The Xbox brand has had many ups and downs this generation and much has changed since the 2013 unveiling of the Xbox One. It’s hard exactly to say where the turning point was for Xbox but certainly in the past year, we have seen a massive change led by Phil Spencer in growing the Xbox brand. Due to complaints about the original Xbox One hardware not being powerful enough, Phil promised that he would fix that. In enters the Xbox One X, the same price as the launch Xbox One (without the Kinect, RIP). The Xbox One X holds the title as the most powerful video game console currently available, with massively improved hardware over the original Xbox One.
Phil fulfilled his promise to Xbox fans with the Xbox One X, unfortunately, a massive gap in software on top of their competitors putting out top-tier games (and lots of them) made the Xbox One X a hard sell to new consumers. The Xbox leadership took note of this, saying in late 2017 that now that hardware was taken care of they would be focusing on the software. We always have to keep in mind when dealing with corporations and executives, while they want to fix the problem, the company as a whole may not be as dedicated to the cause. Xbox has notoriously been on a short leash financially since the late Xbox 360 era, which contributed to the software struggles of the early Xbox One generation. Many people were skeptical of what Xbox could really do to fix the software issue, you cannot just make games appear out of thin air. Now 2018 is drawing to a close it seems that Xbox has the potential to deliver on fixing the software issue going forward.
Enter E3 2018, prior to this event there were some rumors surfacing that Microsoft was acquiring Playground Games. This move made a lot of sense, as Playground Games has done magical work with the Forza Horizon franchise and it was the time that they became part of the Microsoft Studios family (as myself and co-editor Samuel had previously argued). However what no one expected was for Phil Spencer to take the stage and announce not only the acquisition of Playground Games but four additional studios. In one swift movement, Xbox acquired Playground Games, Undead Labs, Compulsion Games, and jaw-droppingly, Ninja Theory. All of this was in addition to the creation of The Initiative, headed by Darrel Gallagher. This was a huge step forward for the Xbox brand. Now, fast forward to a few days ago at the X018 event in Mexico City. Matt Booty, the new head of Microsoft Studios, announced that Obsidian Entertainment and InXile Entertainment would be joining the family. In one year, Microsoft managed to more than double their first-party studio roster.
Here’s the state of Microsoft Studios in 2017 (and pre-E3 2018):
From left to right: 343 Industries, The Coalition, Turn 10, Rare, Microsoft Studios Global Publishing, Minecraft Studio (Mojang)
Now here’s Microsoft Studios as 2018 closes:
Second row, new additions: The Initiative, Undead Labs, Playground Games, Ninja Theory, Compulsion Games, InXile Entertainment, Obsidian Entertainment
These acquisitions don’t fix the past struggles of the Xbox One and some of these teams most likely won’t have games ready before the end of the generation. However, with the creativity that a lot of these new studios will bring to the table, and the financial backing from Xbox, the next generation should be very interesting.
The most fascinating aspect of these studio acquisitions is the wide variety of talent and genres that these studios cover. Xbox has primarily known as the “shooter box” because of such franchises as Gears of War or Halo, and it was the home of competitive Call of Duty for so long during the 360 generation.
It appears that variety is the spice of life, with all these studios doing something special that they bring to the table. Ninja Theory who’s work on 2017s Hellblade: Senuas Sacrifice speaks volumes for the studio. It gave one of the most in-depth looks into mental illness in gaming, while still telling a unique story riddled with lore and amazing detail. Obsidian has made some amazing CRPGs, as well as such classic games as KOTOR II and Fallout New Vegas. InXile worked on the first two Fallout games back when the games were turn-based RPGs. There is no word to what type of game The Initiative will be working on but the talent that has so far been recruited for the studio is huge, with developers that have worked on games such as God of War (2018), Red Dead Redemption, and some great talent from Crystal Dynamics. Then, there’s the fact that Playground Games is working on a secret RPG (which we all hope is Fable) and hiring in massive droves. This, plus their track record with the Horizon series, has fans excited to see what they could do with the RPG genre.
There is also a lot of good faith that the Xbox brand has built through accessibility for games and how people play them. The Xbox Adaptive controller was a huge innovation in making gaming more accessible than ever. Seeing people with varying disabilities being able to enjoy the passion of playing video games was heartwarming. Then you’ve got Xbox Game Pass, which allows players to play over 100+ for a low monthly subscription fee. Without having to outright buy all these games you have a whole library accessible for a low fee every month, with new games being added every month. Finally, there’s Project xCloud, Microsoft’s upcoming streaming service for games. Giving people more options in how they play their games as well as how they can afford their games pulls together into a great cohesive vision for Xbox.
With all these studios working together, this could bring a strong games lineup in the years to come, all with plenty of different ways that people can experience and play their games. While this generation has had its rough patches for the Xbox brand, the vision of Phil Spencer and the team is slowly coming into focus. It certainly seems that Xbox is building the foundation for a bright future, for both the brand and its fans.