Kim: We Still Believe in PC Games

Kim: We Still Believe in PC Games

On Tuesday, rumors swirled and were quickly confirmed that following the release of Halo Wars, Microsoft would close the venerable Ensemble Studios. But Microsoft corporate vice president of interactive entertainment Shane Kim says not to read too much into the studio’s demise, and that Age of Empires is safe.

The official announcement of Ensemble’s end stated that the studio was being closed purely for financial reasons. Kim stood behind this statement. “We want to spend the development dollars in other places, and not just related to content,” he told us. “It’s a long term business decision.”

Kim also explained that the reason the announcement was made so early—Ensemble will not be closed until Halo Wars ships in the first half of 2009—was for the benefit of the employees at Ensemble. “We wanted to give the employees as much notice of the decision as possible,” Kim stated, before going on to say that, “We are committed to helping them through this transition.”

Part of that transition includes the creation of a new studio by current Ensemble leadership. Kim made clear that this new studio was to be an independent entity not owned by Microsoft, and that it was a venture being taken by the heads of Ensemble. But the good news, according to Kim, is that “we will have an ongoing relationship with that new company.” While Kim chose not to go into further details, he did reiterate the statement from Tuesday saying that the new company was already devoted to the post-release support of Halo Wars. Such an agreement should help the new studio find its financial legs.

While Microsoft is losing the studio responsible for the successful PC franchise Age of Empires, “Microsoft continues to own Age of Empires.” Kim explains, “It is not losing Age of Empires itself. We’re still super excited for the potential for the franchise. The Windows gaming world continues to evolve, and we believe in the future of that property.”

Kim’s excitement behind Age of Empires is just one example of Microsoft’s commitment to first-party games for Windows, and Kim wanted to make very clear that even though Ensemble’s PC output has been very successful for the publisher, the death of the studio does not mean that Microsoft has lost faith in PC. Kim states unequivocally that there is “absolutely” a future in first-party Games for Windows software, and that gamers shouldn’t take the end of Ensemble to mean that there is any change in how Microsoft’s PC gaming strategy on a whole..

In the end, Kim says, “this [decision] really just is about headcount and financial resources.” But though the reasoning is purely fiscal, the simple fact is that Ensemble, a studio that helped define PC gaming for over a decade, will never make another PC game. It’s a significant end, and a cautionary tale for wholly-owned studios that, even when successful (Age of Empires III sold over two million copies), are never truly in charge of their destiny.