Xbox One’s first-party situation has been heavily criticised this generation. Microsoft’s existing franchises like Halo and Fable haven’t been in the best position in the Xbox One’s early years and the console has largely failed to launch any successful new IP either. But in the lead up to the next generation, team Xbox has been making some serious power plays by adding 8 new development studios to their first-party since E3 2018. It’s going to be a few years before we see what many of these studios are working on, so for now, let’s take a look at the state of every Xbox Game Studio.
343i had big shoes to fill when they took over the Halo series in 2010 and, disappointingly, they’ve stumbled into controversy at almost every turn. But for every misstep 343i have made, they’ve shown their willingness to listen, learn and improve. From Halo 4’s loadouts in multiplayer, to the myriad of technical problems that plagued Halo: The Master Chief Collection, 343i has always taken the time to make things right.
This bodes well for the upcoming Halo Infinite and it’s encouraging to hear it’s being developed as a spiritual reboot. 343i have returned to the series’ classic art style; they’ve returned to an actual Halo ring and they’ve returned to the Master Chief as the main playable character. Halo Infinite was announced at Xbox’s 2018 E3 conference and exuded vibes from the original with a focus on mysticism, hope and heroism. There’s been some hints that the upcoming entry might be set in an open-world (open-ring?) or at least have way bigger environments since there was an uncharacteristic emphasis on wildlife and the natural world in Infinite’s reveal trailer.
Halo Infinite received another trailer at Xbox’s 2019 E3 show, this time with more of an emphasis on story. We met a new, lovable UNSC pilot, saw the Chief’s full design in the game and got a few other cryptic story teases. There’s not much to go on but the game was certainly beautiful. Halo is in a weird position as a franchise at the moment: hardcore fans want the series to go back to its roots with an emphasis on slower, tactical movement; other lapsed fans want the series to do something drastically different. It’ll be interesting to see what direction 343i take when the game launches holiday 2020, alongside the next-generation Xbox.
The Coalition’s last entry in the Gears of War series, Gears of War 4, was a critical and commercial success, but it was still criticised for being more of the same. Gears 5 was revealed at E3 2018 with the promise that change was coming and that the team was trying things that had never been done in a Gears game before. The franchise got its first female protagonist in the form of Kate Diaz and there was certainly a whole lot more colour in the 6 minute trailer than we’ve seen in the entire franchise. Blue, frozen lakes, red desolate deserts and a lush green jungle were all shown in Gears 5’s initial reveal. Studio head Rod Fergusson also talked about semi open-world elements being implemented into the game.
We still haven’t seen campaign gameplay over a year later but we do have more multiplayer details, including a new “Escape” mode, where 3 players infiltrate an enemy hive, plant a bomb and escape with your lives. We’ll see if The Coalition keeps their promise of change when Gears 5 comes out September 10th.
The team will undoubtedly continue to lead Gears going forward. Although there were rumours that the team was working on a Perfect Dark reboot in some capacity early in 2018, there’s been no sign of Joanna Dark since, so take that with a grain of salt.
Turn 10 Studios
Turn 10 are the beloved creators of Microsoft’s flagship racing series: Forza Motorsport. Forza has been the only series Turn 10 has ever worked on but they’ve done a successful job of it. The series, at this point, is essentially the only relevant racing simulator on the market, taking Gran Turismo’s crown. Despite the series being annualised since 2011, Turn 10 are taking a hiatus this year, seemingly in preparation for the Xbox Scarlett’s launch in 2020.
Expect a new Forza from the studio to act as a technical showcase for the next generation console.
Rare have been around for over 30 years and have an unbelievable history. They’re undoubtedly one of the most versatile developers in history bouncing from genre to genre with success. Racing games, fighting games, 3D platformers and first-person shooters… Rare has done it all. They’ve recently set sail into the multiplayer space with Sea of Thieves and while the game was met with lukewarm reception at launch, it has since found overwhelming success.
Killer Instinct has been the only old school Rare IP to make a comeback this generation but hopes are high for even more beloved franchises to join the recent Rare renaissance. A new Battletoads has already been announced for a release next year and if it’s anything like the original it’ll be a sweat-inducing ride. Banjo-Kazooie have also been announced to come to the Super Smash Bros. series and it would be wrong for Xbox to not capitalise on all the excitement with a new game.
While Rare has shown no interest in developing these franchises themselves, they will most likely collaborate with other developers like they did with 2013’s Killer Instinct.
Mojang haven’t worked on much outside of their cultural phenomenon, Minecraft. But why would they after Minecraft recently became the best-selling game of all time with 176 million copies sold. The team has been continually updating the game with new skins, modes and ways to play.
Minecraft Dungeons also had a surprisingly impressive trailer at this year’s E3; from the looks of it the game is essentially a top-down action RPG with the aesthetics of Minecraft. I wouldn’t expect the team to ever work on anything unrelated to Minecraft again but the Mojang can certainly do a lot by experimenting with spin-offs.
Not much is known about The Initiative apart from the fact that it’s a brand new studio being built from the ground up by Xbox. Job listings referred to the studio as AAAA (regular big budget games are referred to as AAA). This combined with some of the talent they’re assembling behind the scenes indicates the studio is tasked with creating Xbox’s next big, blockbuster franchise.
