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How 2K Killed Irrational Games By Anonymous

How 2K Killed Irrational GamesBy Anonymous

I am a life long video game developer. I worked for Irrational Games before they were a part of 2K. I also worked for them during their time with 2K, and I even worked with them as they shut down the final reminiscence of what used to be Irrational Games. This is my story:

Before 2K Gamess involvement with Irrational Games, Irrational made titles such as Freedom Force, Tribes Vengeance, SWAT 4 and System Shock 2. These games were published through Sierra/EA/Vivendi on a standard independent studio milestone-based contract. The two studios (Boston and Canberra) were remarkably well managed and we were always paid on time. We had a great culture and we loved making great games. We also shared projects back and forth between the studiosBoston and Canberra both had very talented developers on their teams and they trusted each other by alternating lead project roles between the two studios.

In July 2005 (although made public in Jan 2006) Take-Two Interactive bought Irrational Games. Irrational had been shopped out to SEGA, Take-Two Interactive and a few other publishers. Irrational needed to move away from independencemoney was getting too tight and the independent studio model was collapsing around the world at the time. 2K made the best offer and promised hands-off support for our titlesthis meant they would provide us with the money and resources to run the Boston and Canberra studios to build a hit game (BioShock!), as well as provide marketing and publishing support. We were then left to our own devices to do what we do bestmake kick-ass games. This proved to be the case for the first BioShock game. 2K kept mostly out of it. And we made them a boat-load of cash.

In August 2007 when BioShock was released: Irrational Games was renamed to 2K Boston and 2K Australiaa move by HQ to try and associate the 2K brand name with the pending Bioshock series. [2] We didnt mindthey bought usthey could rename usthat was fair. While we were sad to say goodbye to the name Irrational, we were also proud to be a part of 2K Games.

BioShocka joint venture between 2K Boston (lead studio) and 2K Australia (support studio) was released to world wide critical acclaim. The game did amazingly well and we were all very proud of what we did. We were one happy team back then and some of my best memories with 2K are from this time period. They, after all, had given us the money and the marketing to make this the success it waswe helped each otherand together we succeeded.

Shortly after BioShock was released, rumours arose that many of the staff who had worked on the game were leaving 2K Boston/Australia. In 2007, five members of the 2K Boston team moved to a new 2K Games studio in Novato, California.[3] Soon after, 2K Games announced the formation of 2K Marin in Novato.[4]

2K Marins first project was the PS3 port of BioShock. After the successful completion of this project (with the help of 2K Australias tech team), 2K Marin was given the green-light for BioShock 2. Again with the help of 2K Australia in a support role, 2K Marin created the highly successful BioShock 2 along with highly ranked DLC such as Minervas Den.

In January 2010 Boston took control of its own destiny and renamed itself back to Irrational Games, although, 2K Australia was again renamedand this time by HQ to 2K Marin, Australia. HQ wanted to take power from 2K Australia and this was one of the ways they did it. The XCOM project was handed to 2K Marin and Australia was told to follow their lead. 2K HQ wanted to try their hand at game developmentthis was their chance.

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified absolutely tanked. In October 2013 after the release of the game, 2K Marin was blamed for the blunder and closed. 2K Australia was also going to be shut down at this time but Ken Levine saved the dayAustralia even got their old 2K Australia name back when they moved onto a BioShock Infinite support role at Ken Levines request.[5]

Unfortunately this still cost half the Australian studioBioShock Infinite could simply not take all the employees. However, with the help of what was left of the 2K Australia studioagain in its position as a support roleBioShock Infinite went on to be yet another a critically acclaimed title.

On February 18, 2014 it was announced by Ken Levine via an open letter posted on the Irrational Games website that the vast majority of the studio would be laid off, with all but fifteen members of the staff losing their positions.[6]

Basically what had happened was that Ken had been pushed past his limits with the stress of running BioShock Infinitethe team was so huge and unwieldy that he wanted to go back to basics and build a game with a skeleton crew like in the old days. He basically tried to quit, but 2K said no, dont go, you can do whatever you wantjust stay with us. [7]

2K should have managed that situation better. If you have a big team who work well together in Boston, why not put a new studio head at the top and keep the team together? It could still be called Irrationalit would still have the majority of the original staff. Then Ken could go and do his thing, and everyone else could continue to do theirsyou knowmaking successful games for 2K

But I digress After BioShock Infinite, Boston was disbanded but 2K Australia picked up an exciting new projectThe Borderlands Pre-Sequel. The Borderlands Pre-Sequel was developed with a skeleton team of 40 people at 2K Australia in just 18 months, and went on to sell 1.7 million units [8], plus significant DLC sales.

The reward for being profitable from HQ was subsequently closing the Australian studio down in April 2015, with the official reason being: It is no longer economical for 2K to run game development operations in Australia. [9] You mean no longer economical to run a team of 40 developers paid significantly less than their American counterparts, who just sold 1.7 million units after an 18 month production cycle? That makes precisely zero sense, but we were told not to worry about it because developers just dont understand how the games business works.

