Microsoft’s spending spree to expand the scope of its first party studios and its renewed efforts to emphasize exclusive content with the rebranded Xbox Game Studios has been impressive. Of the fifteen studios that Microsoft now has under its belt, one of the most shocking announcements came when they’d acquired Ninja Theory.
But Ninja Theory as a developer has always been known for crafting tight, focused projects on smaller budgets instead of massive AAA experiences. But being a Microsoft first party studio now, and having access to resources to create bigger projects than they’ve been able to in the past, is the studio’s philosophy and approach to games development going to change?
While speaking in an interview on the Game Informer Show, Matt Booty, head of Xbox Game Studios at Microsoft, said that when Microsoft acquired Ninja Theory, they did so with the intention of letting the create the kind of small-scope high quality games they had been making, like Hellblade, rather than getting them to work on a hundred hour AAA game.
“I think Hellblade is a great thing to point out as an example,” said Booty, “because it is just a great example of the kind of game that we’re looking for from the studios that we’ve acquired recently- which are, they’re not going to be 90 hour AAA games. But what they are going to be are things that are super well crafted, that will have as close to AAA production values as we can get. But we’re going to scope them so they can be done well by a smaller studio.”
“I think to me the magic of Hellblade is how well it was built, and how compelling its story was,” he continued. “But it is a masterful bit of design constraint and scoping, so that what it does, it does really well. It’s not a hundred hour game, but the 10-15 hours gameplay that it is is really, really well done. So I think for us it was more of a test case, of ‘hey, if we were to acquire Ninja Theory, and they were to just continue shipping games of the quality and scope of Hellblade, would we consider that a success?’ And the answer is yes.”
According to Booty, Ninja Theory’s output of games is something that would fit with Microsoft strategy – which centres around Game Pass – as well, in terms of keeping users engaged with Game Pass and fitting perfectly between Microsoft’s bigger AAA releases.
“And I think where that helps our strategy is when you think about something like Game Pass, where people are subscribing, and they really want to know, ‘hey, what’s next? I wanna play this, what’s coming up?’ Those kinds of games are great, and they’re things that fit perfectly in between our bigger AAA releases. So, I don’t that Hellblade was the pivot point, but it certainly was a great example or test case to prove out what we’re looking for when we buy a studio.”
In fact, according to Booty, there are games currently in development at many of Microsoft’s newly acquired studios that had been in development before they were acquired, and that Microsoft wanted them to keep working on- such as the multiplayer combat title Bleeding Edge, which Ninja Theory revealed at E3 this year.
“Oh, absolutely,” said Booty. “For example, we showed Bleeding Edge on stage at E3. That game was in development before we even started the acquisition, and of course, we want them to continue. There’s projects underway at Obsidian that we’ll learn about in the future, that they’ve already started working on. Same with many other studios.”
In Booty’s estimation, Microsoft’s goal with its new studios isn’t to reshape them into new kinds of development studios, but to empower them to keep on doing what they have been doing, and to do it better- which is a sentiment he has shared earlier as well.
“I think that is exactly the goal, that if we were to- you know, let’s say that Ninja Theory has somewhere around I think 75-80 people, they might have had to do some percentage of work before, just to kind of keep the lights on and pay the bills, like more contract work,” said Booty. I think it’d be great if we could now just take those folks, and now that they don’t have to worry about that, put them on more projects and more things like Hellblade.”
You can hear Booty’s thoughts on Xbox Game Studios’ new acquisitions and his thoughts on where they should be headed in the video below. It’s been timestamped, so just hit play.