GDC: â??Crunch culture killed Ensembleâ??

GDC: â??Crunch culture killed Ensembleâ??

By Rob Crossley

March 15th 2010 at 10:12AM

Former Ensemble employee says projects doubled initial budget, took twice as long to make

A long-serving employee of now-defunct Ensemble Studios has effectively defended Microsoft’s decision to shut down the group – placing blame on the studio’s own toxic crunch culture and unrealistic targets.

Paul Bettner’s 12-year career at Ensemble saw him appointed to management at the studio, and his view from the top was of a group in self-destruct mode, addicted to the fame and success felt previously from the acclaimed Age of Empires series.

"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,” Bettner was quoted as saying in a Eurogamer report.

Speaking at an open-mic session at GDC, Bettner went on to defend Microsoft’s decision to axe the renowned studio.

"Microsoft is a public company, they answer to their shareholders, and we were simply too expensive,” he said, blaming himself for the cost, inefficiency and poor QOL caused by Ensemble's dependence on crunch and long working hours.

Microsoft made the widely unpopular move to close down Ensemble in 2008, sparking confusion and opposition from some of the developer’s more public figures.

But Bettner – who now works for splinter studio NewToy – criticised Ensemble’s company culture where "everyone was a workaholic".

He said, “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”.

He went on to cite the ‘EA Spouse’ and ‘Rockstar Spouse’ allegations, and quoted independent data suggests a third of devs will leave the industry within five years.

"This is a horrible vicious cycle,” he said. “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."

The Eurogamer report goes on to quote Carey Chico of fallen studio Pandemic, who went on to discuss the situation surrounding EA’s decision to close the company. Go here to read more.

[TIMELINE: THE FALL OF ENSEMBLE STUDIOS]