Microsoft recently rebranded its internal studio troupe to Xbox Game Studios, to reflect the fact the Xbox brand is moving beyond consoles. Xbox streaming via Project XCloud will bring Microsoft’s wide range of games to all-new audiences on mobile devices.
With Microsoft creating service pillars like Xbox Game Pass and Project xCloud to go along with industry-leading hardware, more than ever Microsoft needs a stable of high-quality titles to drive home the quality and value of its subscription options. To that end, the division has purchased tons of new studios, including RPG heavyweights Obsidian Entertainment and long-time partner Undead Labs, while also setting up all-new studios like The Initiative.
For now, here’s a rundown of every studio and all the games (we think) we know about so far.
343 Industries (343i) is the studio behind the Halo franchise, charged with stewarding Microsoft’s flagship shooter IP following on from the work of Bungie. After the mixed reception to Halo 5’s campaign, all eyes on are on 343i to deliver a bigger, bolder vision for the next entry in the franchise, Halo Infinite, which will most likely launch as a cross-gen title for the current Xbox consoles and the next-gen Xbox “Scarlett” consoles.
Not a lot is known about Halo Infinite, save for a teaser trailer we got at a previous E3. The story is expected to re-focus on Master Chief, following the grave events of Halo 5, which sees the galaxy caught in the grip of gigantic ancient constructs known as the Guardians, controlled by the now-rogue A.I. Cortana.
Beyond Halo Infinite, 343i is hard at work on updates for Halo Master Chief Collection, which comprises Halo games 1 through 4, and ODST, as well as ports to PC.
Compulsion Games, known recently for We Happy Few, is a bit of an enigma. The Canadian studio recently completed work on We Happy Few’s DLC season pass, and is undoubtedly moving on to new projects.
Having joined the team at E3 2019, Double Fine is known to be working on Psychonauts 2, and a colorful action game called RAD, in addition to other “secret” projects.
InXile is known recently for Wasteland 2, but the studio has a storied pedigree dating all the way back to the Interplay and Black Isle days. Led by Brian Fargo, the studio specializes in classic “CRPG”-style titles, where turn-based isometric play in Wasteland and classic dungeon-crawler style in The Bard’s Tale.
Right now, the studio is working on Wasteland 3, which already looks as though it’s going to be a big step up from Wasteland 2 in terms of visuals. The studio is also working on bringing The Bard’s Tale IV to consoles, as well as an “unannounced” project, expanding its employee base by at least 30 percent.
Minecraft / Mojang
Microsoft’s Minecraft operation is made up of Mojang as well as various teams based in the US, where Microsoft continues to build out its biggest franchise. Beyond working on continued updates for Minecraft itself and the mobile game “Minecraft Earth,” Mojang is also working on a separate title dubbed Minecraft Dungeons, based on classic dungeon crawlers like Diablo.
One of Microsoft’s most-promising recent acquisitions, Ninja Theory is known for the award-winning Hellblade, with some industry-leading facial motion capture and truly haunting atmospherics.
While the original game was limited in general scope, Microsoft and Ninja Theory seem keen to grow further, having expanded to a new building and hiring several new staff.
Ninja Theory is currently building Bleeding Edge, which is a 4v4 melee-oriented combat game, but also Hellblade II, revealed at The Game Awards in 2019.
Obsidian is a renowned RPG company famed for the South Park: The Stick of Truth, and the Pillars of Eternity CRPGs. The studio is also crowned with making what is arguably the best Fallout game, in Fallout: New Vegas.
Obsidian recently shipped the excellent The Outer Worlds, a vibrant sci-fi RPG under a contract from Take-Two. It would appear that Microsoft owns The Outer Worlds IP as a result of acquiring Obsidian, meaning that future entries in the franchise will be exclusive to Microsoft platforms. Obsidian is also working on bringing Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire to consoles, alongside Grounded, a survival multiplayer “passion project,” where you’re shrunk to the size of an ant.
One of Microsoft’s largest and most acclaimed studios, Playground Games is known for the incredibly popular Forza Horizon arcade racing series. The team at Playground Games has swelled enough to split into two separate divisions, one retaining work on Forza, while another is heavily-rumored to be working on an RPG, which, quite possibly, could be part of Microsoft’s dormant Fable franchise.
