The video game community continues to discuss the downsizing of developer Irrational Games following the shocking news last week. The studio responsible for the critically-acclaimed BioShock and BioShock Infinite no longer exists in its original form — only Creative Director/Co-founder Ken Levine and 15 other employees remain.
According to a post on the company’s official website, Levine emphasizes creativity as the key reason for the sudden downsize. More specifically, he states, “my passion has turned to making a different kind of game than we’ve done before.” Does that mean Ken Levine is responsible for 100+ people losing their jobs?
The reaction to this falls into two central categories. Some people view Levine as a villainous auteur who essentially fired good employees because of his own creative endeavors. Others focus more on the future of Irrational Games, and how Levine has the freedom to “make narrative-driven games for the core gamer that are highly replayable,” as Levine states in his post.
I find myself torn between what seem like both rational and irrational reactions. I should feel bad for all those people who lost their jobs because of the decision, and I do in fact feel that way. They helped craft BioShock Infinite, one of my favorite games of 2013. And yet those employees had little time to celebrate the success of the game.
At the same time, I consider myself a fan of Ken Levine. As the creative director of Irrational Games, he plays a pivotal role in shaping the BioShock universe and its key themes and morals. Just by listening/watching a few interviews, it becomes obvious that Levine puts his creative stamp on all of Irrational Games’ projects. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t interested in seeing how that translates to smaller, downloadable releases.
A whole other layer reveals itself when we consider what Levine didn’t say in his post on the company’s site. There could easily be more going on behind the scenes with the developer’s publisher, Take-Two Interactive. Although BioShock Infinite sold well, it probably didn’t sell enough to justify the game’s lengthy development cycle. Perhaps Levine was presented with an ultimatum in which he had to choose the lesser of two evils. Obviously this is speculation, but it’s not a stretch when we consider how cutthroat the video game industry can be at times.
Nevertheless, I’m left with the same conflicted feelings. It creates an interesting dynamic in which I recognize the value of the collective effort and the auteur. There’s something oddly appealing about the idea of a single figure who makes the creative decisions — it gives a piece of entertainment an internal consistency, much like a well-written novel. But video games are not created by single individuals, and that holds even more weight.