Why Microsoft’s New Studios Can Be a Game Changer

Microsoft announced that they purchased five studios to make exclusive games for Xbox consoles and computers at E3 2018. While Undead Labs (State of Decay series) and Playground Games (Forza Horizon series) have basically been working as unofficial first-party studios for several years, Compulsion Games, Ninja Theory, and The Initiative are the type of studios that can help Microsoft become legitimate competition to Sony and Nintendo when it comes to first party games.

I had low expectations for Microsoft’s E3 press conference. While I assumed a new Gears of War, Halo, or Forza game would be announced, I hoped that Microsoft would do something to show that they’re committed to making first-party games that wasn’t one of the previous three. The Nintendo Switch came out in 2017 and had already had first-party games of popular and famous franchises in Mario, Zelda, and Kirby come out. But Nintendo also had new franchises in ARMS and 1-2-3 Switch, despite their entire brand being built around using classic franchises to sell consoles. Sony released new games in their classic franchises in Uncharted 4 and God of War, but committed to new franchises in Horizon: Zero Dawn and Knack.

Microsoft had new exclusives in Quantum Break and Sea of Thieves, but they haven’t released as many as Sony despite both PS4 and Xbox One coming out in 2013, and few of their first-party games were as well reviewed by critics as Sony and Nintendo’s first-party games. As someone that has a current generation system from all three companies but has friends that mostly play on Xbox, I see Microsoft’s lack of first-party games as a serious problem. It would’ve been nice if my friends that only own an Xbox One could’ve played a single player focused game that was in similar quality of Until Dawn and Super Mario Odyssey, so it was nice to see Microsoft announce that they acquired Playground Games, Undead Labs, Ninja Theory, Compulsion Games, and The Initiative to make games exclusively for them.

At the time I wasn’t impressed. I only recognized Playground Games and Undead Labs, and thought, “They weren’t already first party studios?” It wasn’t until I read this article by Christopher Grant detailing each company, did I realize that Microsoft actually set the groundwork to eventually have their next Halo or Gears of War.

The only Ninja Theory game I’m positive I played was Heavenly Sword, a hack-and-slash game that was good for a launch title when PS3 came out, but their most recent Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice sounds interesting and they could create exclusive games in a genre that Xbox One is currently missing. Nintendo has already announced that Bayoneta 3 will only be on the Switch and Sony recently released God of War, so it will likely be Ninja Theory’s job to create something similar for Xbox.

Complusion Games has only released one game in Contrast that received a 62 out of 100 on Metacritic.com, so they appear to be Microsoft’s strangest choice. The head of their studio Guillaume Provost was involved in the Bioshock series, and Complusion Games’ new game We Happy Few does have a similar art style to the last game of the series Bioshock: Infinite. Speaking of We Happy Few, it’s probably the most likely reason Microsoft decided to buy Complusion Games. We Happy Few is a game that was part of Xbox Early Access, a program were you paid $30 to play a still in development version of We Happy Few and basically be a beta tester, so Microsoft must’ve thought the game was so good that the developer should make games exclusively for Microsoft going forward. We Happy Few comes out August 10, 2018, so we won’t have to wait too long to see if Microsoft made a smart investment.

Gallagher has worked in video games for decades. According to his LinkedIn page, Gallagher started as Head of Creative at Sony in 1997, before joining Rockstar Games in 2004 as a lead artist. He later moved to THQ to become an Art Director, then he joined Crystal Dynamics as its Art Director in 2005. He was promoted to Studio Head at Crystal Dynamics/Eidos in 2009, before getting promoted again to Head of Product Development and Studios at Square Enix in 2013. In 2016, he joined Activision as SVP and Head of Development before finally coming to Microsoft. Needless to say, he brings a wealth of experience to the Xbox team.

The above quote is from this article by Eddie Makuch announcing that Microsoft hired Darrell Gallagher. Gallagher will lead a new development team called The Initiative. This is the studio that I have the most excitement for, because I grew up playing Tomb Raider games and loved that the reboot turned the franchise into a dark and gritty M rated game, and Gallagher had a lot to do with the new direction.

It’s likely that new first party games from Ninja Theory, Compulsion Games, The Initiative, and a non-Forza game from Playground Games will be launch titles or within the first year of the new Xbox rumored to be released in 2020, but at least Xbox fans can now realistically believe that Xbox will compete with Sony and Nintendo in first party games someday.

Author: Michael Bronson

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