Microsoft has finally opted to address one of their long-standing issues that have existed with the Xbox brand since the Xbox One’s rocky launch; making exclusives. Soon after the launch of the console, Microsoft stopped focusing on generating exclusives for the Xbox One and attempted to win the console wars by investing more in limited time exclusive deals, non-platform exclusives (Minecraft for example), new features, and spreading further into Windows. While this agenda has proven to be fruitful for Microsoft in recent days—especially as many of these plans have started to come to fruition—but the Xbox brand has still had one very large thorn in its side, exclusives.
For all the features, new programs, discounts, Xbox One X, and other games that have become part of Microsoft’s lineup, the Xbox brand still needs exclusives. One needs to only look at how Sony and (to a lesser extent this generation) Nintendo have performed by focusing on one of the most important aspects of being a game console company, consistent and quality exclusives. Games like Ghost of Tsushima, The Last of Us Part II, Bayonetta 3, and Metroid Prime 4 are just some of the top tier titles that Sony and Nintendo are bringing in the near future. Microsoft on the other hand? Crackdown 3, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Gears of War 5, and Halo: Infinite (at some point) are all the big titles planned by Microsoft in the coming years. Microsoft has done its best to get as far as it can without exclusives, but it has hit a wall that only more titles can cure.
Microsoft attempted to solve this problem earlier in the Xbox One’s life cycle, but through various issues with the companies that were contracted or hired for the work, they all fell apart. The first notable cancellation came in the form of Phantom Dust’s, the cult classic from the original Xbox, potential sequel being canceled. In the following year, we would learn Fable: Legends, a 4 vs 1 free to play action multiplayer game would also be canceled and with it the closure of Lionhead Studios, the creator of previous Fable games. And in the most recent of cancellations, Scalebound created by Platinum Games would be another game to be buried in the series of graves Microsoft was digging for its potential exclusive titles.
Thankfully Microsoft did learn a lesson or two from all these failures, how to structure their own internal companies. When Bungie finally moved on to work on Destiny, Microsoft restructured some of their internal studios to birth 343 industries (343i), a studio fully devoted to the Halo franchise. Some years later, once Epic Games would no longer be interested in continuing the Gears of War franchise, Microsoft again opted to shift some of their internal studios around, forming The Coalition, focused purely on creating Gears of War games. In these two cases, it has shown that Microsoft is capable of having successful in-house studios create quality games, but all the rest have been shaky at best and disasters at worst.
Now after some initial internal restructuring and (most likely) unwarranted removal of quality studios, Microsoft is filling their newly created void with buying more studios. The first large purchase was Mojang, creators of Minecraft. While it was a big buy for Microsoft, it wasn’t intended to provide an exclusive product for the Xbox One, but rather the Xbox brand as a whole. It wouldn’t be until E3 2018 that Microsoft would make a show of it and relish in the announcement of buying studios, and fans loved it. Here was Microsoft solving its longstanding problem by buying smaller studios to fill in the void of exclusives. Microsoft added the following studios to their roster:
- Undead Labs: State of Decay and State of Decay 2
- Playground Games: Forza Horizon series
- Ninja Theory: Developer behind Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, DmC: Devil May Cry, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West andHeavenly Sword.
- Compulsion Games: We Happy Few
But the announcements didn’t stop there, just recently at Microsoft’s special edition of Inside Xbox, X018, Microsoft announced two more studios joining the Xbox brand:
- Obsidian Entertainment: Fallout: New Vegas and Pillars of Eternity
- inXile Entertainment: Wasteland
Again, Microsoft was met with applause. The days of the Xbox brand not having exclusives was finally coming to a close. And yet, while the news is surely great, there is still a need to be cautious of the optimism over these purchases. On the one hand, Microsoft may have solved one of its longest issues in recent memory, but it may also mean the death of these studios. Microsoft has time and time again with multiple companies eventually found or created an issue that resulted in a game being canceled or even a whole studio being closed. So why should these be any different? The short answer is, they’re not.
These companies don’t have some magical aura to protect them from the wrath of Microsoft’s demands that has claimed so many before them and might mean they will be met with an unfortunate fate. Obsidian is one such studio that has had great success but also some struggles along the way. But regardless of their struggles, their titles are always top tier when it comes to quality. To lose such a studio due to Microsoft’s potential incompetencies would be a major blow to the industry and gamers alike. These fears are not unfounded, we have seen it in the past and don’t be surprised if we see it again.
So let’s all congratulate Microsoft for finally fixing one of its biggest problems, but let’s not also lose sight of how they have mishandled previous studios and games in the past. We might be seeing one company rise on the backs of others with nothing to show for it but then wrought destruction of once great studios lying in their graves.
Stay frosty everyone, this could go either way.