Irrational Games Is Closing Down and Laying Off Employees

The creators of Bioshock are “winding down” to focus on something smaller.

Bioshock Image via Irrational Games

Bioshock Image via Irrational Games

The creators behind a popular first-person shooting game are “winding down” the company and getting rid of all but 15 employees as they venture into new gaming territory.

In a letter posted on Quincy-based Irrational Games’ website on Tuesday, the company’s creative director and writer of Bioshock Infinite, Ken Levine, wrote that it was time to refocus his efforts on a “smaller, more entrepreneurial endeavor,” leaving many of his developers and video-game employees behind.

“Seventeen years is a long time to do any job, even the best one. And working with the incredible team at Irrational Games is indeed the best job I’ve ever had. 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 small team means “parting ways” with all but 15 current employees at Irrational Games, known for its first-person Bioshock series, which weaves players through a dystopian-like landscape and tests their morals in compromising situations.

In his letter, Levine said there is “no good way” to lay people off, and because of that, he’s offering support to those that will no longer work for him moving forward.

“The staff will have access to the studio for a period of time to say their goodbyes and put together their portfolios,” Levine said in his public letter, noting that other studios within Take-Two’s umbrella will be on hand to discuss opportunities. Irrational Games will also host a recruiting day where outside studios and publishers can hold interviews with departing staff.

Levine said he would soon announce his new endeavors focusing on “narrative-driven games” that are “highly replayable,” and exclusively deliver digital content.

The news of layoffs comes as a bit of a surprise given Levine’s recent success with Bioshock Infinite, which was released in the spring of 2013 to rave reviews. It sold more than 4 million copies worldwide as of last July, and reaffirmed Levine’s spot on the podium as one of the more innovative game creators. BioShock has generated retail revenues of over a half billion dollars, and an expansion to Infinite is due out next month.

But the game’s production didn’t come without some trepidation. According to an earlier Boston report, getting Infinite out the door was a costly endeavor and included cuts to the original game concept. Staffers also walked away from the project.

“When the game was supposed to be released, the company announced that its launch date would be pushed back months, and the press reported that four employees in creative roles had left Irrational before the product was completed. Fans worried that the project might be borked, but their fears were allayed when the game finally launched in March 2013,” Boston reported in December. Since then, Levine’s creation has become one of the most celebrated games in the industry.

“If we’re lucky, we’ll build something half as memorable as BioShock,” Levine said of his new goals.

An email sent to Take-Two and Levine’s office was not immediately returned. The future of Bioshock’s franchise remains unclear, but as Levine stated in his letter, he has handed over the reins to 2K, the game’s publisher.

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  • jon albertson

    It’s Ken, not Kevin Levine