2K HQ was very keen on relocating staff to the more expensive Novato office to add to their 150+ person strong Hanger 13 studio. Hanger 13 spent many years and many 10s of millions of dollars creating Mafia III which has recently tanked in reviews and has no hope of ever making its money back (it needs to sell ~8 million full price units to make up for its expenses, it has so far sold well under 1 million units).

It seems as though even CEO Strauss Zelnick cant keep up with the studios opening and closing and changing namesIn May 2014, Strauss stated that 2K Marin would be working on future BioShock titles.[10] Umm, what? 2K Marin had already been closed for over 6 months at that point! He must be confusedI dont blame him for not keeping up considering the amount of shutting down, streamlining and renaming his little 2K headquarters has done.

Lets just take a quick look at the titles we made here: Games worked on by 2K Boston/2K Marin/2K Australia: [8]

BioShocksold 5 million unitsBioShock 2sold 4 million unitsBioShock Infinitesold 4.3 million unitsThe Bureau: XCOM Declassifiedsold 0.5 million unitsBorderlands: The Pre-Sequelsold 1.7 million units

There is no doubt that in this list, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is the black sheepit did poorly and lost money. With that said, there are 4 games here that were hugely profitableand every single studio responsible for these games no longer exists.

Instead the studios were dismantled, one way or another, by 2K. Is this really how a studio acquisition is supposed to go? Pay millions for a talented independent studio, let the people make you giant profits for a decade, and then shut all those people out of jobs before they get the chance to make you more money? Sounds like grave management incompetence to me.

By the way, does anyone know why XCOM tanked? I knowI was there: It is because out of the above titles, it is the only title where 2K HQ felt obliged to get their hands dirty with the development. They turned the product around several times for reboots, and completely took creative control out of the hands of the developers, even going so far as to change the name of the lead studio to 2K Marin, Australiajust so the Australian studio knew they were no longer in charge.

Perhaps this is why Mafia III and Evolve also lost so much money. 2K HQ doesnt seem to be afraid to try out their artistic streakeven if it costs the shareholders hundreds of millions of dollars, costs the jobs of hundreds of developers, and costs the reputation of 2K as an employer.

The only reason why 2K can be so incompetent and afford to make all of these mistakes is because they have studios like Firaxis (Civilization 6) and Visual Concepts (NBA 2K17) churning out gold for them year after yearwithout HQ interference. If 2K headquarters decided to stick their fingers into those pies, the publisher would be at serious risk of going entirely out of commission.

I know dozens of great engineers, artists and designers who will NEVER work for 2K again after essentially having their livelihoods destroyed by the company. 2K should do what they do beststay in the business and marketing side of things. If they would keep their dirty mittens out of development and away from subsequently shutting down talented studios as a scapegoat for their leadership failuresthey would be doing a lot better today.

From the original purchase date of Irrational Games in July 2005, it took less than 10 years for 2K to snuff out the final employees that made up what was Irrational Games. With over 15 million units sold and the invention of the new series that will live in the gaming hall of fame that is BioShock, one can only pose the questionhow is this a sound management strategyand why would a publisher do this?

Some people have asked me why I wrote this, and what do I stand to gain from writing such a piece. The truth is that Irrational Games was more than a job to most of us. It was our lives. Certainly at the time I dedicated myself to the company because I (perhaps naively) thought I was changing the world. Irrational Games had that power over peoplewe were talented, young, inspired and Sure we were naive toobut that is also what made us so great. We were naive enough to attempt the impossibleand while it damned near killed us at times we pulled it off.

We didnt give a damn, and we made games with our heart, mind and soul. It was a terrible thing to be broken apart, and something that one doesnt just get over when they find a new job.

This letter is closure for me. I am now telling you I didnt work for 2K. I worked for Irrational Games. 2K will never have me, or my friends back. They destroyed our livelihoods and they dont get a second chance at doing that again.

Finally, you dont get to publish your press release with your version of events for it all to be forgotten. This is a letter from a developer about what you did to us. This is a letter from Irrational Games.



1. Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc. Acquires Irrational Games; Acclaimed Developer Joins 2Ks Roster of Development Studios. Take-Two Interactive press release. January 9, 2006.

2. Irrational Games Renamed 2K Boston and 2K Australia. BusinessWire. August 10, 2007.

3. Q&A: Ken Levine talks BioShock, reminisces about X-Com. GameSpot. March 20, 2009.

4. Take-Two confirms 2K Marin. GameSpot. December 17, 2007.

5. Report: 2K Canberra Renamed Back To 2K Australia, Working On Bioshock Infinite. Gamasutra. November 25, 2011.

6. A Message From Ken Levine. Irrational Games, 18th February, 2014.

7. Inside the Making of BioShock Series With Creator Ken Levine. Rolling Stone. September 14, 2016.

8. All sales figures in this piece are taken from:

9. 2K Australia In Canberra Closes Its Doors. Kotaku. April 16, 2015.

10. BioShock is not dead, future titles will be developed by 2K Marin. VG24/7. May 30, 2014.

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