A Message From Ken Levine

by IG.Ken on February 18 2014

26 comments

When Jon Chey, Rob Fermier and I founded Irrational Games seventeen years ago, our mission was to make visually unique worlds and populate them with singular characters.

We built Rapture and Columbia, the Von Braun and The Rickenbacker, the Freedom Fortress and some of the nastiest basements a SWAT team ever set foot into. We created Booker and Elizabeth, the Big Daddy and the Little Sister, MidWives and ManBot. In that time, Irrational has grown larger and more successful than we could have conceived when we began our three-person studio in a living room in Cambridge, MA. It’s been the defining project of my professional life.

Now Irrational Games is about to roll out the last DLC for BioShock Infinite and people are understandably asking: What’s next?

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. 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.

I am winding down Irrational Games as you know it. I’ll be starting a smaller, more entrepreneurial endeavor at Take-Two. That is going to mean parting ways with all but about fifteen members of the Irrational team. There’s no great way to lay people off, and our first concern is to make sure that the people who are leaving have as much support as we can give them during this transition.

Besides financial support, the staff will have access to the studio for a period of time to say their goodbyes and put together their portfolios. Other Take-Two studios will be on hand to discuss opportunities within the company, and we’ll be hosting a recruiting day where we’ll be giving 3rd party studios and publishers a chance to hold interviews with departing Irrational staff.*

What’s next?

In time we will announce a new endeavor with a new goal: 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.

When I first contemplated what I wanted to do, it became very clear to me that we were going to need a long period of design. Initially, I thought the only way to build this venture was with a classical startup model, a risk I was prepared to take. But when I talked to Take-Two about the idea, they convinced me that there was no better place to pursue this new chapter than within their walls. After all, they’re the ones who believed in and supported BioShock in the first place.

Thanks to Irrational and 2K’s passion in developing the games, and the fans who believe in it, BioShock has generated retail revenues of over a half billion dollars and secured an iconic place in gaming. I’m handing the reins of our creation, the BioShock universe, to 2K so our new venture can focus entirely on replayable narrative. If we’re lucky, we’ll build something half as memorable as BioShock.

We will do our best to update an FAQ in this space as questions come in.

-Ken Levine
@iglevine

*If you’re a 3rd party interested in interviewing some of the best game developers in the world, please contact chris.bigelow@2k.com

Avatar Image Posted this February 18 2014 12:30 pm, under News
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News
  • budonasty | February 19, 2014 12:01 am

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    This was both shocking and sad to read. The end of an era.

    @IG.Ken
    I want to thank you for all the great memories that were given to me by the Bioshock universe throughout the many years. It has become my absolute favorite gaming franchise of all time. Obviously lol, since I don’t commit to any other forum or website except this one.

    As a fan, I am grateful for all that has been given to me. All the fun, all the memories. I am happy to hear that 2K will continue to produce more Bioshock games in the future.

    But most of all Ken, I wish to congratulate you and tip my hat off to you. I could tell that your core focus has always been for gamers, by gamers. That this is a true passion for you and your team. I am happy to see that all the success didn’t go too much to anyone’s head. Historically, that is usually when people lose themselves.

    I am glad that you are returning to your roots, following your heart, and simplifying. There is wisdom in doing this and I am sure that this will lead to true and enduring success. I look forward to whatever comes out in the distant future. As a fan, I will stand behind you and your team no matter what, as I am sure whatever you guys come up with will be well worth the wait. Best of luck to you all !! :)

    -Eric-

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  • epifire | February 19, 2014 1:19 am

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    I’ll restrain from bombarding your Twitter Ken, as I’m sure you’ve been getting overloaded with messages over the past 24hrs. I’d been pressing onto becoming a game dev for the past four years, and naturally it’s been a passion of mine. The work both you and your team have done has been (if I wont sound too cliche by saying it) permanently view altering for me. In both a deep and personal way Bioshock has had a great impact on me that’ll leave an impression on me for the years to come.

