And why it was important to me.
The Xbox One has been a disappointment in my opinion. Now, I don’t mean that the system itself has been disappointing (the Xbox One X is a nice piece of hardware if I do say so myself) but the exclusive games have been lacking almost this entire generation. Although I have fond memories of playing Halo and Gears back on the Xbox 360, the Xbox One entries in both series didn’t grab my attention at all. Not only that but other exclusives for the Xbox One have been downright bad, just ok, or have been cancelled before they could release (RIP Scalebound). Meanwhile, I have looked on with jealousy at all of the great games releasing on both Sony and Nintendo’s platforms (although not really since I own both a PS4 and a Switch but you get my point). I was beginning to think that Microsoft was going to throw in the towel on games altogether since it didn’t seem like they were interested in investing in more games. Then E3 2018 happened and things began to change.
In case anyone has forgotten, Microsoft announced that they were adding not one, not two, three, or four, but five new development studios at its E3 2018 press conference. The studios were The Initiative (a brand-new studio), Undead Labs, Playground Games, Ninja Theory, and Compulsion Games. Many critics wondered why they simply announced that they were buying these studios instead of showing off new games from said studios. I believe there were two reasons why they didn’t show any games from these studios besides Forza Horizon 4 and We Happy Few.
First off, most of those studios were close to or had just released games so they didn’t have time to put together a trailer for their next projects. Secondly, I believe this announcement was made specifically for people like me. The people who had become disillusioned with the Xbox brand as a whole and were beginning to slip away to other platforms. The people who had been waiting for what seemed like forever for Xbox to actually step up its game and put out decent content. The people who had seen Microsoft close down studios like Lionhead, FASA, Ensemble, and Press Play while also cancelling projects like the aforementioned Scalebound.
And let’s not forget the first-party studios, like Bungie and Twisted Pixel, that were alienated by Microsoft. Additionally, second-party relationships with Remedy Entertainment and Mistwalker Studios don’t exist anymore due to Microsoft’s apparent lack of interest. This announcement at E3 2018 was meant to convey the message that Microsoft had heard our complaints and that steps were being taken to address them. At least, that’s the way I interpreted it. Hopefully I didn’t receive the wrong message. Thankfully, I don’t think I did given what has happened since then.
Perhaps what was even more important than the actual announcements at E3 2018 was the fact that Microsoft’s messaging changed after the conference. For the first time in a long time (at least as far as I can remember), Xbox’s management began talking about its studios having full creative freedom over their projects. This was music to my ears since I’ve always wanted to see Microsoft’s studios branch out and try new things. Now, I don’t expect 343 Industries or The Coalition to stop making games in their respective franchises (Halo and Gears) anytime soon but it’s at least fun to think about.
It’s important to note that I don’t work for Microsoft nor am I pretending to know what was going on behind the scenes. Having said that, the impression I always got from watching from the outside was that it seemed like management forced studios to make game they didn’t want to make. As an example, ex-Lionhead developers have shared stories about how the studio wanted to develop another single-player Fable but they were turned down by management. Thus, they set out to make Fable: Legends and we all know how that turned out.
And the good news hasn’t stopped there. Later in 2018, Microsoft announced that it had acquired two more studios; InXile and Obsidian Entertainment. These two studios were significant additions since they’re both known for their single-player, story-driven games. Xbox is known for its large multiplayer blockbusters so it was nice to see some diversity added to the mix. The E3 2018 acquisitions made me believe that maybe, just maybe Xbox was beginning to turn things around. For the first time in a long, long time, I was excited for Xbox’s game conferences. I was especially excited for E3 2019 since I believed that we might get a sneak peek at what was to come from all of these new studios.
Contrary to my hopes, Xbox’s E3 2019 presentation was a little disappointing since nothing was really unveiled from the new studios besides Bleeding Edge from Ninja Theory. I know that a year isn’t nearly long enough for studios to make a new project but I had had high hopes. Not all was lost though since Microsoft announced the acquisition of yet another studio, Double Fine, and, to everyone’s surprise, revealed that Flight Simulator would be making a comeback.
The E3 2019 conference demonstrated the potential of Microsoft’s first-party studios but it didn’t really give any concrete details. It sent the message that Microsoft was still building up its strength and that most of the projects from the new studios would come in the next generation. That was disappointing because I, along with many other fans, have been waiting for what feels like forever for some good news. Although I was disappointed, I am cautiously optimistic for the future since a new generation is right around the corner and I don’t think Microsoft will hold back in this next fight. At least that’s what I hope.
All of the positive news surrounding Xbox in the past year and a half (the studio acquisitions and the change in rhetoric) started at E3 2018. That showcase represented a turning point for the Xbox brand. Starting with that show, Microsoft began showing its commitment to bringing quality first-party exclusives back to Xbox. That was the first time in a long time that the general public saw this commitment in action and for that reason it was vitally important. Xbox was finally coming back. That was what made that show so special and that is why it was important to me.
Thanks for reading! What do you hope to see from Microsoft and Xbox over the next couple of years? Which studio acquisitions were you most excited about? Let me know!