Weirdly enough, no one ever talks about Bungie when discussing Microsoft’s relationship with first party studios. Under Microsoft ownership, they churned out five excellent Halo games that are today well regarded by the gaming community. Then they leave and make Destiny, a franchise that at best can be considered a mixed success critically. That’s not to say that Microsoft is incapable of ruining studios, just that there are counter-examples to all the doom and gloom that people keep citing.
Yes, but Bungie wasn’t a niche aimed studio. Remedy wasn’t either. They made stuff that appealed to a general audience (though Alan Wake certainly went in some weird directions before development wrapped up I doubt MS expected). Rare, Lionhead, and Obsidian are not these companies. Heck, whenever Obsidian tried to go mainstream like Bioware, they often found themselves failing.
If they get to do whatever like Bioware, things could be fine, but Microsoft has given me more than enough reasons to be worried.
But most of the staff at Rare involved in their classic franchises are still at Rare and it genuinely annoys the old staff who moved on when people shit on current Rare because they were the ones who trained them and on top of that, the designer for most of its lauded franchises, Gregg Mayles, is still Creative director. Its childish console wars style depersonalisation. And it’s bullshit. (Also Viva Pinata was better than most of what they did for Nintendo)
As for Lionhead, there’s a Eurogamer article that goes into more detail on how the new Management did try to rescue Fable Legends by using the assets to create a Single Player game and even tried to assist the team in finishing Legends and with a Chinese publisher taking the back-end and MS licencing the IP. There’s a great article here about it.
But then I don’t know why we’re casting all sorts of doubt in a company where all their closures have been excessively detailed on the hows and whys it happened (Ensemble went massively overbudget and missed every milestone on AOE 3 they were shocked MS let them finish it and Halo Wars, for example) under a new management and depersonalizing developers in the first place.
I’m not sure where the line is for “niche” studios? Rare is such a storied developer that even your non-gaming friends have heard about their games (i.e. GoldenEye, Donkey Kong Country)*, Lionhead’s Fable games sold millions of copies, and Obsidian made games in (checks notes) the South Park and Fallout franchises!
Look, I get it, Microsoft has a spotty record when it comes to first party. But I would argue that most of their failures came from the Don Mattrick era, and the management under Phil Spencer has been (at least on the surface) excellent. Because of this, I am indeed optimistic, but who knows the future. ¯\(ツ)/¯
*Also, Sea of Thieves released this year and is freaking dope as hell
Honestly Phil Spencer and his team are the main reason I am excited for what Microsoft has in store for the future, and I don’t think the dude gets enough credit for just how much he’s done to try and reinvigorate a brand that seemed teetering on the brink of disaster in 2014 thanks to that bad messaging, and restore MS’s confidence in Xbox having a profitable future. He seems like a guy who knows it’s in his best interest to foster meaningful, healthy relationships with studios and to give them room to breathe.
Between backwards compatibility, Game Pass, the play anywhere initiative, ID@Xbox, console finance plans, and now these solid acquisitions, they’re really trying and showing that they’re still in the industry for the long haul, and I have some faith they won’t throw it all away by treating these new devs like garbage. Time will tell, but I’m with you in remaining optimistic.
Alpha Protocol 2.
Ok, Sega actually has the rights, but a man must have his dreams.
Huh, I kinda figured that Avellone’s appearance at Microsoft’s E3 presser would actually hurt their relationship, but I guess that was naive.
Either way, I appreciate the games that Obsidian makes, and Microsoft certainly has the money to let them stretch their wings, so maybe the former will start making games that don’t require nostalgia for a genre that I think went away for a reason?
Hell yes can’t wait to see what the publishers of Phantom Dust 2 and Scalebound are able to pull out of this incredible collaboration!!!
Looking at this post. If it wasn’t for the fact that this website isn’t run by a man bragging who repeatedly bragged about sexualy assaulting women I’d swear I was back on Neogaf.
Whether or not this will turn to shit, I think it sucks that companies like Obsidian can’t stay independent.
Obsidian’s mismanagement in recent years should be taken in to account here, in my opinion. I think that level of independence is totally possible, but the margin for error certainly is smaller than before.
The rational human in me thinks, “This is great! Hopefully it will mean a better level of stability for Obsidian’s employees, who seem to be in need of it these days.”
The emotional consumer thinks, “Well this just means they’ll no longer make any games I care about. This sucks!”
I’m not sure how to reconcile these feelings. Unless Microsoft is making some serious changes to how they manage 1st party studios, this really seems like a route towards Obsidian making nothing I care about. Or even worse, they make something I would care about and it ends up locked in the Windows store as a UWP release. I feel bad for having this reaction, but I can’t see any studio that makes niche titles being allowed to continue under the control of a corp as huge as MS, and that’s a bummer.
I think I may buy Pathfinder tonight to support Owlcat, even though I won’t get around to playing it for a while.