    I used to think games were to remain nothing more than cheap entertainment, but your work showed me otherwise. I was blown away by the amount of care taken in creating both an emotionally compelling story, but also an environment that had such a high standard to suspend our belief in the presented world. I don’t see this industry the same way I did a year ago, thanks to you and all the hard work and risks you and the team has taken.

    I was devastated to hear about the company being shutdown when I found out this morning, but after giving it much thought I greatly respect your decision. It’s been hard to process all this as it’s come as such a shock given the timing, and I’ve spent much of it wondering what the future holds for all the great work left behind.

    I’ve gone over countless times what I would have given to work under you on these titles, and I hope that someday I may have the privileged chance to join you on one of your future endeavors. All choked up typing this but all the same, this has all meant a lot to me. I congratulate you on this transition and I wish you the best. Here’s to the finest this industry has seen!

    -David Somers

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  • crabbier | February 19, 2014 2:52 am

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    To all of you at Irrational Games,

    First and foremost, thank you.

    Thank you for Bioshock and Bioshock: Infinite. Thank you for Rapture and Columbia, for Ryan and Comstock, for Booker and Elizabeth. Thank you for telling stories. Deeply human stories. Stories that make me feel wonder and excitement, tragedy and hope, regret and redemption. Thank you for giving me an opportunity to explore worlds I would have never dreamed of, worlds overflowing with personality and character.

    Hell, the Battleship Bay sequence conveyed more narrative and exposition than most games (and even some films) can manage throughout their entire length. And you accomplished all of that without the use of voice-overs or narrators or long-winded explanations. Instead, the world was let to speak for itself. So thank you for placing that faith in us, the gamer. Thank you for encouraging us to come to our own conclusions and interpretations. Thank you for allowing us the freedom to find our own meaning in the worlds you created.

    For me that meaning came in little moments: finding a doll in an abandoned stroller; hearing the anguish of a Little Sister mourning her Big Daddy; exploring an ice cream shop in Soldier’s Field; watching Elizabeth open a tear to see “The Revenge of the Jedi” in theaters. Those moments invested me in the world, and in the smallest characters and pieces of that world. Don’t even get me started at how long and how fervently I debated the ending of Infinite with friends and family!

    You all are true artists. I sincerely hope this letter does not come across as too pandering, considering I just counted how many “thank you’s” I’ve thrown in…but I’ve meant every word. It sucks to see my favorite game studio close, and while Bioshock may live on, you’ve set the bar so very high. I just wanted to let you all know you’ve made some freaking awesome games and how exceptional I feel they are. And thanks for the massive amount of fun I’ve had along the way!.

    I’m so looking forward to the games that you all are going to work on in the years to come. Each one of you.

    I wish you the best!

    Shane

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  • andrewlb | February 19, 2014 7:26 am

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    As a huge Bioshock fan I just wanted to say how unexpected and shocking this announcement is. Everyone always talks about how they’re going to end things once they’re at the top of their game, and after the massive success of 2013’s game of the year, Infinite…. Irrational is clearly at that level.

    The problem is…

    NOBODY EVER VOLUNTARILY DOES THIS!!!

    hmm…

    You did name the studio “irrational games” though… And the minds who came up with Little Sisters, Big Daddy’s, and Splicers are clearly on a level of creativity and brilliance that most of us would never comprehend.

    I wish you all the best in your future endeavors, and to everyone who lost their Job, the best of luck to you.

    edit:/

    btw… this doesn’t have anything to do with this stupid health care law and it’s 50 employee limit does it? I’m just asking because I know of two local SoCal companies who are breaking apart for exactly that reason.

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  • cjwolfer | February 19, 2014 8:49 am

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    Congratulations guys, What you guys have done to the gaming industry has been phenomenal. I don’t have the time to really write out a long a detailed message but in short Thank you, Best of luck in your future endeavors.

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  • felonious | February 19, 2014 8:57 am

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    Thanks Irrational for all your hard work in making some amazing games. It was great to meet many of you at the I.G parties. I wish all of you nothing but the best in what you all decide to do in the future.

