State of Play – Microsoft’s First Party Studios – Part 2

It’s incredible to think that the newest kids on the console gaming block (Microsoft) have more internal first party studios than either Nintendo or Sony. Well since the debut of the original Xbox back in 2001 they’ve expanded to 29 development studios across the world – 21 of them develop games but not all of them for Xbox Platforms. Though many have been created in the last few years, and many we know nothing of as of yet, there is incredible hope for the future of the Xbox platform with this many studios dedicated to bringing games to the family of consoles. In this piece I will look at each of these studios, discuss their past, their present and what we know of their future. There are some though that are only months old and we know nothing of so please be aware that a few studios will be mentioned but not explicitly covered due to a total lack of information. Here is the second and final part of our look at these exciting studios.

Part 1

State of Play – Microsoft’s First Party Studios – Part 2

Press Play

State of Play - Microsoft's First Party Studios - Part 2

Their Past – Having brought over twenty games across multiple platforms since they arrived on the scene you would think that Press Play would be a studio at the forefront of gamers minds right? Not yet, Press Play, founded in 2006 and acquired by Microsoft in 2012, Press Play is most known for their work on Max and the Curse of Brotherhood for the Xbox One’s launch. The small studio has dabbled in different facets of games development having for a period been a multiplatform studio, before being acquired where they’ve since developed console games as well as exclusive mobile games.

Their Present – Press Play resurfaced in 2015 with an interesting idea. The studio had been juggling three different concepts for their next game but sought community feedback to decide which they would continue with. The Denmark based studio showed gamers Project Dwarka, Project Karoo and Project Knoxville with the latter being the game that most won the hearts of fans. Since then it has been full steam ahead developing Project Knoxville into a full game.

State of Play - Microsoft's First Party Studios - Part 2
Project Knoxville

Their Future – Given that their last release was in 2013 but they were also managing three games simultaneously until six months ago it is hard to know how deep into development the team is with Project Knoxville. Don’t be surprised to see the game reintroduced in some fashion at either E3 or PAX events as the year progresses, but it seems unlikely that the final game will be releasing in 2017. Don’t rule out the possibility either that Dwarka and Karoo are not still being considered for later development. Neither were bad games in their own right and may be currently sitting on the backburner only to resurface post release of Knoxville.


State of Play - Microsoft's First Party Studios - Part 2

Their Past – The industry veterans, Rare’s history extends well beyond a time where Microsoft was operating in the console business. Founded in 1985 Rare were working independently releasing the overwhelming majority of their games on Nintendo platforms until 2002 where they became a first party Microsoft studio. The creators of Donkey Kong Country, Banjo-Kazooie, Killer Instinct and countless others spent a number of years at Microsoft working on Kameo, Viva Pinata and Kinect Sports as well as sequels of Perfect Dark and Banjo-Kazooie in the years since their arrival. Their most recent release was the celebratory compilation Rare Replay which celebrated their 30 years by releasing 30 classics on one disc for the Xbox One in 2015.

Their Present – Rare appears to have a new lease for life leaving the shackles of the Kinect behind them as they embark on a new journey with their upcoming game Sea of Thieves. Announced at E3 2015, Sea of Thieves is reported to be an open world pirate game that from a single trailer appears to be both gorgeous and engrossing. Not much is yet known about the game outside of what was shown in the debut trailer.

State of Play - Microsoft's First Party Studios - Part 2
Sea of Thieves

Their Future – The future of Rare is currently based around Sea of Thieves. Rumours continue to swirl that they may be looking at returning to Banjo-Kazooie once again, but as of now, they’re heavily invested in making Sea of Thieves as good as it can be. Sea of Thieves is currently slated for 2016, so expect to be seeing and hearing a lot more from Rare as the year progresses.

Team Dakota

State of Play - Microsoft's First Party Studios - Part 2

Their Past – Team Dakota burst onto the scene in 2013 to announce Project Spark, an ambitious title that allowed you to create anything you wanted. Inspired by Media Molecule’s LittleBigPlanet games, Project Spark allowed you to build your own world, and share it with the masses. The studios history isn’t particularly well documented but Project Spark when it launched in 2014 is to date the studios only work.

Their Present – There has been a steady stream of supporting content released for Project Spark in the year since its initial release. Microtransactions which initially allowed players to purchase new tools and items to use in their levels have now been removed in favour of free access to ensure the best work is made, while Team Dakota also developed Conker’s Big Reunion using the Project Spark tools, the first time we’d seen Conker in over a decade.

State of Play - Microsoft's First Party Studios - Part 2
Project Spark

Their Future – With so little known about Team Dakota it’s hard to know what’s next for them. An original concept that was relatively well received and drove quite a bit of traffic digitally, Microsoft may be keen to continue the Project Spark franchise. They will have learnt a lot from the criticisms that the original game received and will be eager to improve – should Microsoft give them a bit more access to their catalogue of IP, there’s no reason why a hypothetical Project Spark 2 can’t be a big hit.

Turn 10 Studios

State of Play - Microsoft's First Party Studios - Part 2

Their Past – Turn 10, built by Microsoft in 2001 and based out of Washington just keeps churning out content. Since the release of their first game (Forza Motorsport) in 2005 the studio has been a major part of the Xbox ecosystem with Forza becoming a marquee franchise for the consoles. Their most recent work was 2015’s Forza Motorsport 6 which as with every other Forza game received critical acclaim.

Their Present – 2016 will be a quieter year for Turn 10, with a lot of behind the scenes work going on. You can be sure that they will continue supporting Forza 6 throughout the year. Turn 10 has a fantastic history of developing exception post release content for its games so one can assume that in the case of Forza 6 this trend will likely continue.

State of Play - Microsoft's First Party Studios - Part 2
Forza Motorsport 6

Their Future – It’s unlikely that we’ll being seeing another Forza release from Turn 10 this year. This year we’re likely to see another Forza Horizon game which comes from Playground Studios but as with past entries Turn 10 will probably assist in the development. In the meantime it’s reasonable to assume that the majority of the studio will be hard at work developing the next numbered entry in the core franchsie which we’ll see in 2017.

The New Kids on the Block

State of Play - Microsoft's First Party Studios - Part 2

Their Future – There are a bunch of new faces within the Microsoft stable of studios. Leap Experience Pioneers, SOTA Studios, [FUN]ction Studios and many more have all been formed by Microsoft in the last year. There is no word yet on the future of these studios but Microsoft has spent quite a lot of money investing in their new Hololens technology and we’ll inevitably be seeing more of the technology as the year grows older. As a result you can expect to be hearing much more from each of the following studios:

Platform Next Studios
SOTA Studios
Good Science Studios
Decisive Games
[FUN]ction Studios
Leap Experience Pioneers

Part 1

Paul James

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