Firaxis veteran Kelley Gilmore will oversee the new 2K studio, as Cloud Chamber has been handed the reins to the venerable franchise. We chat with Gilmore. [Updated]
Update: A number of former 2K Marin employees have noted to GameDaily that Alyssa Finley would technically be the first woman to lead a 2K studio as she did serve as a studio head at 2K Marin for a period of time. We asked 2K about this since the publisher did refer to Gilmore as the first woman to lead one of their studios in the company's press release. A spokesperson acknowledged, "Alyssa Finley held a variety of positions during her 2K tenure, including a role as Executive Producer/Studio Head. She was a major contributor to our BioShock 2 and The Bureau: XCOM Declassified releases, as well as a valuable member of the 2K family. Cloud Chamber is being built from the ground up, under Kelley Gilmore’s leadership, and we look forward to seeing what she and her team can accomplish."
We've edited the story below to reflect this.
BioShock has sold-in 34 million units as a franchise between the first two entries and the critically acclaimed Infinite, which sold more than 13 million on its own. Fans have been clamoring for a new BioShock game for years, but with the dissolution of Irrational Games and reorganization into Ghost Story Games, it was never clear what would happen to the beloved series. After years of answering questions on investor calls about BioShock, Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick can finally plan for a new entry in his publishing portfolio, as the 2K label has announced the formation of a new studio, Cloud Chamber, with the express purpose of building a new BioShock title.
Cloud Chamber will actually be comprised of two locations, 2K’s San Francisco Bay Area headquarters in Novato, Calif., as well as in Montréal, Québec, marking the first time that 2K has opened a Canadian studio. The new BioShock, itself, won’t be ready for several years, the company stated.
“As we continue growing our product portfolio, we remain inspired by opportunities to invest further in our valuable IP, great people and their collective, long-term potential,” said David Ismailer, President of 2K. “BioShock is one of the most beloved, critically praised and highest-rated franchises of the last console generation. We can’t wait to see where its powerful narrative and iconic, first-person shooter gameplay head in the future with our new studio team at Cloud Chamber leading the charge.”
Overseeing Cloud Chamber as Global Studio Head will be Kelley Gilmore, who has more than two decades of game industry experience, primarily at 2K’s Firaxis studio where she contributed to executive production, marketing direction and public relations management, working alongside the legendary Civilization creator Sid Meier. Working with the “father of computer gaming” has been both inspirational and informative for Gilmore, and has helped her crystalize her own vision for Cloud Chamber.
“Sid Meier is not only a game design legend, he is also one of the most kind and humble people I know. Working with him has profoundly shaped how I try to show up at work every day,” she told GameDaily. “My 18 years at Firaxis prepared me well for this new role, in that I understand that creating a great place to work does not happen by accident and it’s a team effort. Steve Martin, Firaxis Studio Head, showed me that you have to make the people and place a priority every day, and from that, the great work will flow. Clearly that approach works. Firaxis has been recognized for decades as one of the best video game developers in the world, as well as a really great place to come to work every day. That is what we aspire to do at Cloud Chamber.”
In a press release, Gilmore noted that “many responsible for BioShock’s principal creation” were brought on to work at Cloud Chamber. She further commented to GameDaily, “Several members of our team played key roles in other BioShock titles, and are now leading development at Cloud Chamber, including Hoagy de la Plante (Creative Director), Scott Sinclair (Art Director) and Jonathan Pelling (Design Director), which infuses us with some serious BioShock DNA.
“Our team also consists of game development veterans from some of the industry’s greatest franchises, like Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, Star Wars, Battlefield and Walking Dead. I’m confident that the depth and variety of game dev experience at Cloud Chamber will lead to another unforgettable BioShock experience.”
Complementing Gilmore’s leadership will be Ken Schachter, who’s been named Studio Manager for the Montreal location. Schacter, who’s served as General Manager for Zynga in Toronto, founded independent game developer and publisher Trapdoor, and has held roles with Gameloft and Autodesk, is being looked at as “an ambassador for both the studio and 2K in establishing a formidable Company presence in Montréal.” This is a notable move for 2K, as Canada’s development talent is formidable and the country often provides game studios with tax incentives. 2K said that the Montreal office was “made possible with dedicated support from Montréal International and Investissement Québec.”
GameDaily asked Gilmore about the financial support 2K is receiving for Montreal, but she could not disclose those details. “The opportunity to join the larger Montreal gaming community is a really exciting one for us. Organizations like Montreal International and Investissement Quebec had been tremendous partners in helping us establish the Montreal studio and making us feel welcome in the province,” she noted.
It’s not everyday that a major publisher launches a brand-new studio that starts with two locations right off the bat. This should give Cloud Chamber a fair amount of ammunition as it looks to tackle the new BioShock. It’s also not uncommon at large publishers for multiple studios/teams to collaborate on a big franchise. AAA development can be rigorous, and having the extra resources is almost a necessity in 2019.
“Establishing Cloud Chamber studio locations in both Novato (in the San Francisco Bay Area) and Montreal gives us the opportunity to hire talent from two of the top game development cities in the world,” Gilmore said. “We want to attract incredible talent to join us in working on the next BioShock game, and these two locations will be great places to do that. We don’t have any specific headcount numbers to share right now, but we have many people to hire across all levels and disciplines to put us in position for long-term success. For people who are reading this and interested in joining us, visit our official website at www.cloudchamberstudios.com.”