I think Obsidian’s management is probably the more curious aspect. Especially since they were allegedly the roadblock for Stormlands being cancelled in 2012 from what Avellone claims. And yeah, Chris Avellone on stage on Microsoft’s E3 stage while this deal was likely being talked about is eyebrow raising.
Though management wise, Microsoft’s new head of MS Studios supervised Mojang and Minecraft post acquisition and said they are aiming for “Minimal Integration” as regards working with the new studios (And there’s a bit more detail in the article I’ve included). Now with all those new studios, management was not an issue. I think that will be interesting if the Obsidian acquisition goes through, is if they will re-org with current Obsidian staff or bring someone new in to help with the issues.
So this is now official-official and Brian Fargo also got that big payday too.
I’m preparing myself for some real disappointment in the future by thinking back to when Microsoft Game Studios last invested heavily in the embers of Interplay/Infinity Engine RPGs around the transition point between generations and we got Mass Effect 1 (about three and a half years later). So what if they’re after another new RPG IP (and this time, just buying up studios rather than contracting it out)?
Interesting that both studios got picked up. They’re some of the bigger players in the Kickstarter nostalgia system and earlier we saw Paradox pick up HBS. Maybe a sign that it’s good business to go for teams who have already proven a very enthusiastic fan base (even if not always translating to big releases, as PDX found when publishing Tyranny - “Everyone was hoping that it would do better.”) or that it’s some cheap pickings to go after larger teams running on fumes via direct funding and whatever publisher backing they can get off that proven interest (with those persistent rumours of financial issues).
Anyone looking for something specific out of these acquisitions now we know they come in a pair? A sequel to some recent IP, MS handing them some of their dormant IP, or just something totally new? Cross-pollination between the previously independent studios who have some leads/staff that once worked together?
All I really need out of Obsidian getting acquired is for them to have the funding to keep making isometric RPGs, and I don’t think that’s an unrealistic thing to hope for here. The slightly more pie in the sky hope though is that they get the support to make some sort of mid-budget 3d rpg like they used to make. I’d love to see what a modern equivalent of a Fallout: NV, kotor 2, Alpha Protocol sort of game would look like, especially if they can get the financial support to see it through a full and healthy dev cycle.
Microsoft need new IP yesterday so I can imagine not hearing anything from Obsidian until the ramp up to the new generation. They’ve had enough experience making big games, albeit mostly hand-offs of other properties, that enough resources could allow them to turn in something expensive and shiny.
Best case scenario is we get another Mass Effect-style system-seller, the worst is that they try and chase the Destiny/Anthem money and use Obsidian’s writing chops to sell another live game.
Considering some of MS’ exclusives lately, I’m expecting the latter, though after Sony’s recent successes, I wouldn’t rule out the former either. Really, it depends on how inept the gaming sector of Microsoft is being managed at the time. Hopefully it’s not as bad as the section in charge of Windows 10.
The first half of the Xbone’s lifecycle was mainly the Don Matrick leadership, where they continued the Microsoft IP pump-and-dump pipeline of “we’ve acquired this studio and their major name, the studio isn’t really playing ball with our current initiatives (or a big risk didn’t pay off), so we’ll liquidate them and have another partner do something with the IP”.
I think this last year has been more reassuring about the current leadership’s willingness to absorb risk. In previous years they probably would have cancelled rougher projects like Sea of Thieves and State of Decay 2, and just stuck with known quantities like Forza and Halo.
Crackdown 3 is another good example, it was announced back in their 2014 E3 show, which was a total slaughtering ground of projects that were announced way too early to prop up the system’s lineup, then summarily cancelled when they couldn’t live up to the big vision CG trailers (which, in the case of Phantom Dust, were produced without the developer’s knowledge). I don’t think Crackdown 3 will be very good, but it’s at least encouraging that they’re riding it out.
Though on the other hand, there was the rumor mentioned on a Waypoint Radio episode a couple months ago that Capcom Vancouver’s closure may have been due to Microsoft not renewing a contract to keep funding additional projects after Dead Rising 4 was a flop, but I don’t believe there was confirmation on that.
As much as the current system is lacking for standout titles, my hope is that these acquisitions get the proper time to work on interesting new projects, instead of rushing out to produce anything for the current generation.
Unfortunately I’ve definitely heard some stuff from people who have contracted on more recent* projects that indicate that MS Game Studios can still be a rather iffy experience in terms of top-down project management and funding “fast and dirty” (huge technical debt) progress over sustainable development. Hopefully the company is still shifting their procedures and this is just echoes of a previous regime but it might be too early to look at this as a new era behind the curtain (it is clearly a new era in terms of messaging and how the company describes their intentions).
* Say, a game that MS released in 2018 but is notably absent from Game Pass or wider promotion as it wasn’t a good fit for consoles - something we might also say about potential isometric RPGs that sometimes come to consoles but certainly are not console-focused. To talk about the sort of games these studios have been releasing recently, I know I heard next to nothing about Divinity: Original Sin II a few months ago, a highly-liked game that got that console port experience.