Phil Spencer inherited a mess from Don Matterick when he took over the Xbox brand after their famous failure in marketing at the beginning of this game console generation back in 2013. Long term damage occurred to the brand from the aggressive and confusing messaging of Microsoft’s later cancelled “always online DRM” system for the Xbox ONE. In addition to this, a mismanagement of publishing deals and lack of foresight in studio investment has led to an unmistakable lack of exclusives on the console throughout this entire games console generation.
Excellent games take a long time to develop, and with Phil Spencer steering the Xbox brand back towards the right direction behind the scenes, the fruits of this labor have yet to materialize. In order to ensure that such a problem won’t happen again, and gamers know that Xbox takes this situation seriously – Microsoft announced at E3 2018 that they’ve been acquiring a number of respected game development studios and even creating some of their own.
Ninja Theory (best known for Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice) is one of the studios Microsoft has acquired as well as Undead Labs, Playground Games, Compulsion Games, and more. This week we also received the news that the final stages have been entered in a deal between the Xbox team and the development house behind Fallout: New Vegas and Pillars of Eternity. Obsidian Entertainment will become a subsidiary of Microsoft if this deal goes through, further bolstering the company’s commitment to Xbox and gaming overall.
Obsidian Entertainment are widely considered to be true artists who value quality and take their craft seriously. The 2015 PC Gaming release Pillars of Eternity (published by Paradox Interactive but developed independently by Obsidian) is viewed to this day as one of the most incredible RPGs packed with unique characters every few feet. The game has sometimes been compared to a really good book, but with player choice and an extremely dense population in its world making it feel like a unique experience for each player. Pillars of Eternity was originally funded by Kickstarter where it had set a record of the time raising $4 million during 2012. A sequel was also eventually funded by fans. Both games are highly praised by critics as well.
Fallout: New Vegas was a chance for some of the original Interplay staff (now at Obsidian) who had a hand in the first Fallout games to revisit the series in Bethesda’s new environment and level editing tools. The game is largely regarded as a success, even by Bethesda who were hands-off during its development, and loved by fans.
Obsidian Entertainment seems to be primarily PC-based in their development strategy, lending major strength to Xbox development since new age consoles are PC-based in architecture. They also seem to be able to repeatedly deliver RPG titles that fans love. Microsoft has certainly chosen a winning studio to acquire, with a good fit for their PC and Xbox brand strategies overall. Deals like this take time, and sometimes government approval – we await further details.