Arguably the most important announcement at Microsoft’s E3 show this year was their announcement that they had doubled their slate of first party studios. I mean, yes, they announced a new Halo, a bunch of new Gears games, a new Forza, showed off more of Sea of Thieves and Crackdown 3, yes they announced a new Xbox was in the works, yes, they showed off a fair few third party games- but this was all expected stuff. Of course there’s a new Halo and Gears and Forza. Of course Microsoft wants to show upcoming, previously announced games at the world’s biggest stage. Of course an Xbox One successor is in the works. Of course third party games are shown off at their show.
But announcing the setting up, or acquisition, of five new studios? In a move that doubles the portfolio of Microsoft Game Studios? Okay, yes, that was a big move. It was Microsoft targetting their greatest weakness as a platform holder straight up- “yes, we hear you. Our first party has been lacking. Here’s us fixing it”.
So they have five new studios- four they bought, and one brand new one they set up. This is good- but this also means that for the first time in years, there is a sense of unpredictability to Microsoft’s lineup. While what third parties they may partner with to bring (usually timed) exclusive content to their system has always been a tad up in the air, for the first time, what first party games they may announce is a question that can’t be answered fully.
"For the first time in years, there is a sense of unpredictability to Microsoft’s lineup."
But let’s take stock of the situation first. Microsoft has ten studios at the moment- Turn10, Mojang, Rare, 343 Industries, The Coalition, Compulsion, The Initiative, Playground Games, Undead Labs, and Ninja Theory. Of these, we already know what five of them are working on- Turn10 is working on the next mainline Forza, Mojang is perennially on Minecraft duty, Rare presumably continues to support Sea of Thieves for the time being, 343 Industries is working on Halo Infinite, and The Coalition is working on new fewer than three new Gears of War games, including Gears 5.
Among the studios Microsoft has bought up, Compulsion will presumably work on getting We Happy Few out, and support it a bit post launch, and Undead Labs will presumably work at least somewhat on State of Decay 2 post launch support. But it is hugely unlikely that Microsoft bought these studios to let them just support their existing product and make nothing new for the next few months. No, it’s pretty likely that both studios will soon begin to work on something new, and even that they will presumably expand. But what might those games be? Of course, it is impossible to tell- Compulsion have put out a total of two games in their history, and the one common thread across those two is that they have a disturbing atmosphere. So presumably, they work on something that plays to those strengths, but with a higher budget, next.
Undead Labs, on the other hand, have literally only ever worked on the State of Decay franchise. So what they could work next on is anybody’s guess. It could well be a third, full budget State of Decay game. Or, on the other hand, it could be something entirely new, at which point I have no idea what I could possibly attribute to them.
"When Xbox boss Phil Spencer announced that Microsoft has acquired the studio, he confirmed that they are working not just on Forza Horizon 4, which is due out this year, but that they are also bringing their open world expertise to an entirely new game in a new genre."
The next few Microsoft studios are more interesting to consider. First up- Playground Games. These folks have won a lot of acclaim and carved out a place for themselves in the industry thanks to their sheer talent, and their work on the Forza Horizon franchise, which includes Forza Horizon 3, Microsoft’s highest rated and highest selling game of the generation. When Xbox boss Phil Spencer announced that Microsoft has acquired the studio, he confirmed that they are working not just on Forza Horizon 4, which is due out this year, but that they are also bringing their open world expertise to an entirely new game in a new genre.
Now, we already know that this new game is an open world action RPG, and rumors have pegged it to be a new Fable game, made in the vein of Horizon and Zelda, so Microsoft have a single player epic of their own to stand alongside Nintendo and Sony. Which is great. And probably also what we can expect from the studio in the coming years.
Ninja Theory, on the other hand, is a blank book. Here’s a studio that has worked only on single player action games ever- something Microsoft sorely lacks- now under Microsoft’s umbrella. Presuming their next game is also a single player action game, much like Heavenly Sword, Enslaved, and Hellblade were, we can expect a high quality action game – probably higher quality than any of their previous efforts, thanks to the full backing of Microsoft Game Studios, the kind of financial net that they have otherwise never had – and therefore, a new game that fills a niche in Microsoft’s lineup that has otherwise never been filled before. This is truly exciting- whatever their new game is, however, it probably won’t come for a while.
"Presuming their next game is also a single player action game, much like Heavenly Sword, Enslaved, and Hellblade were, we can expect a high quality action game – probably higher quality than any of their previous efforts, thanks to the full backing of Microsoft Game Studios."
And then there is The Initiative- this is a brand new studio that Microsoft has set up in Santa Monica, and the announcement was accompanied by many proclamations about them wanting the studio to create new worlds and tell new stories. Now this part right here is good- it seems to indicate that the new game by this studio may be a single player experience (though, of course, that’s not necessary- but on the other hand, Microsoft does already have a multiplayer FPS, third person shooter, racing sim, arcade racer, shared world looter, as well as an upcoming multiplayer action adventure game, plus upcoming multiplayer strategy games- there’s not many multiplayer niches left for them to fill). We have literally no idea what they will be working on, we have no idea what we might expect from them- but we can very categorically hope that it will be a brand new single player franchise from the studio, and that it is extremely high quality, especially given the talent behind it.
So there we are- we can expect a new action game, a new action RPG, and three completely new, unexpected games from Microsoft, not counting Gears 5, Halo Infinite, Forza 7, Forza Horizon 4, Crackdown 3, ongoing support for State of Decay 2, Minecraft, and Sea of Thieves, as well as games such as Gears Tactics and Age of Empires 4. That’s a good slate of games right there- it’s still not on Sony’s level (let alone Nintendo), but it’s a good start.
Now here’s the thing- Gears 5, Halo Infinite, Crackdown 3, and both Forza games? We can expect these to hit the Xbox One family, and soon. On the other hand, those new games by the new studios? I think those are going to be specifically used to bolster the Xbox One successor, and give it a strong start, the kind that the Xbox One was sorely lacking. Microsoft has addressed all the perception problems the Xbox One suffered from, and going forward, they have a wave of goodwill they are riding, except one: the problem of games. Xbox’s lineup is viewed as inferior to PlayStation’s, and by saving a bunch of new and hopefully exciting seeming games for the next Xbox’s reveal, alongside Halo, Gears, and Forza, hopefully Microsoft will be able to give the next generation Xbox the fighting chance the Xbox One never had.
Whatever it turns out to be, they are making an effort now- and I have to give them credit, a lot of credit, for doing so. Now let’s just hope their move pays off. More great games is, in the end, only going to benefit us as gamers.
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