Microsoft announced back at E3 2018 that they were acquiring 5 new game studios and making them first party. To the masses, this seemed like nothing. To the people actually in the gaming industry like journalists and to some extent YouTubers, they knew that what Microsoft was doing. They were ramping up, preparing for the next generation of consoles, or whatever they plan on doing at this point. But they were getting ready to fight the next battle since this one has already been lost to the PS4.
There is more recent news floating around that Microsoft is looking at buying Obsidian Entertainment. Most notably for Fallout New Vegas fame, but also Pillars of Eternity and other great PC games. After hearing about this I decided that I wanted to do my research on each of these studios and kind of score them. In terms of which are the most exciting, what games they have already produced, and if they will be beneficial to them in the future. So here we go!
Overview: 343 Industries is known for taking over the Halo franchise from Bungie. They have been around since 2007 and started their career with Halo: Combat Evolved. They are currently working on Halo Infinite.
What I think: 343 has been having a rough time lately. Halo 5 wasn’t the most revered game in the franchise. Honestly, most people hated it. Getting rid of couch co-op was a huge reason why. Microsoft just recently announced that 343 is working on the newest Halo project, Halo Infinite. No one really knows what type of game it will be. Most speculation is saying that it will be a “games as a service” type, with a living world and constant updates. Think Ubisoft games, for the most part. In my opinion, this studio will stick around for a long time. Halo is the main staple for Microsoft but in terms of it being overly important to the company right now? Not really Microsoft needs new IPs. Halo will always have its fan base, but I really don’t see it bringing in any new fans.
Overview: The Coalition is Microsoft’s Gears of War studio. It is comprised of 3 different studios: Zipline Studios, Microsoft Game Studios Vancouver, and Black Tusk Studios. Black Tusk Studios was the last name before they turned into The Coalition. This was after Microsoft had bought the rights to the Gears of War franchise and made this team the Gears team, a lot like 343 Industries is their Halo team.
What I think: I love Gears of War. The franchise has been great to me. Even Gears 4 was enjoyable, even if it didn’t feel like much of a departure from the previous trilogy like they said it would be. Gears 5 has been announced and showcased. I am pretty excited to see if The Coalition takes the criticism to heart and makes something new with the series. This being said, this team is a lot like 343. It has one of Microsoft’s main franchises, and it seems like a lot of people are starting to get a little worn down on it. I think I have more hope for the Gears franchise than Halo though. These guys and gals will stick around for a while, but their importance in the gaming space seems almost trivial as of right now.
Overview: Turn 10 Studios was established in 2001 and have been cranking away at a new Forza game almost yearly since 2005. They also help make Forza Horizon as well with Playground Games.
What I think: Forza is the number 1 best selling car simulation and racing game out there. Turn 10 overtook Gran Turismo with Forza 3 back in 2009 and has been one step ahead of them ever since. The fact that the best racing game is on Microsofts platform exclusively is a huge deal. Any racing fan will be picking up an Xbox to play this game, and that’s a big deal. The Horizon series is also huge. These games bring in even non-racing fans like myself. The open world nature and almost RPG aspects of the series are just too good to pass up. Turn 10 will be around for a long time, and their importance to Microsoft in the future is massive.
Overview: Rare Studios is a gaming household name. They have been around since 1985 and have developed many memory games across multiple genres. In 2002 Microsoft bought Rare. Their first games released were Kameo, Perfect Dark, and Viva Pinata. The latest game Rare released is Sea of Thieves.
What I think: Rare is one of those studios that everyone knows, and love to remember the good old days like GoldenEye, Battletoads, and Conker. Nowadays Rare is a husk of what it was. Most of the key people from the studio has left and formed their own companies. Sea of Thieves is the latest game they have released, and even though it sold fairly well, the player base seems to have dropped significantly. The game was void of actual content and was suppose to be an attempt at a living game with constant updates. Except when there is very little content to begin with and no real incentive to play (leveling up, getting stronger) everyone just kind of stopped booting the game up. In all honesty, I can see Rare shuttering in the next 5 years. They haven’t had anything good going for them in quite some time.
Overview: Founded in 2009 by Markus “Notch” Persson, Mojang created the global phenomenon Minecraft, a sandbox game based on blocks. In 2014 Microsoft bought Mojang for $2.5 billion. They have also released smaller known games like platformer Cobalt, and card game Caller’s Bane. They recently announced a Minecraft spinoff called Minecraft: Dungeons.
What I think: Mojang was probably one of the biggest game studio purchases ever. I was genuinely surprised that Mojang was bought by Microsoft, but it did make a lot of sense. Minecraft was the first game to reach such a global audience and its popularity was and still in massive. The smartest thing Microsoft did was continuing the support of the mobile and PS4 versions of this game. They are still making a ton of money off this game, not even in terms of the actual game itself, but also with all the merchandise it has created. Now with Minecraft: Dungeons announced, they have another hit coming in 2019. Mojang is very important to Microsoft in terms of making money right now. I see no reason why Minecraft will drop off the most played charts.
