Microsoft plans to shut down subsidiary developer Ensemble Studios after the release of its upcoming release Halo Wars, Gamasutra has learned from industry sources.
Tying up with comments made by our sources suggesting layoffs at the studio today, Shacknews is also reporting that developers attached to the Halo Wars project have been offered incentives to remain at Ensemble until the game ships. Its last announced release projection was early 2009.
Founded in 1995 and located in Dallas, Ensemble is known for its long-running Age of Empires series of historically-themed PC real-time strategy games. It was acquired by Microsoft in 2001.
The company's most recent full game, Age of Empires III for PC, was a commercial success with over two million copies sold, but it is less clear how its two subsequent expansion packs fared.
Speaking to Gamasutra, a Microsoft representative declined to issue a statement but claimed an official response is en route.
[UPDATE: Microsoft has now released an official statement confirming the impending closure, as follows:
"Microsoft has decided to close Ensemble Studios following the completion of Halo Wars. After the closure, the Ensemble leadership team will form a new studio and has agreed to provide ongoing support for Halo Wars as well as work on other projects with Microsoft Game Studios.
The team at Ensemble has made invaluable contributions to the games industry with their Age of Empires and Age of Mythology games and with the highly anticipated release of Halo Wars. This decision does not reflect at all on Ensemble's talent or the quality of Halo Wars. in fact, many people who have had a chance to test drive Halo Wars agree that it is on track to being a fantastic game.
This was a fiscally-rooted decision that keeps MGS on its growth path. While the decision to dissolve Ensemble was not an easy one, Microsoft is working to place as many Ensemble employees who do not move to the newly formed studio into open positions within Microsoft as possible.
As to our overall strategy at MGS, it remains the same. We are committed to growing MGS with world-class talent both internally and with our external partners around the globe. We have recently added some well-known developers to our team and will continue growing the team.
We're particularly excited about the titles we have in the pipeline and continue to evaluate additional opportunities to bring incredible games to life with the industry's best. Our investment in games has never been greater than it is today."]