State of Play 2017: Microsoft
It’s 2017 and there have been many changes in the gaming landscape. One of the more intriguing aspects of the games business is what’s going behind the closed doors of the first party studios. It’s immeasurable the worth of a solid stable of first party games, as it drives consumers to buy consoles and provides a solid foundation for all that is to come from third parties and independent developers. Our 2017 edition continues with Microsoft and the Xbox family, so grab a drink, kick back, and enjoy as I pull apart all that is going on with Xbox’s First Party Developers.
Their Present: The shining jewel in the Xbox crown is of course 343 Industries, the overseers of the Halo franchise. The studio took the reigns of Halo following Bungie’s departure in 2011 with their first release being a remastered Halo: Combat Evolved, but have since developed Halo 4, 5, The Master Chief Collection and have lent their assistance to Vanguard Games in the development of Halo: Spartan Assault and Spartan Strike, and most recently with Creative Assembly on Halo Wars 2.
Their Future: With development on the core Halo Wars 2 all but complete, you can imagine anyone who was lending their time to Creative Assembly to help the game’s development have now returned to the core team at 343 and are hard at work on the next core Halo experience – presumably Halo 6. We may get our first tease this year, but we most likely won’t get the next game until 2018. Perhaps we’ll see a Halo 3 remaster given that 2017 marks the games 10th anniversary.
Their Present: The Coalition, formerly known as Black Tusk Studios are the stewards of the Gears of War franchise after Epic Games sold the rights to the Xbox exclusive franchise to Microsoft. 2015 saw the release of Gears of War: Ultimate Edition and 2016 played host to the critically acclaimed new chapter in the Gears franchise – Gears of War 4.
Their Future: 2017 will, of course, see more post game support given to Gears of War 4, perhaps we’ll see the announcement and release of a Gears of War 2: Ultimate Edition, but for the most part you can expect to see The Coalition sit quietly through 2017 as they begin to ramp up development on Gears of War 5. The studio has also spoken over 2016 about the possibility of Gears branching out from its third-person cover shooting core – perhaps we’ll see them partner with other studios to create different games in the Gears universe.
Their Present: Mojang sits on a mountain of gold and it continues to roll in due to the ridiculous success of Minecraft. Their partnership with Telltale Games on season one of Minecraft: Story Mode concluded in 2016, and the season proved to be very successful while the studio continued to support Minecraft on the Xbox, PC and all other consoles and handhelds. Cobalt, an action side-scroller also launched in 2016 to mixed reviews.
Their Future: Of course more support of Minecraft is on the cards, it’s previously been demoed in Microsoft’s Hololens headset, and presumably development of the game for that peripheral will continue. Rumours continue to swirl that a Minecraft 2 is a thing – but with nothing having leaked thus far, it does remain just that… a rumour.
Their Present: Rare appears to have a new lease on life, leaving the shackles of the Kinect behind them as they embark on a new voyage with their upcoming game Sea of Thieves. Announced at E3 2015, with more shown at E3 2016, Sea of Thieves is an open world pirate game that from multiple trailers appears to be both gorgeous and engrossing.
Their Future: Microsoft appears to have locked Sea of Thieves in as a 2017 release, so expect to be hearing much more about Rare’s newest voyage as the year sails by. There are also a great number of Rare franchises that Microsoft owns including Banjo-Kazooie, Battletoads, Perfect Dark, Conker and Viva Pinata, perhaps some of these will be shipped off to another internal (or external) studio to develop the next game in these franchises.
Turn 10 Studios
Their Present: Turn 10 Studios has arguably been the premiere racing game studio for quite a few years. They have been releasing Forza games every two years for a decade while over the last five years those vacant years have been filled by the Playground Games developed Forza Horizon games.
Their Future: Given that 2016 saw the release of Forza Horizon 3, it means that 2017 should mark the release of the next core Forza game, this time from Turn 10, and the game would be Forza Motorsport 7. Intrigue surrounds this newest entry because of the reveal of Project Scorpio, the newest member of the Xbox console family. Some contend that Forza 7 will be development primarily for Scorpio but will then be scaled back to ensure compatibility with the Xbox One – we should know more as the year rolls along
Mergers and Closures
Bigpark, Team Dakota, Launchworks, [Fun}ction, Goodscience, Leap Experience Pioneers, SOTA Studios and several more, smaller internal studios have all over the course of 2016 folded, with members of these studios moving into other, more established internal teams. 2016 also saw the closure of Press Play, the developers of Max and the Curse of Brotherhood, and iconic studio Lionhead, the developers of Fable – rest in peace both of these studios.
While the number of First Party Xbox studios has shrunk over the course of 2016, there are also a number of established partnerships with second party studios that will bear fruit throughout 2017; these games include Platinum Games’ Scalebound, Creative Assembly’s Halo Wars 2, Reagent Worlds’ Crackdown 3 and Undead Labs’ State of Decay 2. There’s much to anticipate from Xbox in 2017 and beyond, this is just a snapshot of what’s going on at the highest level.