Ever since Phil Spencer’s promotion and comments about growing Xbox’s first-party content, one of the more interesting discussions going around is that of Microsoft and what game studios they should be buying. After thinking on this for some time, I had a conversation with Nicholas, one of my co-writers, and we came up with a list of studios that would make at least a certain amount of sense for Microsoft to acquire. We then provided some comments and discussion based on each of the studios that we came up with.
We tried to abide by just a few ground rules to help make this discussion realistic, even if it’s all conjecture. With one noteworthy exception, the majority of the studios discussed here are independent. It’s simply not realistic to suggest that Microsoft will just immediately purchase a company like EA, due to the size of the companies involved. So with all that said, let’s dive in.
What studios should Microsoft look at acquiring?
Samuel: Armature Studio have helped with a variety of projects. Most recent was ReCore, a game that you and I both liked however, let’s face it, it really wasn’t what it needed to be. Bugs, an empty world and some weird texture issues kept that game from really being what it could have been. If Armature had some support from other teams not to mention a bigger budget, a ReCore 2 could provide a nice addition to the Xbox lineup. Given the size of the studio, it certainly wouldn’t be an expensive purchase either.
Nicholas: With how Phil wants to refocus and build more first-party content, the skeleton behind ReCore is good. The idea of Armature developing a fully budgeted sequel with a ton of polish and some new ideas all make an acquisition by Xbox feasible. The only issue is whether the potential here is enough to actually warrant a purchase.
Samuel: Acquiring 4A Games would allow Xbox to rotate in a new type of shooter. The quiet, somber, story-based nature of their games, such as the Metro series, would provide a much-needed bit of variety in the Xbox lineup.
Nicholas: Shooters tend do well on Xbox. Bringing in a European studio would provide variety, though it might be difficult to integrate that kind of vastly different studio culture into Microsoft. They wouldn’t be the most expensive studio to acquire however, with Metro: Exodus looming on the horizon that might change.
Samuel: Now, Studio MDHR is a bit tricky. Cuphead was a great success and an absolute joy to play. At the end of the day however, it was still just one game. Is that really worth trying to acquire the entire studio over? That’s without getting into the fact that as a smaller indie team, they might want to retain their freedom, in which case some sort of multi-game contract would be the better option.
Nicholas: Whatever the case ends up being, Xbox needs to keep them locked into Xbox. In the middle of the drought that was 2017 (for Xbox exclusives) Cuphead was an incredible breath of fresh air. Unique, somewhat weird games don’t always work out but Cuphead did. Microsoft has a good relationship with Studio MDHR, what with how they helped develop the game. They need to keep that relationship.
Nicholas: Undead Labs seems like the perfect candidate at first. After all, State of Decay was a massive hit and State of Decay 2 looks to be even better. State of Decay 2‘s success pending, there’s no reason Microsoft shouldn’t bring them in, right?
Samuel: It’s not that simple though. Undead Labs signed a multi-year, multi-title agreement with Microsoft back in early 2014. Even after State of Decay 2‘s planned DLCs release, there’s likely plenty of time and at least another game left in that contract.
Samuel: Here we come to the exception, Creative Assembly. An incredible studio responsible for the long-running Total War franchise, Alien: Isolation, Halo Wars 2, all very good games. They’d be a great fit in Xbox’s portfolio, especially with the focus on RTS games.
Nicholas: With Creative Assembly doing a great job on Halo Wars 2 (a game you and I both loved) and now with Age of Empires 4 in development by Relic Entertainment, the relationship with Sega is there. The main issue is that Creative Assembly is a huge studio. I agree they’d be a great fit but I’m not sure Microsoft would be willing to pay however much it’d take to get Creative Assembly out from under Sega’s control.
Nicholas: Now, if there’s one thing Crytek is known for, it’s good looking games. Ryse: Son of Rome still holds up graphically, especially considering it was a launch title for the Xbox One. Right now, Xbox needs something that is both a new IP and a graphics showcase, like what Horizon Zero Dawn was for the PlayStation 4 Pro. Crytek could help make that happen.
Samuel: There’s other advantages too, like having the full team responsible for creating CryEngine. Their early access game, Hunt: Showdown has a lot of potential and would easily fit the Game Pass/Games as a Service model that Microsoft is pursuing. The thing is though, even with Crytek’s recent financial troubles and many closed studios, they’re still a fairly large company. I’m not really sure the advantages provided by an acquisition would be enough to warrant such an expensive purchase.
Samuel: Between Forza Horizon 3’s success and Forza Horizon 4 likely coming soon, not to mention the practically-confirmed Fable rumors, Playground Games has put in some serious work for Xbox. If they don’t want them going third-party at some point, I think Xbox needs to bring them in extremely soon. Forza Horizon 4 will almost certainly be a huge critical and commercial success. If Fable follows suit, other publishers are going to take notice. I honestly don’t think Xbox can afford to lose the exclusive partnership they have currently. They’d be well worth bringing in.
Nicholas: Honestly, between the critical and commercial success of Forza Horizon 3, it’s almost insulting that Playground Games isn’t already first-party. When they’re finished hiring, they’ll have two full studio teams capable of taking on AAA games. That’s what Xbox needs, especially with one team branching out into RPGs, an area where the Xbox exclusive lineup has been sorely lacking.
So, let’s bring the discussion in at this point. If Microsoft were to purchase three studios, assuming money was no object, who should they acquire from the studios we’ve discussed? Why would those picks be good fits?
Nicholas: Creative Assembly and Playground Games are a perfect fit for the reasons we’ve already mentioned. Studio MDHR would be my third pick, if they don’t want to be purchased, get them signed into a multi-game contract.
Samuel: I’m with you on Playground Games and Creative Assembly. My third pick would actually be Armature though. They’d be an easy pick-up and I really feel that with some support and a great budget, they’d be capable of doing some really cool things.
So there you have it, our opinions on the question: “What studios should Microsoft look at acquiring?” Whether you agree or disagree, we’d love to hear your thoughts.