By the time the new BioShock actually releases, it will likely be close to a decade since Infinite engrossed fans in its world and found itself in Game of the Year conversations. Gilmore was reluctant to share any details on how Cloud Chamber is approaching the franchise, but remarked, “we love seeing what media, franchise fanatics and newcomers think we’ll be doing – or want to see us do.” She added that given the length of time between entries, it may very well be a new generation of gamers that’s coming into the world of BioShock for the first time.
Gilmore also understands that BioShock and other popular games lately haven’t shied away from engaging players with some form of commentary on society, politics, or the human condition. The best of TV and film does this, and there’s no reason why BioShock shouldn’t continue in the tradition.
“Interactive entertainment is (and will continue to be) a creative outlet for both real-life and fictional sociopolitical commentary and audience engagement, and we’ll have to see what the future holds for this next iteration of BioShock. We understand that BioShock is a compelling game that moves people in profound ways and want to make sure we deliver that in this next game in the series,” she said.
Of course, given the timeframe, it’s clear that BioShock is going to be a next-gen title, and Cloud Chamber is likely taking a close look already at what is possible on Project Scarlett and PS5, and maybe even cloud platforms like Stadia. Gilmore could not announce any platforms, but commented, “Our industry is experiencing innovation at an impressive rate, and that’s very exciting for all of us. There are more platforms, genres, ways to market and avenues for developers to reach fans. We can’t discuss our plans yet, but we’re highly motivated by the opportunities Cloud Chamber has to explore, research and push the front lines of interactive entertainment.”
If you thought the name of the studio was some reference to the big cloud gaming buzzword making the industry rounds right now, you’d be wrong. Gilmore explained that it’s actually quite scientific in its origin: “A literal cloud chamber is a scientific tool that allows us to visualize particles in the atmosphere (that are otherwise invisible) by creating a space for them to mix with other elements and take shape. That contraption inspired us to think about the ideas in our creative minds as invisible elements, and the collaboration we engage in every day as the vehicle for bringing those ideas to life on the screen for the world to see. Hence, our studio is a human Cloud Chamber.”
Human may be the key word there. Not only is Gilmore just the second woman to lead one of 2K’s studios, but she’s a big believer in diversity and inclusion and ensuring people’s quality of life.
“One of the most exciting things about setting up a new studio is the opportunity to place diversity at the forefront of our culture,” she said. “In order to make games that will resonate with gamers around the world, we need to have developers who represent every part of that population. We’re very focused on finding the most talented game makers from all walks of life to help us deliver the next amazing BioShock experience. Cloud Chamber already includes people from many different cities and countries and celebrates gender diversity and team members of multiple ethnicities.”
Gilmore’s remarks on diversity and inclusion are reminiscent of those made by Sledgehammer co-founder Michael Condrey, who joined 2K to lead a new Silicon Valley studio much earlier this year. It’s an encouraging sign that 2K is taking this seriously as a publishing label.
“Diverse teams are more creative, more innovative, hit deadlines better and ultimately create experiences that are compelling to the broadest audience possible,” Condrey told GI.biz in February. “It's hard to argue when you watch the critical and commercial success that films like Black Panther and Wonder Woman have achieved in Hollywood. Hiring people with diverse backgrounds and viewpoints is critical for our new studio to grow and flourish. It also shows for future hires that there are people in all levels of the organization who represent beliefs and experiences like their own."
And while crunch culture remains a systemic problem in the games business (as was highlighted by Take-Two’s own Red Dead Redemption 2 controversy at Rockstar Games), there have been more and more efforts from the development community and a number of studio leaders to push back against what was once considered accepted practice.
Gilmore did not go so far as to promise that crunch would be completely eliminated, but she’s making people a priority (and it no doubt helps to distribute the work across two studio locations).
“We are focused on creating a studio that puts people first and is a great place to come to work every day. We’re all passionate about our work and also recognize that our lives outside of the office are a top priority for each of us,” she said. “We acknowledge that by giving people the flexibility they need to make their lives balanced, and at the same time hold each other accountable to delivering the highest quality work on schedule, so we can achieve our ultimate goal of making amazing games that engage the world. In short, we have each other’s backs, and will make sure we get to the finish line excited to come back and do it all over again!”
Cloud Chamber will have a lot to prove with the new BioShock. Just as the second iteration in the series was met with some skepticism because development was led by 2K Marin (not Irrational/2K Boston), 2K’s newest studio will come under some scrutiny for its design, gameplay, and narrative choices and whether or not it’s “faithful” enough to the dystopian universes presented by earlier games in the franchise. We asked Gilmore if she planned on consulting at all with BioShock creator Ken Levine (who we’ve heard very little from since the Ghost Story Games announcement), but that does not appear to be in the cards.
“Ken and his team at Ghost Story Games are fully immersed in creating a new and unique entertainment experience that will surely be another great game for all of us to enjoy. He is not affiliated with Cloud Chamber, nor is he involved with the studio’s development process,” she stressed.
The new BioShock and the establishment of Cloud Chamber represent a significant investment from Take-Two, but it’s not without risk (nothing in AAA is). Investors will likely give the publisher’s stock a little bump on this BioShock news alone, but we won’t know for years if we’ll truly be playing in rapture.
(Updated 12/9/2019 with corrected sales figures for BioShock)
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