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  • spata | February 19, 2014 9:50 am

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    Such a mixed reaction to this news. On one hand it’s incredibly sad knowing that Irrational is going away (or at least not going to be the same), having delivered some of my favorite games and environments I’ve ever experienced. In that respect, this is hard to take.

    On the other, it is somewhat exciting, knowing that Ken and his team are going to focus 100% on what they want to do/create. There are very few devs/writers that I have complete faith in when it comes to future projects, but Ken is definitely one of them. Change/unknown can always be scary, but I look forward to the experience this new team will bring to us.

    If I had one wish, it’s that while we know these will be story driven, I hope they can continue to deliver the incredible world/atmosphere/environment we’ve all come to know and love. IMO, that’s one thing that has set BioShock so far apart from some of the other great games out there. Best of luck to all of you, and thanks for all the great memories.

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  • michaelmknight | February 19, 2014 11:00 am

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    I also with to thank you for all the games you have created and I have played. My son wanted me to ask Ken a question.

    We purchased the Bioshock Infinite Season Pass and there is still one remaining item to be added to the DLC (BURIAL AT SEA – EPISODE 2). Will this be available or do we need to be refunded for an incomplete product?

    Thanks again.

    M Knight.

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    • robertbloom | March 30, 2014 5:16 am

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      I don’t know if you ever got an answer to this but Burial at Sea Episode 2 was released a couple days ago and you should have access to it on/through whatever platform you purchased the season pass. I encourage you to play it.

      (I am not affiliated with Irrational Games, just offering some info).

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  • sneckygreed | February 19, 2014 11:54 am

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    Thank you for everything, it is everything i want to say.

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  • biccspudding | February 19, 2014 12:02 pm

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    I posted this in the forums as well, but here it goes:

    Having read various games’ forums after the news I can say I will voice the reaction of many here.

    I was glad to hear about Levine’s new project, but was flabbergasted at the shutdown of this studio. Putting BioShock aside and wanting to do something new is understandable but not at this expense. I simply cannot uderstand why he didn’t just move on with his 15 chosen people and let Irrational have other projects under 2K’s wings. They are one of the most well-loved and respected developers both among gamers and critics. To let go of such a talented, hardworking group that poured their hearts into their products is a sin.

    Ken, I love you, I really do. But you lost your credibility as a responsible employer in my eyes. You couldn’t have achieved the kind of success you had without them. And this is how they get repaid. I looked up to you, but I’m not sure what to think of you anymore.

    To the Irrational Staff:

    You are and will always be my favourite developers, and the only ones I ever respected in the gaming industry. You didn’t simply make games. You made experiences. What you created was unique and will never be truly replicated. You made a difference and changed the way many of us look at games. The future of the gaming industry just became a lot less interesting and diverse. Your impact will never be forgotten.

    I wish all the luck for all your future endeavors and challenges.
    Thank you for making my favourite game experiences of all time and for changing the way I look at life itself. You will be sorely missed.

    Sincerely,
    a fan

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  • tartar | February 19, 2014 12:52 pm

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    Thank you for the series of games Bioshotsk, especially in the last Infinite. No game last 7-8 years has not caused such feelings of satisfaction as this. Especially thank you for such a lovely Elizabeth (rather its implementation AI). Luxury scenery, the plot. The most important thing for me thank you for that did not follow the “new fashion” do multiplayer part, and all the attention paid to single-user gameplay.
    Sad to read that the current composition of the intention to dismiss you, but I hope it will only benefit in the future. Very ask you not to fall for “newfangled” trends combine playing on different platforms (games of my opinion only lose), go on about something scheme ‘free-to-play’ and not succumb to create multiplayer projects (they kill the whole soul of the game).

    Sincerely, your games fan from Russia.

