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Maker of Video Game 'BioShock' to Shed All But 15 Employees

Creator Ken Levine's decision to cut the studio down to a 'smaller, more entrepreneurial endeavor' comes as something of a shock.
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Irrational Games, the Take-Two Interactive Software Inc. studio behind the popular and fascinatingly eerie BioShock series, is effectively closing up shop.

In a blog post on the on the game developer's website yesterday, co-founder and series creator Ken Levine announced plans to whittle the studio down to a core group of 15 employees.

While the new venture will still be part of Take-Two, Levine emphasized his desire to work with a smaller group in the veins of a classic startup model. Interestingly, Levine claimed that he initially wanted to build a venture in the classic startup model (it was "a risk I was willing to take," he wrote) but Take-Two convinced him otherwise.

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So what's next for the dramatically downsized venture? "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," Levine wrote." To foster the most direct relationship with our fans possible, we will focus exclusively on content delivered digitally."

The decision to downsize on the heels of an enormously lucrative run seems pretty, well, irrational. The BioShock series has made a reported $500 million in revenue, and the latest installment, BioShock Infinite, was both a commercial and critical success, coming in fourth on review aggregator Metacritic's list of the best reviewed games of 2013.

In response to Levine's post, one commenter wondered if there were additional undisclosed reasons for the "winding down."

But Levine is presenting his motivations as clear-cut, if highly unusual and more than a little counterintuitive: He wants to return his venture to its startup roots.

Related: How to Be a Gaming Entrepreneur

"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," he 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."

Although it remains unclear how many employees will ultimately lose their jobs, in his post, Levine promised that the company will provide financial support, as well as access to a recruiting day, for those who are let go.

And what's to come of the BioShock series? Levine is passing the reins on to Take-Two so he can tell a new story."If we're lucky, he concluded, "we'll build something half as memorable as BioShock."

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