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Microsoft began aggressively purchasing new developers at E3 2018 and their shopping spree hasn’t stopped. At XO18 they acquired two more and at E3 2019 Double Fine joined Xbox Game Studios. If you include their Age of Empires team and Global Publishing Division that would put 15 developers under the Xbox Game Studios umbrella. Many of these studios have multiple teams, working on multiple games. It seemed like a pretty comfortable number to go into the next generation of consoles with… until Sony acquired Insomniac.
The Insomniac acquisition isn’t too major by itself. Outside of Sunset Overdrive, Fuse and a few VR titles, all of Insomniac’s major projects were published by Sony. They’d continue to be a Sony second party even if they weren’t acquired so the purchase doesn’t change much. However, it is indicative of an upcoming arms race. The next generation is fast approaching and Sony’s recent move means that they also have their cheque book wide open. It’s just a matter of time before Xbox Game Studios grows again, so here are the 5 studios Xbox should acquire.
Asobo might not be a name that you’re too familiar with. This French developer has been around for years but they’ve never had major success, partly due to the fact that they’ve worked on several licensed properties. Ratatouille, Wall-E and Toy Story 3 are some of their notable games during the 2000s and things don’t get too much better during the 2010s. They were the main developers on many Microsoft titles such as Zoo Tycoon and Disneyland Adventures as well as assisting on the development of ReCore.
So you might be thinking, “why the hell are these guys worth buying?” Well, 2019 has been a breakout year for the studio. A Plague Tale: Innocence, released to universal acclaim and demonstrated a kind of narrative maturity that Xbox’s first-party has been lacking. They’re also working on Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020, a game that’s generating a surprising amount of buzz considering the franchise has been inactive and unexciting for years. After A Plague Tale, there’s no way Asobo goes back to working on Pixar properties.
If there’s a trend when it comes to Microsoft’s recent purchasing decisions it’s either second-party studios or struggling AA teams. Asobo ticks both boxes. They’ve had a working relationship with Microsoft since 2012 and A Plague Tale wasn’t a major commercial success for the studio. Xbox Game Pass would give the team more creative leg space and their future single-player endeavours would give Xbox players more of what they’ve been missing.
Speaking of Xbox Game Pass and French teams, Dontnod would give the service some incredible value. Dontnod – the minds behind Life is Strange and Vampyr – have been hustling for a while now, but their episodic content is the most attractive thing about the studio.
If Microsoft is truly all in on Game Pass then I can’t imagine anything more seductive than an episodic game releasing one or two chapters a month onto Game Pass. With Xbox’s bigger budget, Dontnod could essentially complete most of their game and simply release all of their episodes over the course of 2-3 months… the perfect plan to keep conversation about a game high and keep players subscribed.
What might be even more exciting is their variety. Their gothic action-RPG, Vampyr, is leagues apart from their melodramatic adventure series, Life is Strange. But they’re equally experimental and brave. The first season of Life is Strange dealt with teenage suicide and sexuality in a time manipulation story. Meanwhile, the sequel is dealing with racism and police brutality. It’s fair to say that Dontnod isn’t afraid of pushing boundaries.
Most of Xbox’s recent acquisitions have had multiple AA projects in the pipeline so Dontnod would fit right in. Also if Xbox Game Studios truly wants to be an industry leading first-party, they need to have a worldwide presence to compete with Sony and Nintendo.
This one is a slightly sticky situation. Remedy have had a close relationship with Xbox in the past. Alan Wake – at the time an Xbox 360 exclusive – is not only the studio’s best game so far, but perhaps one of the best horror-action games of all time. But after several delays, a lukewarm reception and lacking sales, 2016’s Quantum Break ended their marriage.
Even after an unfortunate end though, Remedy remains an essential talent for Microsoft to pursue. Their first game since, 2019’s Control, just released to widespread praise for its moody, unravelling story and frantic combat. However, leaving the comfort of a AAA publisher has somewhat hurt Remedy. Control is apparently suffering from constant slowdown and severe lagging; something that Remedy has never had a problem with in the past.
Remedy is one of the only independent developers that can rival Sony’s story driven, blockbuster action experiences. But they might not be in competition for long. Remedy has been warming up to Sony for a while now. In 2018, Control was announced at Sony’s E3 presentation, the game has PS4 exclusive content and developers from Remedy have been openly visiting other Sony first-party studios for the past year. If Sony did sweep in, then former Xbox exclusives like Alan Wake and Quantum Break would now be Sony’s property. If Microsoft wants to stop that possible embarrassment and have a world class studio under their belt than Remedy is the best pick.
This is the fourth European developer on the list; really goes to show how much talent is available overseas.
IO Interactive split from their parent company, Square Enix, in the summer of 2017, but they left with their crown jewel: Hitman. IO Interactive successfully rebooted Agent 47 in 2016 with vast, creative sandboxes to play around with and 2018’s Hitman 2 only further solidified them as the best stealth developers working today.
Assassin’s Creed has shed its stealth trappings in favour of RPG mechanics, Splinter Cell has been M.I.A for an entire generation, Metal Gear Solid will never be the same after Kojima left Konami in 2015 and properties like Deus Ex and Dishonoured are on hiatus after lacklustre sales. It’s fair to say that there’s a massive black hole in the stealth-action genre and there’s only one developer that can fill those shoes.
Hitman 2 might not have been a bestseller, in fact it flopped commercially. But Microsoft are no longer worried about sales for their first-party games anymore. They haven’t released sales figures for almost the entire generation, instead focusing on the number of players from Game Pass. The episodic nature of the first Hitman ensured that it was continually one of the most popular games on Xbox Game Pass and IOI could continue to create pure stealth magic without the financial worry.
Playtonic Games, made up of former Rare developers, came together for one reason in 2015, to crowd fund the game they’ve wanted to make since the golden era of Rare: a Banjo-Kazooie spiritual successor. Despite record-breaking success on Kickstarter to fund their game, Yooka-Laylee, the critical reception to it was less than stellar. Most of the criticism came from the game’s frustrating camera, bad controls and inconsistent level design. It’s evident from all of this that the demand for a throwback 3D platformer is there, it’s the resources, time and funding that the team lacked.
Mario has bafflingly been the only AAA platformer for the past few generations and with the recent success of the Crash Bandicoot and Spyro remakes it seems like the perfect opportunity for Microsoft to bring back the iconic bird and bear with the developers who originally created them. Rare might be one of the most historic developers in the industry but the truth is that that team isn’t what it use to be and is probably not equipped to be developing a platformer. There’s also a severe lack of other studios making 3D platformers; leaving Playtonic as the natural choice to revive Banjo-Kazooie.
So there we have it – Playtonic, IO, Asobo, Remedy and Dontnod; 5 teams that just might well work under the Microsoft wing. But what do you think? Would these be decent acquisitions? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.