Xbox giving first-party studios ‘time to focus on quality’

Phil Spencer explains E3 no-shows for Turn 10, Playground’s second team

Microsoft’s significant investment in first-party studios over the last few years has given the company more time to focus on delivering quality products.

That’s the view of Xbox boss Phil Spencer, who told Kotaku that not so long ago, Microsoft’s lack of first-party studios “put a lot of pressure on everything that we were doing”.

“And it became more difficult to manage a portfolio when you kind of needed everything at any point to hit the date that it had picked three years ahead of time at the very high level of quality,” he said.

Xbox Game Studios has grown rapidly over the last few years through acquisitions, with Microsoft announcing at E3 2018 that it had purchased Hellblade developer Ninja Theory, Forza Horizon studio Playground Games, State of Decay maker Undead Labs, and We Happy Few creator Compulsion Games. It also revealed The Initiative, a new studio led by Darrell Gallagher, the former head of development at Activision and Square Enix.

At Xbox’s E3 2019 briefing this month, Microsoft announced it had acquired Double Fine Productions, and subsequently confirmed the formation of an Age of Empires studio.

That means Xbox Game Studios is now 15-strong, and Spencer said recently there may be more acquisitions to come – he’d like to purchase a Japanese studio – as Microsoft’s CEO and CFO “see gaming as an important growth category”.

This support from the top of the company has allowed studio’s like Forza Motorsport developer Turn 10 to explore new ways of working.

The studio has released a new Forza instalment every two years since 2005, the last being 2017’s Forza Motorsport 7, but a new series entry was absent from this year’s Xbox E3 conference.

“I love what they do with Motorsport,” Spencer said, “but you’ve got to be able to listen to your studios when they need time and they want to focus on more things. And as you have more content, you’re able to do that.”

Other notable E3 2019 no-shows were Playground’s second team, which is rumoured to be working on a new Fable title, and The Initiative.

Spencer said: “I think what I see now with Matt Booty running first party and the number of studios that we have and the number of games in development is: I don’t feel that I need to announce things at a wrong time in order to win some rating system somewhere.

“I feel like I can give teams the time they need in order to get the right creative positions in place so they’re building the game that they want to build. And when things require more time, we can afford to make sure that we’re giving things the right amount of time.”