Scalebound, an action RPG developed by Platinum Games exclusively for the Xbox One has been cancelled. Rumours began swirling when Microsoft omitted mention of Scalebound in its Xbox Wire post which discussed the future of Xbox One. The rumours reached fever pitch yesterday when Kotaku reported that they had been in touch with Microsoft who simply replied that they’d have more information on Scalebound “soon”. The official news from Microsoft and Platinum Games came soon after. Should we have seen this coming? Why did this happen? What does this mean?
Let’s start with the easy question: Should we have seen this coming? Yes, and no. Taking a look at Scalebound’s Twitter account (@Scalebound, if you’re interested) there have been no tweets at all from 23rd September 2016. That’s a dreadfully long gap in social media and hype generation, so I’m guessing that there was something wrong with their Microsoft partnership from at least that point onwards. However, on the other hand, Platinum Games’ founder Hideki Kamiya was enthusiastic about the game at E3 2016 – 2 years after it was first unveiled to the world.
The game was announced during E3 2014 alongside Project Spark (which support for has ended), Forza Horizon 2, Ori and the Blind Forest, Sunset Overdrive, and Halo: 5. A fairly blockbuster line-up at that E3, however, Scalebound grabbed and captivated many gamers and the hype for the game slowly and gradually built up. Making its next appearance at Gamescom 2015 the game boasted 4 player co-op and the Xbox Play Anywhere feature. The first sign of development issues could perhaps be inferred by the pushback of the release date, Scalebound was originally set for a late 2016 release, later being delayed until sometime in 2017.
There is of course the chance that Sony or a third-party will pick up Scalebound and drag it over the finish line, but we can only stipulate and speculate on this as we have no idea what state Scalebound is in… It could be in a State of Decay (sorry).
Japanese action RPGs are an area where Xbox are lacking far, far behind in comparison to PS4, which naturally have a plethora of JRPGs afforded to them. Scalebound was important for the Xbox One because it showed that Xbox cared about this genre and were serious about providing support for these games. The cancellation will damage the possibility of further Japanese games in general appearing on Xbox One – If Microsoft didn’t support its own game, why would it support a third party’s?
Speaking of development issues, I’m going to stick my neck out and posit that Scalebound must have been a looong way from where it needed to be. Microsoft wouldn’t can a project that had been conceptualised since 2006 and in development for four years without good reason. The game looked incredible when it was teased and displayed, but we’ve all been burned by E3 hype before. Something dreadful must have happened between E3 2016 and 23rd September 2016 for Microsoft to look at Scalebound and say “this is not what we want.”
So what do Microsoft want? They have favoured Crackdown 3, Halo Wars 2, Sea of Thieves, and State of Decay 2 over Scalebound, and teased “other great experiences” coming to Xbox One. However, you’ll notice that all but one of these games are sequels. Only one new IP being added to the Xbox brand is simply not enough. Don’t get me wrong, Sea of Thieves is one of my most anticipated games, but I don’t think that one new new game is enough to boast “the greatest game collection.”
Microsoft and Phil Spencer know this though, and I’m sure there are plenty of behind-the-scenes games in development ready to have their time in the limelight when the time comes. If there aren’t… well, that’d be stupid.
Does this mean that we’re entering a stage in the generation where we are favouring sequels to new, exciting games? Or is it simply a matter of business that Scalebound was in development hell and Microsoft weren’t prepared to wait it out and see what came of it? Scalebound’s cancellation is a bitter disappointment and leaves me worrying that other first-party developers will follow the safe, tried and tested route of producing sequels instead of innovating and providing fresh, new experiences for us to play.
Sequels are more gladly welcomed than remasters, though.