Deeply disappointing the gaming community, Microsoft Corp has shut down ACES Studios, its wholly-owned subsidiary that produced Flight Simulator, Microsoft's longest-running and perhaps most popular game. This follows on the heels of the Redmond, Michigan-based company's earlier announcement that it is axing 5000 jobs (See: Microsoft pink-slips 5000 staff, despite profits).
"We can confirm the closing of ACES Studios, which was responsible for the Flight Simulator franchise," senior Microsoft spokesperson Kelda Rericha said. She claimed that the Michigan, US-based software giant remains committed to the Flight Simulator franchise, but failed to explain how future products can be launched without a dedicated software development team.
"Following our annual strategy review process, IEB (Microsoft's interactive entertainment business unit) is making adjustments within our business to align our people against our highest priorities. The closure of ACES Studios was one of those specific changes,'' Rericha said, while refusing to disclose any further details regarding the future of the company.
"We are committed to the Flight Simulator franchise, which has proven to be successful PC-based game for the last 27 years," Rericha added. "You should expect us to continue to invest in enabling great Live experiences on Windows, including flying games, but we have nothing specific to announce at this time."
However, gaming commentators point out that anything falling under the largely online 'live' umbrella would probably be rather different from the game's traditionally resource-intensive offline incarnation.
"It's definitely confusing; I wish I had more clarification,'' Rericha herself admitted. "At this point, they're just not talking about it yet - how the product will, and if the product will, live within Microsoft." The company has no specific time frame on when it will provide additional information, she added.
Numerous contractors also confirmed that their services had been terminated in the ACES layoffs, including independent coders who were also fans of the series. "One thing that every person at ACES will tell you is that the community and each of you in it mean the world to us for sharing our passion of flight, and so it really hurts that we can't tell you more," PlaneEater, one of the affected contractors, wrote in a thread on SimOuthouse.com.
According to some experts, it seems that like many other businesses, Microsoft is still attempting to assess exactly how such a large number of redundancies will affect its business strategy. Projects like Flight Simulator have clearly been given a lower priority than programmes like Windows or Office, and therefore their fates are still far from certain.
While the video game industry has been outperforming many others in the economic downturn, and has even appeared recession-proof with soaring sales, there have been a number of layoffs and studio closings.
Though Microsoft's game division has been hit hard, VentureBeat magazine said that its Lionhead, Rare and Forza Motorsports studios, which produce some of the company's other popular games, remain untouched. Microsoft has not yet confirmed whether those studios will be affected by the layoffs.
An obviously depressed blogger says that the ACES closure continues a long-running trend of terminating relationships with game development studios, such FASA and Ensemble Studios.
''While one would presume that core Xbox development is not currently in jeopardy after Microsoft spent up to $1 billion to pay for Xbox 360 repairs and salvage its reputation with gamers, does this signal a reversal of Microsoft's recent focus on internal game development? And what are its plans for Flight Simulator, with its extremely loyal user-base and a multitude of externally developed add-ons?" a blog wonders.