And Rob "Xemu" Fermier of System Shock and Age of Mythology is blogging also. He's apparently at work on some new IP - such a rare, delicate thing in this day and age - but of course he won't tell us anything about it.
Here's an interesting thing I heard about Ensemble - like the Rise of Nations team - they hire by consensus. If any one person vetoes a new hire, that new hire is out.
A practice like this has its cons and pros.
One con is it becomes nearly impossible to hire anybody. I think they have at least fifty people - so that means getting fifty people to agree on something. It's nearly impossible to make ten people agree on a place to go to lunch, so how on earth can fifty people agree on a new hire? By the time they've come to a decision the prospective employee may have been snapped up by someone else! When we hired Andrei Pokrovsky, I was upset that I wasn't consulted, but Don told me that another company was bidding on Andrei also, so he made a command decision and made an offer. And Andrei quickly become one of our MVP's - without him Spider-Man 2 would have been a different game.
Another con is what Parkinson (or was it Peter? Too lazy to look it up.) called 'injelitis' - some people don't want to hire people who are better than them, because then that person will get promoted past them. They'll write it up as 'personality conflict' but really it's a mixture of insecurity and jealousy.
A "good" way to make a big pile of cash in the games industry is to grow your company rapidly - get as many game contracts as you can and staff as quickly as possible. Don't let on that you're doing this, but you can even use the money from new projects to finish the old projects. Then sell the company before everything caves in on you. (Easier said than done.) A hiring policy like Ensemble's will not support this strategy.
That said, I would love to work at a place that had a policy like this - that is, if I didn't already have my dream job. As long as injelitis doesn't strike, you're guaranteed a close-knit team of talented people, the single most important thing when you're trying to make good games. Which could be a big part of the reason why Ensemble can make a game just as good as Warcraft 3 in three years instead of four years and four months. (I'm going by gaps in release dates, here.)