One of the biggest surprises to come out of last week's pre-E3 Microsoft press conference was the news about the four studios that it had acquired, along with a fifth, The Initiative, that it created.
Some of the studios weren't a surprise, like Playground Games, who have been working on Forza Horizon for years; and Undead Labs, the team behind State of Decay and its sequel. But then we heard Ninja Theory, the creators of DmC: Devil May Cry and Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice, got picked up as well.
Speaking with GamesIndustry International, chief marketing officer for gaming Mike Nichols explained the moves that went into picking these studios up, along with We Happy Few creators Compulsion Games. "We looked at a whole bunch of different approaches to increasing the number of studio teams we had," he said. "Because these studios are ones where we've been admirers, we've been partners with them, we know who they are and the strengths they bring. We've been talking to them and the team decided that these are creative studios that will help us tell new stories in new worlds, in better ways that are diverse. They have different approaches than our standard five big studios that we already had. And that's what led us to say, 'Hey, let's go make some investments. And let's go ahead and announce them so Xbox fans know not only are there games they're hearing about coming now, but also there are games that are going to be coming from a whole bunch of different, creative minds.'"
This was an interesting bounceback from the previous year, when the company shut down Lionhead Studios and cancelled both Fable Legends and Scalebound, two highly anticipated projects.
But now the team is devoted to creating memorable game experiences of all types. "I would say the role of Microsoft Studios is firstly to differentiate our platforms," Nichols said. "I use that phrase 'platforms' specifically, and not just hardware itself. Platforms as in Xbox One, the Xbox Live social network, our Game Pass service... all of those exclusive games provide value for those platforms. Frankly, what you're seeing and what's changed over the last many years has been a really strong pivot, and I think a very forward-leaning pivot, into what's the future of gaming we want to enable. And the future we want to enable is that you can play amazing games, you can play with the people you want regardless of the device you're on, regardless of the device they're on, and you can choose to play those games on whatever device. That is a more gamer-centric view of what it is we're trying to build that for sure is different than the way people would think about the console business in and of itself five or 10 years ago.
"We want to reach gamers of all types. We want to reach gamers who are only on phones. We want to reach gamers who are only on PC, who are only on console, and mixes therein. And in order to do that, we need to make our content available across the relevant devices. And in some cases, we want to make content specific to a device, like we announced the Gears Pop game specifically for mobile. It is definitely a change in our approach, but it's a change in our approach that I think reflects consumer dynamics, technology, evolution... Frankly, consumers look increasingly at every form of entertainment. They expect it to play across many devices. There are some reasons why that's harder in gaming than other forms of entertainment, but I would still look at it as a really great vision to work towards, and that's what we're trying to do."
Hopefully, with these new teams on board, it'll be able to get the job done. We'll see what they're up to next over the following year.