2Kick in the teeth

By Kieron Gillen on August 13th, 2007 at 2:04 am.

It’s certainly an interesting way to reward a development team for completing what’s looking like a shoe-in for Game of the Year: annihilating their identity. Irrational Games, with their Gold announcement of Bioshock still fresh in the air, are being rubbed out of existence, with their two studios being renamed as 2K Boston and 2K Australia.

Let’s quote a little of the press release.

“Irrational Games is widely recognized as one of the most innovative development studios in the world,” said Christoph Hartmann, President of 2K. “Following their incredible efforts in bringing BioShock to life, we are proud to make the newly renamed Irrational Games studios a cornerstone of our game development family.”

Recognizing the exceptional talent and creative vision that have made Irrational Games one of the industry’s premier developers, 2K Games has fostered the studio’s growth by substantially investing in its people, allowing Irrational Games to almost double in size since the studio’s acquisition by 2K in 2005. With the upcoming release of BioShock – one of the year’s most hotly anticipated titles – 2K Boston and 2K Australia, with the backing of 2K Games, are raising the bar for forward-thinking game design.

This is interestingly timed. While still in production, it’s usual for the actual manuals to have been printed in advance… meaning that the game may be credited to Irrational rather than 2K Boston/Australia (Assuming it’s a relatively recent decision to rename them, which it’s probably not). Which would be nice. Bioshock is something which Irrational have been working towards for as long as they’ve existed. Having Bioshock with that credit would give the Irrational story an upbeat ending. Having it credited to 2k Boston… well, seems a little sad, a corporate body parasitising the work of a mass of talented creators.

Make no doubts – the enormous financial investment which 2K made in Irrational when they purchased them outright is something that lead to whatever qualities Bioshock possesses. Bioshock has had a lot of money spent on it, which as an independent team it’s unlikely Irrational would have been able to match. And – in terms of the support they’ve offered the game, how hard they’ve pushed it and the fact that they even decided that Bioshock was something for them, 2K deserve applause and credit.

Just not the credit.

It’s not really the end of Irrational’s story, of course. If Bioshock’s a success, they’ll be the Golden Children of 2K and have freedom to do interesting stuff. Or, at least, you hope they will – when you’re fully owned by a Publisher, you can always butt into someone in Management just being insane. It’s not the end of Irrational’s Story… it’s just the end of their history. In the same way that DMA Design became a ghost when they were renamed RockStar North (And that’s a very angry rant for another time), Irrational now are the answer to a trivia question for games fans in a “What were the makers of Bioshock previously known as?” sort of way.

With hindsight, the only really surprise is that 2K didn’t press their red-hot steely-brand into their new purchase’s flesh earlier. Irrational is a name which doesn’t actually carry any cachet with anyone outside a certain hardcore of gamer (in short: They’ve never had a MEGA HIT). So while Blizzard keep their name as it serves their corporate masters better to harness their reputation for sales, there’s no profit in allowing someone without that status to have implicit of independence. Even studios did have cachet are annihilated if their star falls after being purchased (Adieu Westwood, Origin, Bullfrog, and even eventually Maxis…).

The value is clear to a publisher. By a developer sharing the publisher’s name, it means that – to a casual audience- all the credit for their best games is applied to *all* their games. This game was made by 2K. Therefore, other games by 2K are probably also quite nifty. Try them! Try them all! It’s a sensible corporate move. But, for the art, for the history, for the humanity of the form, it really fucking stinks.

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