[United States of America]
Armature Studio is an independent studio based in Austin, Texas. Armature was founded in September 2008 by Mark Pacini, Todd Keller, and Jack Mathews. They are best known for their work on Recore, a platformer set on a barren, desert planet. In Recore, you play as a young woman and her robot companions, who help her complete puzzles and traverse the difficult terrain on her quest to terraform the planet. Recore is an Xbox One and PC exclusive that has potential if Xbox and Armature could work together on a new entry. Armature makes sense as a possible acquisition target, especially if Xbox was dedicated to making Recore a franchise.
Giant Sparrow is a small, independent game studio based in Santa Monica, California. Founded on March 22, 2009, Giant Sparrow is best known for the critically acclaimed What Remains of Edith Finch. Microsoft has shown an appreciation for small studios that make breathtaking stories and really outperform their studio size. With Xbox Head Phil Spencer himself being a big fan of Edith Finch, don’t count out the idea of a possible pairing of the studio and Xbox down the line.
IRON GALAXY STUDIOS
Iron Galaxy was founded by Dave Lang on August 15th, 2008, and is based in Chicago, Illinois. Their current CEO is Adam Boyes. Microsoft and Iron Galaxy already have a good, established relationship, with Iron Galaxy being the current caretakers of the Killer Instinct IP (Microsoft obtained the IP rights to Killer Instinct when they acquired Rare in the early 2000’s). Killer Instinct has a loyal and passionate following, with many clamoring for a sequel. Having a dedicated fighter studio in the first party would be excellent for Xbox. With the right care and promotion, Killer Instinct could potentially become Xbox’s Smash Bros. equivalent (Killer Instinct already has several guest fighters from other Xbox franchises).
Moon Studios was founded in 2010, and is based in Vienna, Austria. The creators of the beautifully enchanting Ori series, they have demonstrated a brilliant ability to create truly moving and enjoyable games. Having an already established and positive relationship with Xbox for their publishing of Ori and Ori: Will of the Wisps, could definitely be a good thing in terms of acquisition talks. While Moon has been rumored to be reluctant to be acquired in the past, maybe seeing the sheer success and creative freedom that Ninja Theory has had since the acquisition, would help change their stance on it. As far as likelihood, Moon is likely to stay independent, but they are absolutely a studio with whom Xbox should keep close connections. You never know what the future holds; they may yet become an Xbox Studio down the road. They certainly would be a jackpot acquisition.
Red Barrels INC.
Red Barrels is an independent game studio based in Montreal, Canada. Founded in 2011 by Philippe Morin, David Chateaneuf, and Hugo Dallaire in 2011, Red Barrels specializes in horror games. Their intense, psychological horror Outlast series, is well regarded among fans of the genre. As a Canadian studio, it would allow Microsoft to further strengthen their operations in the region (Microsoft already has several studios in Canada, with The Coalition being the most known). Having a dedicated first studio for horror in the first party would help diversify the Xbox lineup.
Studio MDHR is a small independent studio headquartered in Oakville, Canada. Founded by Jared and Chad Moldenhauer in 2013, they are a young studio with clear talent. With a staff of only 19 developers, they made the critically acclaimed and commercial smash hit, Cuphead, which launched as an Xbox console exclusive. Having worked with Xbox extensively on Cuphead, they have an already established and positive relationship. Being located in Canada would mean another studio in the region for Xbox. Having a strong network of studios in the country would be a good idea for Xbox.
An independent AAA studio based in Copenhagen, Denmark, IO Interactive was founded on September 1, 1998, as a joint venture between Reto-Moto and Nordisk Film. From March 2004 until June 2017 (when IO bought their independence) IO was owned by Square Enix. IO’s current CEO is Hakan B. Abrak. IO is best known for their Hitman series, featuring the lethal assassin Agent 47, but have also created the Kane and Lynch series, Mini Ninjas, and Freedom Fighters. They are currently working on a new IP, which makes it the perfect time to speak with them about a possible acquisition, seeing as Xbox badly needs new IP. Having another studio in Europe would also help Xbox broaden their foothold in the region, a positive thing for business ventures there.
Remedy Entertainment is a well-regarded, independent studio based in Espoo, Finland. Remedy is best known for its work on Alan Wake, Max Payne 1 and 2, and Quantum Break. Alan Wake and Quantum Break were Xbox platform exclusives, and Remedy is currently collaborating with Smilegate to bring CrossfireX to Xbox One as a console exclusive. Their latest game, Control was a multi-award winner and is ripe for further exploration. Remedy would be a perfect fit for Xbox, and would greatly assist their need for more mature single-player titles.
