Screenshot: Pillars of Eternity 2 It was a mild surprise when Microsoft announced Saturday that it bought not only one…
Screenshot: Pillars of Eternity 2
It was a mild surprise when Microsoft announced Saturday that it bought not only one but two medium-sized studios focused on role playing. But as strange as it seems on the surface, the deal makes it perfect for all three parties.
At the end of a relatively uninterrupted Xbox showcase in Mexico City on Saturday afternoon, the director of Microsoft Studios Matt Booty announced that his company planned to buy Obsidian ( Fallout New Vegas ) and Inxile ( Wasteland ]). The first thing we already knew about Kotaku broke the news last month – but the latter seemed strange. Obsidian and Inxile share many common features. They both specialize in old school PC RPG, both from Interplay Fallout ) and Black Isle ( Baldur’s Gate ), and they both work in no- man’s zone between Indie and AAA, which makes the type of space game that most publishers have abandoned. Why would Microsoft want both of them?
For Obsidian and Inxile, the deal was simple: Both studios have met financial struggles over the years, and crowdfunding was not enough to support the kind of ambitious games they like to do. Obsidian s Pillars of Eternity 2 released earlier this year was a commercial flop (and a good game overshadowed by the transcendental Divinity Original Sin 2 ). Inxile’s recently published Bard’s speech IV earned mediocre reviews. Bouncing from crowdfunded projects to crowdfunded projects seemed untenable, and now Obsidian and Inxile have financial security for many years to come (or at least until next time Xbox changes managers).
It’s not easy to see why Microsoft would like two companies with similar pedigrees. Of course, Xbox’s first party game has been anemic in recent years, especially compared to its long-term competitor, Sony, who seems to post a game of this year’s competitor for another. But Obsidian and Inxile are small studios, not as big as Sony Santa Monica ( God of War ) or Guerrilla Games ( Horizon: Zero Dawn ) and have never ever tried to compete in their arms over graphic fidelity. How do they fit into Microsoft’s long-term strategy?
The truth is, as Team Xbox has signaled for a long time, and as we have gathered from our own conversations with both people inside and outside the company, Microsoft is no longer interested in competing directly with Sony. It’s a game that lost as soon as Xbox executives began to account for their original odd plans for Xbox One 2013. PS4 has exceeded Xbox One so resounding, Microsoft stopped providing hardware sales.
Instead of licking wounds and trying to fight Sony once more the next generation, the Xbox Division under Phil Spencer has taken a drastic different approach. What Microsoft wants most today are studios that help increase its impressive Game Pass subscription service, its upcoming streaming platform and its continued staff on PC games. Developing big Xbox exclusive is no longer a priority for Microsoft, and in fact, in 2016, it decided that it would release future games on both Xbox and PC. Soon enough, Game Will also be available on the computer, and it would not be shocking to see Microsoft embrace the Steam or review the Windows Store – as it is trying to reach hundreds of millions of people playing video games on computers. 19659003] So why would not Microsoft want two respected PC developers? Spencer and Co are likely to salivate at the thought of packing large RPG bundles with a game console. Both Obsidian and Inxile have long been full of talented developers but hampered by resources, and both make games appealing to highly specific hardcore audiences, making them perfect components for Microsoft’s long-term strategy.
It does not say this will be perfect. All developers who have worked with previous iterations from Microsoft have stories about how the frustrating enterprise management structure could be. Even Obsidian has a horror story, one that made this acquisition shocking to many people.
In 2011 Obsidian reported to a game called Stormlands which was scheduled to be a launch title for Xbox One. It was an ambitious role play that Microsoft interrupted for a number of reasons – all involved agree that both companies share the debt – but it was also one of Microsoft’s inflated nature at that time. Obsidian CEO Feargus Urquhart told me during an interview a few years ago that Microsoft had a team of directors and manufacturers assigned Stormlands, including an executive producer who worked with the studio during the early pitching and greenlighting process.
As originally held, Stormlands should have co-op multiplayer, Urquhart said. Then the executive producer made another proposal. Remember Urquhart: “About three months into the whole stage process [he] said,” I think what we want to do is really hit the park with this. What do you like to release multiplayer and just focus on being a good roleplay? “”
Then it was common to Microsoft then, it was a mix. “About two weeks after that, he was relocated and another producer put on it,” said Urquhart. “He had another vision for it, and that vision was to double down on multiplayer.”
Stormlands was in many ways the incorporation of the old Microsoft ways to do things. Microsoft insisted on a long list of complementary features, including Kinect, cloud computing and SmartGlass support, and the project was so blown up, and the company could not save it. Today, under new leadership and structure, the Xbox department is very different, and it is easy to predict a world where Spencer and Co allow Obsidian and Inxile to enjoy. If that happens, they are good news for people who just like to play games that the two talented medium-sized studios that may not fit into the gaming industry on their own, have a chance for long-term success thanks to Microsoft’s developing ambition.