Forza Horizon 4
Developer: Playground Games
Platforms: Xbox One, PC
“Our MO is we grow and we improve and we do better than we’ve done before in everything we do.”
Among the five studios Microsoft acquired to bring into their first party lineup earlier this year, alongside Ninja Theory, Playground Games was probably the biggest of them all. Having worked on the Forza Horizon series alongside Microsoft for a few years, the two parties already had a pretty great relationship, which was strengthened even further with the announcement.
However, why exactly did Playground Games agree to the acquisition, especially considering how proud the studio has always been of its independence? While speaking with Eurogamer, Playground boss Ralph Fulton was asked this question, and his answer was twofold. One of the reasons for the deal was that after Playground Games expanded to turn into a two team studio (the second of which is reportedly working on Fable 4), they started considering how to progress in the future a bit differently.
“We were independent for a long time,” Fulton said. “And we love being independent. When you think we were acquired earlier this year, it came from a place where we love being independent, ew loved what we were doing with Microsoft. A couple of things – one thing that changed between Horizon 3 and now, when we shipped Horizon 3 we were a one-team studio.”
“That’s a very simple business to think about and manage,” he continued. “Obviously since then we’ve branched out and have a new team that we’re tantalisingly close to and you’ll never see what they do. I like teasing that! They’re two very different games, two different genres, both with Xbox – and suddenly when your business is growing like that and your staff is growing, it changes the way you think about what the future looks like.”
Fulton then went on to talk about Forza Horizon 3, and how Playground Games felt that with the open world racer – which is one of the highest rated games on the Xbox One – the studio felt that they had accomplished the most they could accomplish as an independent studio, and that if they were to outdo themselves and what they’d done with Horizon 3, joining up with Microsoft would allow them to do that (And it certainly worked, too- Forza Horizon 4, which launched a couple days back, is one of the best racers of all time).
“The other thing is we achieved an enormous amount as an independent,” Fulton said. “Forza Horizon 3 exceeded expectations in pretty much every respect and felt like as well as an independent studio could do. Our MO is we grow and we improve and we do better than we’ve done before in everything we do, and it felt like the capacity to do that in a Forza Horizon world would only be possible if we became part of the family.”
Fulton also talked about how Playground had been at the forefront of most (if not all) of Microsoft’s biggest steps with first party stuff anyway, from getting the first Xbox One S dev kit in the UK, to being among the first games to support stuff like Play Anywhere and HDR, and how, in light of that, the acquisition seemed to make even more sense.
“We had a curious not quite first-party not quite third-party – okay, second party – status,” he said, “We were an independent studio whose client was Microsoft, but also we worked on a first-party franchise, they’re first-party games effectively and were treated as such. So we were probably right at the front of the queue when it comes to technology – we had the first Xbox One S devkit in the UK, we were the first game on Xbox cross-play. HDR was another one – I think we were the second game to launch with HDR. We knew about these things and were probably clued in before others were. But there was still that partition that’s not there when you’re one of the family.”
Forza Horizon 4, Playground’s latest, is out now for Xbox One and PC.