Ensemble dev disputes "crunch" rant

Microsoft could have stopped fall.

Ian Fischer, a former member of Ensemble Studios - the Halo Wars and Age of Empires studio shut down by Microsoft - has disputed that a reliance on "crunch" was what killed the studio.

Fischer has written an open letter to Paul Bettner on his blog, in answer to Bettner's rant against crunch culture at GDC.

Fischer takes issue with Bettner's suggestion that Microsoft's decision to close Ensemble was "fiscally responsible" because "we were simply too expensive".

He argues that Ensemble "was no costlier or less efficient than any other developer of our calibre during this period," inviting Bettner to "take a look at the number of games put out by Valve or Blizzard or Epic during the same time and speak with the people we know at these studios about their budgets and teams".

"Every single game Ensemble Studios made, across more than a decade, paid for its development and made a profit," Fischer said. "Microsoft had its reasons for closing the studio but to imply that it was because we cost too much is fiction... If, at any point, the leadership in Redmond wanted to reduce the cost of making games in Dallas, they could have done so with a phone call."

Fischer disagrees that Ensemble burned out its developers, pointing out that its retention rate was close to 90 per cent, and he argues that the company leadership "worked to eliminate or at least reduce [crunch] constantly and we improved this with each game".

If Ensemble had a failing, he said, it was valuing freedom over efficiency and constantly seeking to expand the studio's boundaries.

"Yes, sometimes after we had steered hard left into the weeds, we needed to work long hours to get the car back on the road," he said.

"If you want to find mistakes with what we did, I'd suggest that those trips into the weeds, looking for new territory, with a partner who wasn't fond of being there, was more our error. Had we decided to crank out RTS after RTS instead of chasing after the MMOs and FPSs and RPGs and RTS-differents we constantly had in prototype, I'm sure we would have been a more efficient studio that could have operated with zero crunch.

"The vast majority of us didn't want to do this. I'm glad for that."

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