Overview: The Initiative is a brand new studio within Microsoft. They have not done anything as of yet. Right now they are currently hiring off their website.
What I think: Well, they’re based in California. So there is a huge pool of game devs to select from. Other than this, we won’t be seeing anything from these guys until the next console generation. My thoughts are this will be the studio that will be spearheading the single player experiences, ala Sony’s God of War and Horizon: Zero Dawn.
Overview: Undead Labs was founded in 2009 by former Blizzard employee Jeff Strain. Their first game was State of Decay that was released exclusively for the XBox 360. State of Decay was then re-released on the Xbox One, and its sequel State of Decay 2 was released in May of 2018, also a Microsoft exclusive. Microsoft announced at E3 2018 that they would be acquiring the studio.
What I think: Seeing how the studio already felt like it was owned by Microsoft, this wasn’t a surprise to me at all when they announced the acquisition. State of Decay was a fantastic game, even with all its bugs. The sequel was released and I was all about it. Unfortunately, the game didn’t really grab me as much this time around. I definitely still want to invest in the game, but it won’t be for a little while. Undead Labs is specifically going after the zombie audience, and I love that. I think there should always be a zombie-centric studio in the industry. If Microsoft throws more money at this studio, I think we will see even more impressive things in the future. Undead Labs can be very important in the future, but for now, we will just have to wait and see.
Overview: Playground Games is a mash-up of a bunch of different games studios like Criterion, Ubisoft Reflections, Black Rock, and Codemasters, all studios best known for racing games. Founded in 2010 and started creating Forza Horizon, a spinoff of the popular racing sim game. They have been working on Microsofts juggernaut racing game since then. Playground Games was apart of the 5 studios that were announced as being acquired at E3 2018.
What I think: Playground Games is quite possibly one of Microsofts most important studios right now. They have been making amazing open-world driving games with Forza Horizon, and it is heavily rumored that they will be making the next game in the Fable franchise. It is also reported that Microsoft is just chucking money at this studio right now, and for all the right reasons. Expect some amazing things to come from these guys in the near future.
Overview: Founded in 2000 by Tameem Antoniades, Nina Kristensen and Mike Ball, the company was originally called “Just Add Monsters”. They were acquired by Argonaut Games, but soon after bought itself out after the company had financial issues and renamed themselves Ninja Theory. Sony funded their next game Heavenly Sword, but since it was a commercial failure, the company lost almost everything. They developed both Enslaved: Odyssey to the West which underperformed, and the DmC reboot game, which did fairly well, but also caused a lot of controversies, including the team receiving death threats. Ninja Theory went on to self-publish Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. The game did absolutely amazing both critically and commercially. Microsoft announced their acquisition at E3 2018.
What I think: Ninja Theory has one of the most tumultuous pasts of any gaming studio. Sony could have been it’s saving grace back in the day, but with Heavenly Sword failing, the studio really had no right to keep on kicking. It almost seemed like they were living contract to contract. Hellblade definitely saved this studio from closing down. I would have expected Sony to pick the studio up over Microsoft since Hellblade was released first on the PS4. Personally, I think this acquisition was more of a strategic one by Ninja Theory. even with Hellblde doing so well, I don’t know how much longer they could have kept self-publishing their games. Having the backing of Microsoft will go a long way for them, and I think most people are eagerly awaiting what the studio has in store for us next.
Overview: Founded in 2009 by ex Arkane employee by Guillaume Provost. This team essentially freelanced on other game titles to help get their start on their first game Contrast (2013). Their latest release is We Happy Few, a first-person dystopian world. They were acquired by Microsoft at E3 2018.
What I think: I think this is one of the weirdest buys out of the newest 5 studios. Contrast critically was a failure, and We Happy Few went through a real rough development for quite a few years before being released to not the greatest of scores. I’m not entirely sure what this studio will be doing next. I would definitely put this one at the bottom of the importance list for Microsoft though. Then again, maybe they know something we don’t?
Obsidian Entertainment (Possibly)
Overview: Obsidian Entertainment was founded in 2003 before the closure of Black Isle Studios (Fallout Series). The company was comprised of ex Black Isle devs. Well known for Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2, Neverwinter Nights 2, and of course Fallout: New Vegas. Obsidian found themselves canceling quite a few projects, but found their footing in the PC space with games like Pillars of Eternity and Tyranny.
What I think: Obsidian Entertainment is one of my favorite studios out there. Pillars of Eternity is an amazing game series, but I honestly fell in love with their first original IP Alpha Protocol. With them doing a fantastic job at a Fallout game as well, they had me in their pocket. I think the more than likely acquisition of Obsidian by Microsoft is definitely a strategic one by Obsidian. Much like Ninja Theory, Obsidian was self-publishing. It’s hard nowadays to be an independent developer making AAA quality games. With Microsoft throwing money at these guys, they could definitely make some more amazing stuff. I think this is also a way for Microsoft to get a deeper footing in the PC space.
So what do you guys think of Microsofts first party studios now? Which ones stand out to you? Sound off!