Rare is Microsoft’s most celebrated studio, known for classic Nintendo franchises like Killer Instinct, and more recently Sea of Thieves. Rare continues to work on Sea of Thieves as a live ops game, building it out with new features and systems to keep it feeling fresh, while attempting to attract newcomers.
For a time, Rare was all-in on Sea of Thieves, but recently, it was announced they’re also working on Everwild, which looks to be some form of multiplayer survival game.
Microsoft’s Gears of War all-stars, The Coalition is tasked with expanding the Gears universe beyond its corridor cover shooter roots, and Gears 5 achieved that to some degree.
The Coalition is currently working on expanding Gears 5’s multiplayer content, and presumably future installments in the Gears franchise, while collaborating on Gears Tactics with Splash Damage. We’ve heard, however, that they might actually be working on something entirely different to Gears. We’ll have to wait and see.
The Initiative is a brand-new studio led by Darrell Gallagher of Square Enix and Activision fame, based in the Santa Monica area. The Initiative has been scooping up major industry talent including God of War and Red Dead Redemption 2 developers and innovators. All signs seem to point to The Initiative building some truly grand “AAA” games in an attempt to match PlayStation on quality, but very little is known about what the studio might be working on.
Turn 10 leads the Forza effort for Microsoft, working primarily on the Forza Motorsport series of racing simulators as well as the franchise’s engine. For now, it looks as though the studio might be taking a break from Forza Motorsport’s bi-annualization, skipping a release for 2019. Instead, the studio is working on further updates for Forza Motorsport 7 for the time being, perhaps waiting for next-gen to showcase the power of the next Xbox consoles.
Undead Labs is known for the State of Decay franchise and has a sizable fan following who have been helping shape the zombie apocalypse survival sim. State of Decay 2 suffered a bit of a mixed reception due to its rough edges at launch, but after months of polish, it’s now in a really good place. State of Decay 3 is undoubtedly on the table, with more robust Microsoft support for its online capabilities. Undead Labs also has a huge array of vacancies, as the studio seeks to expand its capabilities.
World’s Edge is Microsoft’s newest studio, in charge of shepherding the Age of Empires franchise. The team is currently working on maintaining Age of Empires: DE and Age of Empires II: DE, while completing work on Age of Empires II: DE, and possibly even Age of Mythology: DE. Alongside that, World’s Edge is working with Relic Entertainment on Age of Empires IV.
Beyond Microsoft’s in-house studios, the company also works with some third-party developers to build exclusive titles for Xbox Live-capable platforms.
- Dlala Studios is working on a new Battletoads title with Rare, which is historically a classic side-scrolling beat ’em up.
- Moon Studios is working on Ori and the Will of the Wisps, as a follow up to its hugely successful Ori and the Blind Forest.
- Media Tonic is working on a mobile strategy game dubbed Gears POP!, based on the Funko figurines IP.
- Splash Damage is working on an XCOM-style turn-based tactics style version of Gears of War, dubbed Gears Tactics.
- StudioMDHR is working on DLC for the Windows and Xbox-exclusive Cuphead.
- DONTNOD is working on a narrative adventure game for Microsoft, known as Tell Me Why.
- Asobo is working with Redmond on Microsoft Flight Simulator.
The future is bright
The central criticism of Microsoft’s current-gen Xbox has been the strength of its exclusive games, which have received mixed success. While the Forza Horizon series rocked many accolades and praise, other titles like State of Decay 2 launched in a relatively rough condition. Xbox Game Pass has helped add value to some of the lower-end titles, since all Microsoft games are set to appear in the subscription service, although there’s a big appetite for true “AAA”-quality experiences that match Sony’s efforts in the space. Hellblade II certainly looks as though it fits the bill.
Microsoft is well-placed for a game-rich future, especially as it attempts to court subscribers to its services such as Xbox Game Pass, and Project xCloud in the future. It remains to be seen if the company can truly match Sony and Nintendo on quality in the minds of the wider audience, but it shouldn’t take long to find out.
Update December 13, 2019: We’ve added the latest info from the various events throughout 2019.
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