Ensemble Veteran Disputes Reports of Crunch Culture and Inefficient, Expensive Development

Responding to claims Ensemble Studios veteran Paul Bettner made during Game Developers Conference 2010, fellow ex-employee Ian Fischer has disputed that the now-defunct development studio "was inefficient and expensive" in an open letter.


"Ensemble Studios, while certainly fond of numerous inefficient development practices, was no costlier or less efficient than any other developer of our caliber during this period of operation," reads a portion of Fischer's rather detailed response.

"Every single game Ensemble Studios made, across more than a decade, paid for [its] development and made a profit. Microsoft had [its] reasons for closing the studio but to imply that it was because we cost too much is fiction."

Fischer--who joined Robot alongside several other Ensemble veterans and is, as he was at Ensemble, a lead game designer--further argues against the studio's "crunch culture" and the fact that Bettner credits himself as Ensemble's "creative director."

"The leadership of Ensemble Studios saw crunch as a failure," says Fischer. "While it was certainly used, it was never 'institutionalized' or accepted." He also notes Bettner's claims that such comments are being taken out of context, though this does little to change the end result or the manner in which Bettner describes his time at Ensemble.

"You were never a member of the management team at Ensemble Studios," Fischer argues. "For that matter, neither you, nor anyone else, was 'Creative Director' at our studio. You were in no way involved in any of the conversations between Ensemble's and Microsoft's leadership regarding the closure of the studio."

Following the closure of Ensemble, Bettner helped form a small iPhone game developer, NewToy, where he now serves as CEO and creative director.

In closing the increasingly personal open letter to his former coworker, Fischer seems to suggest that Bettner wasn't fond of his ten-plus years at the studio in the first place:

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.