Based in Santa Monica, The Initiative have been poaching world-class developers from around the area including developers from Rockstar, Sony Santa Monica, Insomniac and Crystal Dynamics. Expect their first endeavor to have an insane budget; here’s hoping the quality matches its scale.
Playground Games has arguably been the only Xbox first-party developer to not be stuck in murky waters this generation. Their Forza subseries, Forza Horizon, has consistently outshined the mainline series, Forza Motorsport, taking the wheels into an open-world. Forza Horizon 4 has recently hit 10 million players and a seemingly delightful LEGO expansion was released at this year’s E3. Playground will continue their open-world racing series but credible reports suggest a second team will also reboot the RPG series, Fable.
It’s the worst kept secret in the industry and if it does turn out to be true Playground Games are the perfect developer for it. They have an incredible track record when it comes to open-world games; they’re British and they’re experienced in making blockbuster games with high production values. Expect to see an announcement next year as Microsoft ramps up in preparation for next-generation.
Undead Labs first broke XBLA records in 2013 with the release of the first State of Decay. Despite the game’s technical flaws, it was still an addictive and interesting blend of many genres. Community management, survival mechanics, base building and action RPG progression were all thrown into an open-world full of zombies and Undead Labs pulled it off surprisingly well.
State of Decay 2 released in 2018 but fans and critics were less forgiving of the sequel’s shortcomings. After 5 years and a bigger budget the sequel was still janky and didn’t do much to change or refine the addictive gameplay loop from the first game.
This will hopefully change in the future now that they’re part of Xbox Game Studios. Matt Booty (head of first-party) has talked about how State of Decay 3 is very much in the team’s future and how it’ll likely be a more persistent online experience, so think The Division, but with zombies.
Ninja Theory was hands down Xbox’s most shocking studio acquisition in 2018. Ninja Theory have been known to have more of a working relationship with Sony and they just don’t make games you normally associate with the Xbox brand. The acquisition came hot off the heels of several game of the year awards for Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, including 5 BAFTAs. The studio has a long history of creating quality story focused content but their first game as an Xbox Game Studio is actually a 4v4 multiplayer game. Bleeding Edge was announced at this year’s E3 and looks to be a mix between Overwatch and Ninja Theory’s signature melee based combat.
For fans disappointed that Ninja Theory weren’t creating another single player experience, don’t worry, Ninja Theory made it clear they have multiple games in the oven. At least one of these unannounced games will likely be a single player story, as we still have no clue what the creative director of Hellblade is working on. In any case, Ninja Theory should provide some competition to Playstation’s first party when in comes to crafting incredible story focused games.
Both games were mired with technical problems and some clunky gameplay issues but both games had fascinating worlds and stories. Contrast was set in a surreal, twilight version of the 1920s Burlesque era, while We Happy Few was set in an odd and terrifying dystopia in 1960s England.
It’s impossible to predict what kind of game Compulsion will work on next, but if they’re able to blend their fantastic world building with tight gameplay, we’re in for a treat.
Obsidian has been somewhat of a dark horse in the RPG genre for almost their entire existence. They’ve never quite reached the level of success of studios like Bioware or Bethesda, but they’ve consistently delivered games just as great. The lack of appreciation for just how great Obsidian is comes from the fact that many of their games are licensed. Some of their games are even sequels to Bioware and Bethesda games like Star Wars KOTOR II and Fallout New Vegas.
That’s why this acquisition is so exciting. Obsidian no longer needs to rely on crowd funding or licensed projects to stay afloat. They can create what they want, when they want. Obsidian’s next game, The Outer Worlds, releases on October 25th and promises the same player driven RPG experience that has defined their projects for so long, including the hilarious option to create a ‘dumb’ character. Whatever they work on next, great writing and interesting RPG mechanics are almost a guarantee.
Another acclaimed RPG studio; inXile is primarily compromised of developers formally responsible for the creation the Baldur’s Gate and Fallout franchises. Decades later the team is still hard at work on top-down, isometric, role-playing experiences that bode well for Xbox’s PC initiative. Wasteland 3 should be out sometime next year but after that it’s unclear what the studio will pursue.
They could potentially continue further developing their Wasteland brand. Alternatively, the team could make an entirely different type of RPG game with a different camera angle that we associate with bigger budget games. No matter what inXile creates in the future, it’s a safe bet that they’ll continue to deliver on their brand of choice based gameplay.
Double Fine Productions
Similarly to Rare, Double Fine thrives on versatility. No two Double Fine games are the same and they’ve also, pretty much done everything. The acquisition of Double Fine might be worrying to some fans; their games have typically never sold well and their first, and only, AAA game, Brutal Legend was a commercial failure. This raises questions about what Xbox will do if Double Fine fails to make a profit but I think the commitment to Xbox Game Pass shows that Xbox really doesn’t care about the sales of a game if it adds value to the service.
Psychonauts 2, the sequel to the 2005, trippy platformer should be out next year. After that Double Fine will most likely continue to innovate and experiment with new genres and new, quirky ideas like they have done for 18 years. Hopefully the acquisition means we can finally get a sequel to Brutal Legend? Please?
So there we have it, a look at the state of and future callings of all the current Xbox Game Studios. Is there a specific studio you are keeping an eye on? Is there a game you are very much looking forward to? The comments section is down below and we’d love to hear your thoughts.