Infinite was released Q2 2013 and the DLC continued for another year after that. That’s a total of 6 and a half years spent developing Infinite.

    While it’s a great game, according to Wikipedia by July 2013 it had only moved 4 million units. Modern Warfare 2, the undisputed most popular FPS of last generation was developed in 2 years with barely any narrative and it sold 22 million units in the same amount of time. Modern Warfare 3 which was then also developed before Infinite was released managed to sell 6.5 million units in 24 hours and 26.5 million by Nov 2013.

    High quality – Long Development – Good single player narrative. Unfortunately the industry can only really support up to 2 of those 3 (sometimes it can only get 1 or 0 of those right for some releases) at a time to make a profitable game, and Ken Levine can see that.

    I look forward to more higher quality games with a good narrative, especially if they’re released more frequently at a presumably lower price.

    • Thanks for explaining. I think the key point he mentioned was ‘replayability’. I really enjoyed Bioshock but I wouldn’t play it again for years, as I’m doing with Deus Ex: HR now. Whereas, multiplayer games like TF2 or LoL, I play all the time and thus have taken more of my money over time.

      I have a feeling he’s eyeing off the Broken Age case study with envy..

    • 4 Million? That is remarkably bad, especially considering the huge amount of marketing and extremely long development time, I’m guessing they were hoping for at least double that. Considering that almost every gamer I spoke to has played this, I’m pretty surprised.

      • I believe those sales figures only include physical copies sold, you can bet your ass Infinite sold copious amounts of digital copies.

  • Wow. So, obviously he was waiting to finish Episode 2 before letting that info out. Hope the team can find a place in Take Two. Maybe they can make a SWAT 5 now?

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