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  • erilas | February 19, 2014 1:19 pm

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    Muchas gracias por la saga de juegos Bioshok, no e jugado todas, pero espero con ansias poder jugar algún día Infinite.
    Espero que su nuevo comienzo sea el mas exitoso y obtengan un renombre igual o mayor que el que obtuvieron con esta compañía, creo que lo lograran ya que lograron poner la saga de Bioshok por enésima de varias que llevan varios años intentando sobrevivir a la multitud de secuelas para obtener un poco de éxito; ustedes simplemente lo lograron con una excelente historia, unos personajes únicos y un buen estilo.

    Sinceramente un fan de Mexico

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  • losstarot | February 19, 2014 2:37 pm

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    It is sad news that even though Bioshock Infinite earned many proofs of recognition throughout the press media and players, its sales still didn’t meet the costs and sacrifices that were necessary so that the game could be deemed rentable.

    Such is the present state of videogames industry, a race for the better graphics, the best physical engine, the best score always trying to surpass what has been done before, and requiring more and more figures so that a studio doesn’t get closed.

    I’m offering to the IG staff my best wishes for the future. May they join new studios where creation and quality can meet without the crushing pressure of AAA budget games. Thank you for all those games you shaped, they had this unique feeling that can only performed by craftsmen.

    As for Ken Levine’s new adventure, I can only wish him good luck in a more intimate space. May he remember that no matter a good plot, it should never prevail over game design, exploration, rythm. This is just a gamer’s humble opinion on the matter.

    Thank you Irrational Games. Fare thee well.

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  • borrego | February 19, 2014 3:38 pm

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    While working construction at a job I could only look at as a test of physical and mental endurance, Irrational’s development podcasts got me through. It helped keep my dreams alive as I used a jackhammer outside in the middle of Utah January weather, as my feet would lose all feeling.

    I don’t know the environment that is in place at any game studio, as I’ve never worked in one. But with the deep inspiration of the products created by Irrational, I’ve been driven enough to produce my own horror game that will be available on Steam this summer. We’ve worked on this with a very small team, and none of us live in the same location. It’s been a two year project that is nearing completion. The interviews with Ken, the chance to attend the PAX parties, these were very key things in driving me to work on this game. I can say that it is very well shaping up to become a product that I’m very proud of, because of its focus on storytelling. It’s called Enola, and many times I have referenced Irrational Games through its development. Including its title in this post is not a plug, it’s so I can prove that it actually exists.

    Huge thanks to you, Irrational Games. Huge thanks. I know I’m just some guy from Utah who probably looked like a complete nut job for flying out twice just for the chance to meet you. With that said, it was because of how you inspired me with the BioShock franchise, and how much it fueled my motivation to work on my own game. It meant a lot to me then, and always will.

    Rocking my “Dog in a Wheelchair” shirt,
    Nick

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  • joshimarston | February 19, 2014 3:54 pm

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    Thanks Irrational for all your masterpieces, I’m grateful for all that has been given to me as the greatest Italian fan that you have. Following your heart.. is a beautiful thing.. the right thing to do, EVER. Your games was more than videogames.. thanks for all the memories that you gives to me, indelible memories. Now you’re not a part of us only, you’re a chapter of history! YOU’RE A CHAPTER OF VIDEOGAME’S HISTORY! No words can describe my real feeling but I hope to be able to express my love for you and your work. As “biccspudding” said you will always be the only ones I ever respected in the gaming industry. I congratulate you for your results and I wish you the best because you all are true artists.. not only a developer. I really loved you IG. No, I STILL LOVING YOU FOREVER.

    -Daniel Garis

    Your biggest Italian fan from 2004.

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  • jillaman | February 20, 2014 12:29 am

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    Man this sad news. But Ken, you and Irrational Games gave the world two incredible games that we will never forget. Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite are masterpieces that pushed the fps genre forward in terms of gameplay and storytelling. I thank you for blessing us with those experiences, and I look forward to supporting you in your future endeavors! Good Luck and God Bless!

