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BioShock creator Irrational Games is closing its doors

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BioShock Infinite (Credit: 2K Games)

Irrational Games, the developer of the hit games BioShock and BioShock Infinite, is calling it quits.

Ken Levine, head of the studio, announced the stunning news Tuesday, saying all but 15 employees would be let go as he and a core team begin a "smaller, more entrepreneurial endeavor."

"Seventeen years is a long time to do any job, even the best one," Levine wrote. "And working with the incredible team at Irrational Games is indeed the best job I’ve ever had. 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. 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."

The studio’s flagship franchise, BioShock, is beloved by players and industry insiders, but its sales were never quite as high as expected. Levine says the BioShock series has generated retail revenues of over $500 million -- nothing to sneeze at -- but given the long development cycles of both BioShock and BioShock Infinite, insiders say the company had hoped for much stronger numbers. (Irrational was not responsible for development of BioShock 2.)

Considered one of gaming’s most creative forces, Levine has been the face of the studio since its inception. He says he intends to work on smaller games with a less complex hierarchy. And, he adds, he doesn't intend to sell his next game on retail shelves.

"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," he writes. "To foster the most direct relationship with our fans possible, we will focus exclusively on content delivered digitally."

Levine mentions in his note that he had planned to leave Take-Two to launch this venture, but the company convinced him to remain in-house. That's not as surprising as it might sound, given the value of Levine's name in the gaming world and the fact that six years ago, he and his representatives at Creative Artists Agency renegotiated his contract with the company.

While Levine and Irrational are now done with BioShock, don't expect the series to go away. Another unnamed 2K Games studio is expected to take over management of the franchise.

"I’m handing the reins of our creation, the BioShock universe, to 2K so our new venture can focus entirely on replayable narrative," he says.

Irrational is just the latest well-known developer suffering from a changing game landscape. Turbine Studios, the developer of Lord of the Rings Online and the upcoming superhero multiplayer game Infinite Crisis, was hit with layoffs last week. Earlier this month, Disney Interactive announced plans to let go of ‘several hundred’ employees.

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