So by now everyone is familiar with the fact that Microsoft has a bit of a firsty party development problem when compared to its competitors. Sony has a constant stream of exclusive titles, many of which come from Japan where the Xbox One sold like complete crap, and Nintendo has built up a stable of first party IP’s that they loan out to other developers to make and thus increase their first party output. But Microsoft? They don’t get exclusives from Japan(Except very rarely.) and a lot of developers that have worked under the Microsoft banner in the past, specifically ones that have since gone multiplatform, were independent studios, and therein lies Microsofts real problem.
Unlike Sony which raised a bunch of studios and fostered a good relationship with them to the point where they are eternally dedicated to firsty party games, and an influx of third-party exclusives from Japan thanks to the Xbox One bombing there, Microsoft decided to buy out indie developers and bring them under its banner and this goes as far back as the original Xbox. The best example would be Bungie. Bungie was an independent developer up until Microsoft bought them and while they were grateful at the time because the buyout saved them from their financial troubles and ultimately led to the Halo we know and love, that indie culture never really left them according to a recent interview with both former and current Bungie employee’s. The troubled development of the first two Halo’s led Bungie to want its independence back and they got it by giving Microsoft the Halo IP and two more Halo games after Halo 3. They then decame a limited license company and struck a deal with Activision for Destiny, their new IP. While Microsoft is still making Halo games, the quality of them has been 50/50 at best and popularity has fallen off.
Then you have Epic Games. They made PC games until the Xbox 360 era where they struck a publishing deal with Microsoft for Gears of War which would go on to become one of Microsofts biggest IP’s. And then after Gears of War 3, Epic Games left the Microsoft camp to do their own thing, selling the Gears IP to Microsoft in the process. Rather than found a new studio to handle Gears like their did with 343 Industries and Halo, Microsoft took one of their pre-existing first party studios, Black Tusk who were working on an original IP then called Shangheist, handed them the Gears IP, cancelled the original IP they were working on, and renamed them The Coalition. Right there, Microsoft sacrificed a new, fresh IP in favor of having the dev team work on Gears of War. That was a mistake, not because Gears 4 was bad or anything, but because Microsoft needs more IP’s and more teams, not less of both.
More recently, Remedy, the developer behind Alan Wake and Quantum Break, left the Microsoft stable. I didn’t know until this happened that Remedy was actually an independent studio, but they are and their next game is going multiplatform. The big difference being that Remedy didn’t leave Microsoft with anything. As far as I’m aware, the Alan Wake and Quantum Break IP’s remain with Remedy. If they did make sequels, I’m sure they’d team back up with Microsoft, but that of course is not their current plan. So not only did Microsoft lose a team, but they also lost two potential exclusives in the process.
And just a bit of trivia, but the developer behnd State of Decay and its upcoming sequel is also an indie developer that struck a deal with Microsoft. Only time will tell if they stay with Microsoft and the same goes for the developer of Cuphead, a highly anticipated indie title.
Microsofts problem is that they dont’ establish studios themselves to build IP’s. They strike deals with indie developers, but this means that Microsoft is basically a revolving first party door. One studio comes in and another goes out. Sony and Nintendo don’t have that problem. Right now the only IP’s that you can count on Microsoft to always have are Halo, Gears, and Forza. Fable, their 4th pillar, still needs to find a new home and preferably a permanent one. Though that situation is different in that Lionhead was, by all accounts, a Microsoft studio that was shuttered. They didn’t go back to being indie or anything like that. And Rare is only finally getting to make a non-Kinect game now, so only time will tell if they have a hit on their hands and what game they make next.
Microsoft needs to invest more in their first party stable. They need new, loyal studios that they can cultivate a strong relationship with and have new IP’s ready to go to launch alongside their existing ones.