    -Carl J. (JILLAMAN)

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  • deadman1367 | February 20, 2014 1:46 am

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    Thank you Irrational Games for giving me my most memorable gaming moments ever, for inspiring my life, & influencing my passion. I wish the best of luck to all the unfortunate individuals that lost their wonderful jobs due to this shocking news.

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  • insectswarm | February 20, 2014 1:30 pm

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    This came out of nowhere. What the hell? this sucks. Well, good luck. Also whats going to happen to this site? Will there be a new one for the future project?

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  • hell | February 20, 2014 2:23 pm

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    Thank you Irrational Games for BioShock! What’s next? Maybe System Shock 3?

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  • czarking | February 20, 2014 10:44 pm

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    To everyone at Irrational,

    Regardless of what happens next you should all be proud of the games that you have made together. They are true works of art that have propelled the status of video games and raised the bar for future developers.

    Though this marks the end of Irrational I am sure that with your talents and creativity you will all succeed in your newest endeavours – whatever they may be.

    All the best to you & thank you for the memories.

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  • alestian | February 25, 2014 5:34 pm

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    I think Irrational is being irrational. They just created one of the greatest games in the history of video game history – Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite. Infinite took gaming to the next level. It emerged you into a story and into a new world. It introduced a new character, Elizabeth, that is now being cosplayed all over the world. They set a new and much higher bar for other gaming studios. But with all of this great success, they just end it all. They just give it all up. Instead of taking the bar that they set as a new standard for gaming and making themselves the new leaders in the video game market, they just close doors, lay off extremely talented people, and say goodbye. I’m incredible shocked. I think the idea to close doors after such a successful release is very stupid. But part of my frustration is because I am in love with Infinite and the world you created and the characters. I want more. I want comic books, novels, more DLCs, and new games that reel my mind and emotions in even more than Infinite did but now you won’t get the chance to do any of that because you are closing the doors. Most companies in this world would be working incredibly hard to take their gaming success to an even higher level but not Irrational. They just give up and go away. I’m very disappointed. I’m very shocked. Just as I got so into Infinite now you are taking it all away. I wish everyone who worked so hard to make Infinite a success all the best in the world because they deserve it. But I don’t think that the leaders of the company know what they are doing here or know what they have. But that’s their call. When you are tired you are tired. I’m just really sad to see it all come to an end when it was just getting good. I hope that another company sees the tremendous value in Columbia, Booker, and Elizabeth and buys the rights to it so that comics, novels, figures, DLCs, etc can be continued even if it is not by Irrational. As for Irrational, yes I think they are being irrational but that is the name of their company so maybe that is just how it is. I’m sorry to see you go. It was the worst news I have heard in a long time.

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  • maximus | February 28, 2014 2:26 pm

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    Thank you Irrational Games for BioShock and BioShock Infinite,they were my best games.

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  • rainbowdragon | March 15, 2014 7:42 am

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    my only worry is that if 2k release a sequel for the BioShock It won’t be as good as how you have made it

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  • ton9598 | March 29, 2014 3:48 pm

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    Well I’m happy that you are going back to what you came from, this is not always easy, especially if you are at the top of your game. Anyway, I would just like to thank you and your whole company / team for giving me the best hours of my life, the Bioshock franchise really blows off all of our minds and our experience of such stories you would never expect from a video game. We are all proud and happy for all your decisions and we respect it. Best of luck for your upcoming projects / works and “narratives”. We love you very much Irrational! :)

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  • robertbloom | March 30, 2014 5:44 am

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    Will the next studio be called Rational Games? :)

    I look forward to whatever you do next, and I’m happy to hear that you’re still interested in making narrative-driven experiences. The Bioshock games are some of my favorite games, and they are one of the best examples of the narrative happening almost entirely during play (rather than just cutscenes).

    If leaving behind Bioshock means leaving behind FPS, Plasmids/Vigors, and the man/lighthouse/city, I hope your next project still retains the fantastic art direction, immersive player perspective, and the engrossing stories.

    Thanks for the thrills.

    Wishing you success,
    Robert

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