Based in Bordeaux, France, Asobo is an independent studio founded on October 17, 2002. Asobo has mainly worked on established licenses, but just recently, released their first new IP, A Plague Tale: Innocence. Plague Tale is a powerful, hauntingly beautiful story about a young girl and her younger brother, who must survive in a plague riddled country. Asobo is also currently working on Microsoft’s new Flight Simulator game, which was unveiled at E3 2019. Asobo has a long-established relationship with Microsoft and would make great sense as an acquisition target. Asobo is a sleeping giant of a studio, if they are truly available for acquisition, Microsoft would want to act quickly.
Arc System Works
Arc System Works was founded in May 1998. Its primary base of operations is in Yokohama, Japan, but, on November 2, 2017, a new location was established in Torrance, California. Bullet Hell style games are its specialty, with the Guilty Gear and BlazBlue series being its most noteworthy titles. Their longevity, stability, and success with its IP’s, makes Arc System Works an attractive option for Xbox Acquisition.
ArtPlay is an independent studio based in Tokyo, Japan. Headed by the renowned developer Koji Igarashi, (who worked on Castlevania), they are an upstart in the Japanese gaming sector. Having just recently released their hit title, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, which is a spiritual successor to the classic Castlevania titles, now would be a great time to acquire them as they trend upward. Having Igarashi as a developer for an Xbox owned studio would give the brand instant credibility and respect in the region, something Xbox has really struggled to gain over the past decade. ArtPlay, with a small team and budget, made a very compelling game, so imagine them with Xbox resources. This would be a very shrewd target for Xbox acquisition.
Cave Interactive CO
Cave Interactive CO was founded on June 15, 1994. Cave has done numerous games for Xbox in the past, having several appearing on the Xbox 360. Currently, Cave is primarily working on mobile games but is has several games available on PC, and Deathsmiles is playable on consoles. With Xbox’s xCloud project, and overall strategy of games being able to be played anytime, anywhere, having a studio-like Cave that has mobile expertise, would make Cave Interactive CO a solid addition.
CyberConnect2 was founded in February 1996. While their headquarters are in Fukuoka, Japan, they also have studios in Tokyo and Montreal. With 203 employees, as of July 2019, it is a fairly large studio. Cyber is primarily known for its Naruto games but has also contributed to noteworthy games such as Asura’s Wrath.
Experience Inc was founded in April 2007 and is headquartered in Tokyo, Japan. It is a tiny studio of 15 employees, which makes its sustained success and game quality all the more impressive. The company’s biggest hit so far has been Demon Gaze 2 for PlayStation Vita, which sold very well for such a small studio. Their most recent titles are Death Mark and NG, both of which are horror games, and have released on several platforms. Experience would be the ultimate build and grow studio option for Microsoft. It is clearly already successful and well run as is, but could reach even greater heights with the financial and technological backing of Microsoft.
Grounding Inc was founded in 2007. It has studio locations in both Tokyo and Fukuoka, Japan. Its Producer/CEO is Mineka Okamura, who previously worked at Microsoft Studios. Yukio Futaki, creator of Panzer Dragoon and director of Phantom Dust, (an Original Xbox exclusive, with the remaster being an Xbox One exclusive), is in a Director role at the studio. Grounding released Crimson Dragon, which they viewed as a spiritual successor to Panzer Dragoon, as an Xbox One exclusive. Having an established past relationship with Microsoft/Xbox, plus its renowned staff makes Grounding Inc an appealing option for Xbox acquisition.
Recently founded by Japanese gaming legend, Tomonobu Itagaki, the creator of Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive, this studio is an intriguing acquisition target. Having a long-established relationship with Xbox, dating back to the original Xbox console, Itagaki Games potentially joining the Xbox Family makes perfect sense. Tomonobu Itagaki even said recently in an interview that “it would be an honor” if Xbox expressed interest in acquiring his studio.
Koei Tecmo was founded in January 2010, when Koei Corporation and Tecmo Inc. announced a merger. Koei Tecmo is a collection of studios with varying genre specializations. Among the notable titles from their collection are the Ninja Gaiden series, Nioh series, Dead or Alive series, and the Dynasty Warriors series. Having an already established relationship with Xbox, dating back to the original Xbox console, makes them a plausible acquisition target. Add to this the fact that Koei Tecmo CEO, Hisashi Koinuma, was quoted in a Bloomberg article as ‘open to bringing more games to Xbox”, the time might be right for an acquisition.
