In 2018, Xbox made waves by starting the Game Pass initiative and acquiring six studios to add to its first party. These exciting developments sparked hope in the community for changes to come. It is no secret that the Xbox One era was a catastrophe, and it took years to start correcting the problem. Since 2014, Phil Spencer has been at the forefront of this change since he took over as the head of Microsoft’s Xbox Division. Things have been promising for years, but how long can gamers continue to wait? The acquisition of Ninja Theory, Double Fine, Compulsion, InExile, Obsidian, Undead Labs, Playground Games, and Bethesda has borne little to no fruit. Due to prior commitments, most of these titles have been multiplatform. But where are the big first-party releases?
Taking the Temperature of Xbox Studios
Obsidian, so far, has been the MVP of their newly acquired studios. The Outer Worlds, Grounded, and Pentiment have been critical successes and helped bolster Game Pass’s Lineup. Double Fine has released Psychonauts 2, which is an incredible experience, yet this title is available on their rival’s platform, as is the aforementioned The Outer Worlds. Playground continues to deliver with the Forza Horizon series, but their long in development of Fable is continuously lingering in the background of gamers’ minds. Inexile’s Wasteland 3 was exciting, but just like The Outer Worlds and Psychonauts 2, this game was in development before being purchased.
Hellblade 2 from Ninja Theory continues to wow every time it is shown. But one starts to wonder how long we will wait till we can experience this game. Undead Labs is in the same boat. We have only seen State of Decay 3 once in a CG trailer and nothing else. Compulsion Games haven’t made a peep since acquired. But rumors swirl about their in-development project. Bethesda has had to fulfill previous requirements to Sony with the releases of Deathloop and Ghostwire Tokyo (Ghostwire is severely underrated).
The Current State of Xbox’s 2023 Line Up
Bethesda and Xbox, so far, have the most promise. The stealth release of Hi-Fi Rush was an unexpected success. Delivering a unique, stylish rhythm action game. Hi-Fi Rush started 2023 off with a bang for Xbox. Things finally seemed to be heading in the right direction. The excitement of Redfall, the highly anticipated and long-in-development Starfield, and Forza Motorsport made this seem like a year to start finally competing on a different level.
Since the release of Hi-Fi Rush, the year has begun to unravel. Redfall was delayed, and recently, has been controversy about the game running at 30 FPS on Series X and S, which has many debating whether it should be delayed further for more polish. Starfield has also been postponed into the 2nd half of the year, now arriving on September 6th. Forza Motorsport looks beautiful, yet it’s questionable if they can release it in a timely and polished manner.
Who’s to Blame for Inconsistencies?
So, who is to blame for these inconsistencies? Phil Spencer, Matt Booty, Sarah Bond? I don’t think we can blame one person but the collective unit at Xbox. It’s hard enough trying to oversee the development of one video game, let alone 23 development teams they currently own. Rumors coming from their studios do not point to good management either. This includes allegations of sexism and bullying from Undead Labs to the supposed delay of Fable due to engine woes.
Their biggest blunder is the management of 343 and the Halo franchise. But I won’t harp on that as it has been repeatedly reported and discussed since Infinites launch in November 2021. The news only gets worse as Joe Staten and Frank O’Connor have left. Things look bleak for Halo and Xbox when this seems to be a reoccurring issue.
The Initiative Studio also appears to be a blunder. A brand-new studio they built from the ground up seems to have fallen apart after much talent has moved on, and dependable talent such as Crystal Dynamics has been brought in to work on the new Perfect Dark. Video games are challenging and complex products to complete, that’s no secret, but Xbox is failing to get development streamlined and ironed out. Instead, they keep acquiring new studios with the pending Activision-Blizzard, King deal. If they can’t manage what they currently own, how can they manage more?
Xbox Promise Ahead
Xbox has a lot of promise, and it can push gaming further if they start developing consistent, high-quality games. They always push the medium forward through services, Xbox Live, and Game Pass. Their dedication to accessibility is admirable and innovative, yet where is that when it comes to their studios and games? An Xbox first party that rivals Nintendo and Sony will only make everybody work harder to deliver incredible experiences. Yet until then, their competitors will dominate in the console space. Eventually, they need to live up to their promises, or somebody needs to answer for their failures. It’s frustrating being a fan of Xbox, as greatness is always in the palm of their hand. Xbox just hasn’t figured out how to grasp it just yet.