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March 14, 2010

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Paul Bettner of NewToy says Ensemble demise due to company culture

News is spreading around that Paul Bettner an ex Ensemble programmer has had a bit of a “rant” at the GDC explaining that Ensemble Studios should not of blamed Microsoft for the studios closure and should instead look at failings with the company culture at Ensemble Studios. In what has proven to be such a shock read from an ex-Ensemble employee which certainly damages the excellent working environment Ensemble was credited for he says:

“The reality is that every single game we shipped took twice as long as we said it was going to take, and cost twice as much to make.

“Microsoft is a public company, they answer to their shareholders, and we were simply too expensive.”

Ouch.

But wait, theres more:

“Ensemble had a company culture where everyone was a workaholic, developers worked late and slept at the office, and were addicted to the rush of success of the Age of Empires series.

I watched this happen and I did almost nothing to stop it. As an employee, and later as a manager, I didn’t take a stand. I just kept hoping for that next high”

“This is a horrible vicious cycle. We burn out all our best people. We destroy these precious artists, we wreck their families and we sacrifice their youth. So they leave, and they take all their experience with them.”

Some pretty shocking comments there which resulted in huge applause from the GDC audience, perhaps with other developers agreeing that there is way too much pressure in the industry with these “crunching” hours.

This is the first time we have had an Ensemble Studios employee almost attack the way the company was managed but we must remember on the other end of the scale that alot of people stuck with Ensemble once the studio was told it would be closed down and ironically Dave and Paul Bettner were one of the first employees to leave and start NewToy before Halo Wars was completed.

These are one mans comments and do not reflect the thoughts of the whole studio. 45 employees followed Tony Goodman to start up Robot Entertainment so there must of been confidence in the highest management. Perhaps lessons have been learnt about crunching hours and the new Ensemble startups are paying closer attention to how staff are looked after and how studios are run to ensure talent does not leave whilst at the same time balancing budget and hitting milestones. Now with studios like Robot and Bonfire being fully independent there may be less pressure to meet publisher demands, hopefully.

Source: http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/crunch-culture-killed-ensemble-studios

Sidenote:

It should also be noted that Robot Entertainment sponsor the International Game Developers Association and therefore stands by the values and principles behind the IGDA “Quality of Life” white paper. If there were any issues at Ensemble these should now have been addressed with the management at Robot Entertainment. Robot Chief Operating Officer, Patrick Hudson comments on the IGDA website:

Robot Entertainment is proud to support the IGDA in its ongoing mission to make the game development community a better environment for all of us.

This comment is not related or a response to the Paul Bettner discussion and has been present on the IGDA website for quite some time prior.

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Related posts:

  1. Paul Bettner: Newtoy to become a “Nintendo of the iPhone”
  2. Paul Bettner responds to Ian Fischers open letter via Joystiq
  3. Paul and David Bettner leave Zynga

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