Mistwalker is based in Tokyo, Japan, and was founded in 2004 by Hironobu Sakaguchi. Microsoft helped supply financial backing to get the company up and running. Mistwalker is best known for their Xbox 360 exclusives, Lost Odyssey and Blue Dragon, two JRPGs that have loyal fan followings. Xbox absolutely needs to improve their presence in Japan, something that would be helped by an acquisition of Mistwalker. Having an already established relationship with the company would likely help in possible talks with them about acquisition.
Q Entertainment was founded on November 10, 2003, and is headquartered in Tokyo, Japan. Q’s CEO is Shuji Utsumi. The studio has worked on a variety of titles, but is best known for its Lumines and Meteos Series. Q Entertainment also worked on Ubisoft’s Child of Eden and the Xbox 360 exclusive Ninety-Nine Nights (N3).
WHITE OWLS INC.
A small, and fairly new independent studio, White Owls Inc, was founded by SWERY on November 1, 2016. This studio, based in Osaka, Japan, would give Xbox a presence in Japan, something they severely lack, and would be largely about the potential of the studio. The studio has released one game, The Missing, and is currently working on the Good Life, an artistically and narratively intriguing title, involving a town where people turn into cats and dogs. SWERY is friends with Double Fine studio head Tim Schafer, whose studio just recently joined the Xbox Family at E3 2019. The video game industry is largely based on networks, and there is a clear network involved here; SWERY is friends with Tim Schafer, who in turn is friends with inXile head Brian Fargo and Obsidian head Feargus Urquhart (inXile and Obsidian joined the Xbox family at XO18). One would think already having friends in the Xbox Family, would make the idea of acquisition more appealing.
An independent studio based in Krakow, Poland, Bloober Team would be an excellent addition to the Xbox family. Bloober is a studio that specializes in psychological thrillers and horror games, something Xbox lacks in a first-party studio capacity. Founded in November 2008 by Peter Babieno and Peter Bielatowicz, Bloober Team has quickly developed a reputation for making high quality, thought-provoking titles such as Layers of Fear and Observer. Bloober is currently working on The Medium and recently released Blair Witch for Xbox One, PS4, and PC. Extending Microsoft’s foothold in Europe is needed, and adding a dedicated first-party studio that specializes in psychological thrillers and horror titles, would be an excellent addition.
The FARM 51
The Farm 51 is an independent studio based in Gliwice, Poland. Their created works include Get Even, Painkiller: Hell & Damnation, and NecroVisioN. Founded in 2005, they have a sustained period of stability. With a staff of 100+, they are an interesting midsized studio possibility for Xbox in the talent-rich Poland region.
PEOPLE CAN FLY
People Can Fly is an independent studio based in Warsaw, Poland. Founded in 2002, they have an established track record of making quality shooters (Gears: Judgement and Bulletstorm). Speaking of Gears: Judgement, that gives them an already established relationship with Xbox, which could definitely be a positive in terms of acquisition talks. As a studio with 200+ staff members, they are a fairly large studio which would be a big boost to the Xbox lineup. Location, established relationship, established track record of success, and size makes People Can Fly a very attractive option for Xbox acquisition.
The creator of Dead Island and Dying Light 1 & 2, Techland is a master of the zombie apocalypse setting. Their games blend Action RPG elements with Survival Horror, creating truly unique experiences. Based in Ostrow Wielkopolski, Poland, Techland is located in a hub of developer talent. Founded in 1991, they have impressive longevity as an independent studio. As an AAA studio, they are one of the largest available independent studios and bring with them some serious gaming firepower. Simply put, getting them to join the Xbox Family would be a home run. They actually already have an established relationship with inXile, an RPG studio that Xbox acquired in 2018, having published their game Torment: Tides of Numenera, so having that established connection certainly helps.
Smilegate is an independent studio located in Seoul, South Korea. Founded in 2002 by South Korean billionaire Kwon Hyuk-Bin (who also solely owns the company). Smilegate is the studio behind the global phenomenon, CrossfireX. This online shooter game has an absolutely humongous player count, which would be a big boon for Xbox Live and Gamepass. Smilegate and Remedy are collaborating to bring this game to Xbox One as a console exclusive, so there is already an established relationship between the parties. Smilegate checks several boxes as an acquisition target; name recognition, established track record of quality work, located in Asia, (which would give Xbox a much-needed foothold on the continent), and giant developer staff. With Phil repeatedly saying publicly that he wants to acquire Asian studio(s), Smilegate would be an excellent choice. The fact that it is solely owned by an individual, rather than a group could also make negotiations easier (much easier to get one yes or no, than convincing a multitude of parties to agree/disagree).
(Disclaimer: This is merely a thought piece and conjecture, based on my own research of the gaming industry. It is not a report on any pending acquisitions.)