Yesterday afternoon, the landscape of the gaming industry drastically changed when Ken Levine made a formal announcement that Irrational Games would be laying off several of it’s employees and shifting its internal focus towards different content moving forward. While Levine never outright said that the BioShock Infinite development studio was shutting down for good, the general consensus floating around online is that this is indeed happening.
For the casual video game fan or consumer, there are still several lingering questions that remain unanswered in regards to how this all happened. Given the well-documented history of the studio and the game’s initial timeline, I felt the need to point out a few reasons why Irrational Games ended up where they are today.
First and foremost, development on BioShock Infinite originally began as early as 2008 and didn’t conclude until 2013. Throughout this span of time, Levine and his colleagues kept coming up with different variations on the concept and eventually decided to make Elizabeth an important part of the experience. While it is true that most games that undergo long development cycles can still turn out to be successful in the end, there is absolutely no denying that some gamers do tend to lose interest in these titles when they know that they are still far away from being released. A perfect example of this theory lies in Denis Dyack’s Too Human video game, which took 10 years to develop and eventually lead to the closing of Silicon Studios.
Another problem that certainly didn’t help Irrational Games was the numerous delays that BioShock Infinite experienced over the course of the last 2 years. These setbacks were often the result of either internal changes in direction or the departures of important employees in key roles. Development didn’t really get back on track until Irrational brought on former Gears of War producer Rod Fergusson to lead the charge. While the finished product still turned out to be great from start to finish, these highly publicized development problems could have easily made people even more cautious of the game if they weren’t already.
The third and final reason why Irrational Games went out of business has to do with the overall sales of BioShock Infinite. While Take-Two reported on being happy with how well the game did sell in a short period of time, the fact remains that they were already deep in debt thanks to all of the time, money, and resources that were already invested into the project. Going back to the delays theory, if BioShock Infinite was released in 2012 as opposed to 2013 then it would have most likely gotten even more attention and sales without having to compete with blockbuster titles like The Last of Us and GTA V in the same year.
Studio closures happen regularly in this industry, so this news wouldn’t appear to be quite as shocking or important to the casual gamer. However, when the studio that closes is the developer of a 2013 game of the year contender, this is especially surprising and delivers a brutal blow to any and everyone affected by video games today. While Levine will opt to scale back his resources and production, you can’t help but question how this will impact his projects moving forward. The BioShock creator has been known for tackling ambitious ideas head-on and leaving no stone left unturned when working on big budget projects. Perhaps it will be good for him to have a smaller canvas to work with, but you still can’t help but wonder what could have been if BioShock Infinite never encountered the public problems that it did.