Last week I wrote an article defending the number of exclusives on Xbox One. While I still stand by that, I am not blind to the repetitive nature of Microsoft’s exclusives. I absolutely love the Forza series as well as Halo and Gears of War, but without these series, the Xbox portfolio would look pretty bare. As much as Microsoft needs these tentpole franchises, relying too heavily on them without rotation to other projects could end up jeopardising not only these IPs, but also the Xbox brand as a whole. Xbox needs to diversify and grow and to do that means getting new exclusives and investing in new studios.
The two occasions that Microsoft have tried something different this generation the results have not matched expectations. Sunset Overdrive was a fantastic game that got good reviews but just didn’t sell in the numbers that Microsoft hoped for. Interestingly, for a company so obsessed with control, Microsoft gave away a lot of that control and let the developer take the lead. Insomniac, stepping entirely away from PlayStation for the first time in their history, crafted a unique game that was not only 100% what they wanted to make, but something that they kept all the IP rights to.
The other new exclusive was Ryse: Son of Rome and it’s still one of the best-looking games of this generation despite being a launch title. The game had some interesting ideas but was just too repetitive and fairly brief. It is a game that would really benefit from a sequel to take the basics of the game and build upon them. Of course, one of the issues with a sequel is the state of the developer Crytek, who have run into tough times as of late. Even if Microsoft did want to commission a sequel, Crytek may not be interested.
So whom could Microsoft call on to create a new game for them? Well it would probably have to be a third-party developer as Microsoft only owns 7 development studios and two of these are the ‘Lift London’ (who make games for tablets & mobiles) and ‘Microsoft Casual Games Team’ (who make games like Solitaire, Mahjong, Minesweeper, etc.). This leaves only five developers and when you consider that these include 343 Industries (who are dedicated to making Halo), Turn 10 Studios (who are dedicated to all things Forza), Mojang (who make Minecraft), and The Coalition (who are responsible for Gears of War), the only developer left is Rare. As much as I would love to see lots of new IPs coming out of Rare, I would much rather they make sure Sea of Thieves is amazing and then focus on reviving some of their older properties (like Banjo Kazooie, Conker, and Jet Force Gemini). Microsoft used to have a whole bunch of developers but they have either let them go (Bungie and Twisted Pixel) or have closed them down (Digital Anvil, Ensemble Studios, FASA Studio, Lionhead Studios, Press Play, and others).
Microsoft has had previous success with third party developers. They have partnered with BioWare for the brilliant Jade Empireand the first game in the Mass Effect series. They passed on some of the Forza technology to Playground Games so that they could produce the superb Forza Horizon games. The connection between these is that they found talented studios and gave them a lot of creative freedom. This doesn’t always work though; look at the talent behind the disappointing ReCore. It is however, the best way to get new, exciting games.
Another route would be to reinvigorate one of Xbox’s older brands. I do think that it would have to be a truly dormant brand though to get people excited. I love the Fable franchise, but I think after the debacle of Fable Legends, a new start to that brand would be too soon. What I would love to see is something like a new MechAssault game or Crimson Skies title. One of the best suggestions I’ve heard comes from my fellow Enthusiast Andrew Gonzalez who suggested giving the Banjo Kazooie franchise to Moon Studios, the team behind Ori and the Blind Forest. Resurrecting one of these series would bring a brilliant blend of freshness to newer Xbox gamers and nostalgia for Xbox fans that have been there from the beginning.
With E3 approaching fast, Microsoft clearly has all of its plans in motion. Project Scorpio will be the main focus but we need some big games for it. If Phil Spencer can come out on stage and announce at least two new AAA titles that aren’t related to Forza, Halo, or Gears, I think fans will be happy and the doubters will be silenced (even if only temporarily). The Xbox brand may not be as large as PlayStation right now, but the fanbase is more than enough to make a third-party exclusive financially viable. What’s more, Microsoft is in a much better financial situation than Sony (whose PlayStation arm is helping to keep the company in the black right now) and can afford to throw its money around to get some great content. I have confidence that come E3 we’ll get some surprises, some great hardware, and some fantastic new games.