Microsoft’s gaming chief, Phil Spencer, didn’t spend a lot of time talking at the company’s E3 press conference last night, preferring to let the games speak for themselves. Microsoft showed off 52 games onstage, including Halo Infinite, Gears 5, Forza Horizon 4, and titles from third parties like Fallout 76 and Cyberpunk 2077. While Spencer let the pace of the games dazzle the 6,000 people in the crowd, in his less than 15 minutes of stage time, he also made it very clear Microsoft is ready to battle. With new Xbox consoles, cloud streaming, and a fresh commitment to original games, Microsoft is getting ready for the next console war and beyond.
The Xbox One fell behind Sony’s PlayStation 4 for a number of reasons (pricing and Kinect didn’t help initially), but Microsoft is now facing a lack of exclusive titles to really boost its new Xbox One X console. Microsoft is finally responding to that negative feedback, and one of the surprise announcements at last night’s Xbox E3 briefing was the company’s commitment to first-party games. Microsoft is acquiring Undead Labs (makers of State of Decay), Playground Games (Forza Horizon developers), Ninja Theory (Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice), and Compulsion Games (We Happy Few). These developers will join Microsoft Studios, alongside the formation of a newly founded Santa Monica-based studio, The Initiative, that will be led by former Crystal Dynamics head of studio Darrell Gallagher.
While two of the studios already develop exclusive Xbox games for Microsoft, the rest will add to Microsoft’s original games list. “We know that exclusive games from our Microsoft Studios are what originally turned so many of us into Xbox fans. My team and I take our commitment to you seriously,” said Phil Spencer. “By joining us at Microsoft Studios, these five new teams will have the resources, the platform, and creative independence to take bigger risks, create even bolder worlds for you.”
These studio acquisitions are clearly a reaction to a lack of solid first-party games, but they’re also a commitment to Xbox fans that Microsoft isn’t about to give up on gaming. Microsoft is already embracing a world beyond Windows PCs, reducing its consumer focus, and trying to win back developers. A lot of these moves have Microsoft and Xbox fans concerned about the future of its gaming commitments, and Spencer ended Microsoft’s E3 showing with a very clear message.
”We commit and harness the full breadth of our resources at Microsoft to deliver on the future of play,” revealed Spencer, before detailing Microsoft’s plans for a game streaming network and new Xbox consoles. “The same team that delivered unprecedented performance with Xbox One X is deep into architecturing the next Xbox consoles, where we will once again deliver on our commitment to set the benchmark for console gaming.” If that wasn’t enough of a message, Spencer ended with a clear signal that Microsoft is here to stay with Xbox for years to come.
“We have committed our team, our company, our technical resources so we can declare to you today, and next year, and all the years after that: you will always experience the best in gaming on Xbox.” Spencer’s strong message felt like a reassuring one to Xbox fans, but it was also a realization that Microsoft isn’t ready to offer the best games on Xbox One just yet. The Xbox One is the best console if you don’t care about new exclusive games, and it’s obvious that Microsoft’s deep focus on backward compatibility will continue with its future consoles.
These new studios will take time to create the games Microsoft needs, and this isn’t going to be a quick turnaround. Microsoft will once again have to mostly rely on third-party studios to fill the gaps this year, with massive games that can also be played on rival hardware.
It might be another tricky year for the Xbox One, especially as Sony has already delivered exclusive games like Detroit: Become Human, God of War, and Shadow of the Colossus this year. Sony is also expected to show off more big exclusives at its own E3 event tonight, including Death Stranding, The Last of Us: Part II, Ghost of Tsushima, and Spider-Man. Microsoft showed at E3 that it’s ready to play the long game, and that will inevitably lead it toward the next big console battle with Sony.