Crunch culture killed Ensemble Studios

March 15, 2010 by Ivan Cronyn  

Ensemble Studios, creators of the Age of Empires PC strategy games and Halo Wars on the Xbox 360, was closed due to problems with the corporate culture. Speaking at GDC, Paul Bettner, a 12-year veteran at Ensemble, refused to blame Microsoft for the closure of the developer.

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

In his impassioned talk during the “rants” session, Bettner, now working at iPhone developer NewToy, blamed himself for the cost, inefficiency and poor quality of life caused by Ensemble’s dependence on long, “crunch” working hours.

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,” Bettner said.

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