The Mystery And Potential Surrounding Xbox Game Studios Is Exciting

July 23, 2020

Think back to the start of the last generation of consoles. Every company was going into the generation with much the same company makeup as they had ended the last one. Because of that, we largely knew what to expect from both companies going into the next generation. We knew PlayStation would likely have a new Ratchet & Clank, LittleBigPlanet, Uncharted and Killzone, much like we knew Xbox would likely have a new Halo, Forza, Gears of War and Fable. It makes complete sense, these were their most successful and long running franchises, and given all the developers behind them were still on board we were of course going to see sequels to them.

While new console generations are all about new possibilities and potential, they also pose a significant financial risk. Just like PlayStation saw when moving from the PlayStation 2 to 3 and Nintendo saw with the Wii through to Wii U, just because your last system was successful, doesn’t mean the next one will be. And so, console manufacturers often stick to their guns and run with what they know people like. Brand and IP awareness go a long way to help pushing your console into successful territory. It doesn’t mean the games aren’t exciting, but unknowns and mystery can be exciting, and this is something that’s often missing from the early days of a console generation.

This time, however, Microsoft is going into the generation with a massively different makeup to Xbox Games Studios than the one they started the previous generation with. They’ve shut a number of studios or allowed them to break away and have acquired a massive number of other studios over the last couple of years. These studios are all known quantities, with multiple games under their belts, but all have been constrained by publisher budgets, schedules, technological limitations and requirements. Things that none of them need to worry about anymore, with the creative freedom, technical supports and budgetary freedom that comes from being owned by a company with billions of dollars.

A perfect example is Obsidian Entertainment, a studio known for fantastic stories contained within buggy games that have been frequently hit with shifting publisher schedules and limited budgets. Famously on the brink of bankruptcy prior to launching the Pillars of Eternity Kickstarter campaign, they’re now in a position where they can explore whatever they want. Another is InXile Entertainment, a studio who previously worked on isometric RPGs and is now staffing up to work on an Unreal Engine 5 game. Similarly, look at Double Fine, who have already come out and confirmed that they’ve been able to increase the scope of Psychonauts 2 as a result of becoming a part of Xbox Game Studios.

Along with Undead Labs, Playground Games, Compulsion Games and Ninja Theory, these are all studios that now have the freedom to develop whatever they want, without having to worry about where their next round of funding will come from. None of them need to worry about pitching to a publisher and none of them have to worry about what happens if a game bombs critically. They have a level of stability that will truly allow them to branch out and create their dream projects and that makes this all the more exciting. We’ve seen what these studios can do with limited resources and while trying to please their publisher, but we haven’t seen what they can do with those shackles removed.

Similarly, there’s The Initiative, a completely new studios built from the ground up by Xbox Game Studios in recent times. We have no idea what they’re developing (although rumours point to a reboot of Perfect Dark) and this adds to the mystery. While we’ll still get the same Halos, Gears of Wars and Forzas as the past, we really don’t know what’s going to come from these new studios (once they finish up any prior commitments like Wasteland 3 and Psychonauts 2). Will Obsidian finally get to create another AAA open world RPG? Will Double Fine return to some of their past Amnesia Fortnight pitches that didn’t get picked up by publishers? Will Undead Labs finally work on their often-mentioned dreams of a State of Decay MMO?

We don’t know, and that’s what makes it exciting. These studios breath a new life into Xbox Game Studios and the possibilities that brand brings. There is totally the potential that there will be flops and poor-quality games, as there is at any time, but the potential variety of experiences is better than ever. We finally have that uncertainty once again with Xbox Game Studios. Finally, we can begin to start moving away from the constant refrain of “it’s all Halo, Gears and Forza” that was absolutely earned over the last few years. Rare are humming, Forza finally took a year off, Halo and Gears both seem to be changing their formulas, and there’s a massive number of new studios that can bring new experiences to the portfolio and platform. This all might end up being for nought, but right now, it’s an exciting time for Xbox Game Studios and their fans.