In the rooftop lounge above the Novo Theater after yesterday’s Xbox game show, the mood was upbeat. Not only among the media, content creators, and special guests who just finished watching the show, but also among the Xbox employees who are watching and following up on their reactions. There is almost a sense of relief. After several tough years, Xbox has had a successful and promising showing.
Among those feeling optimistic is Matt Botti, president of Xbox Game Studios, who shortly after the show sat down at a panel with fellow execs and suggested that Xbox had finally “turned the corner.” After several years with relatively few mega-hits compared to its direct competitors, Xbox was finally bringing out the big guns in games like Starfield and Forza Motorsport later this year, with more hitters like Avowed planned for 2024.
It was a role long anticipated after the Xbox struggled in the previous console generation and the promise the company seemed to deliver in 2017-2019 with its major acquisition spree. During those years, the Xbox portfolio swelled to a whopping 23 studios, leading many to predict that the coming years would bring a huge increase in the number of first-party releases from the console maker. But so far, the Xbox release slate has been slow and steady, much to the disappointment of fans, leading to the console’s generational failure listing.
The first crank turn
Booty feels it’s finally time for Xbox. He explains in an interview with IGN that the delay is partly a symptom of Xbox’s acquisition at the time of unfinished projects and DLC commitments. They had to finish these projects before they could work on the kind of major Xbox games that fans have come to expect. What we saw yesterday, he continues, is “the first turn of the crank” under the Xbox banner for studios like Compulsion Games, inXile, and Obsidian, and he confirms there’s more to come.
“I feel like we’ve got that rhythm and that rhythm running through our studios,” says Booty. “Everything, as I look forward from here, and today, until the end of 2024, I’ve seen sample games. I have some practical confidence that everything over the 18 Next month, I know what it’s like, there aren’t a lot of posts out there.”
Booty specifically calls 2022 “an interesting year in a lot of respects,” pointing to the fact that the company has had to rely on smaller-scale games, like Pentiment, Grounded, and Minecraft Legends, to top its portfolio. And while he doesn’t say it outright, his description of the future is spotty — we’re not about to drown in Xbox blockbuster games all at once. Starfield and Forza will do some heavy lifting, true, but a number of Xbox Game Studios are still waiting in the wings with their projects completely missing out on presentation. State of Decay 3, Perfect Dark, Elder Scrolls 6, Gears of War, Everwild, and more were conspicuously missing from the presentation, Avowed’s “2024” release window was rather generous, and Fable didn’t get a release window at all.
So what’s going on with all those other studios? Booty rest assured that nothing is wrong. He says he’s done “recent visits” to the studios behind all the games you mentioned, playing modern builds, and knows where they are. He hints that Xbox may be saving some of its shows for “other events during the year, other beats that we want to achieve,” and then goes on to say that Xbox wants to “manage expectations” about how they’re going to show what’s going to happen, offering a visualized revolution as an example.
“We played Clockwork Revolution a year ago, and decided to wait and show it here at this show,” says Botti. “So we’re trying to be more disciplined about the timing of releases and how we manage expectations.”
The state of missing first party games
However, some of these missing games have been in development for years now since they were announced, so it’s only natural that the public might care a little bit about games like Everwild, Perfect Dark, and Elder Scrolls 6. And it’s not just an Xbox problem – games across the industry seem to be taking a little longer to make. .
Booty agrees: “I think there’s a bit of a reset going on in terms of expectations for a big AAA game and how long or how many people it can take,” he says. And he thinks it’s amazing that this industry has games like Vampire Survivors or other ID @ Xbox games made by very small teams in just a few years. But on the other extreme, AAA games with hundreds of people working on them can take four, five, six, seven years or sometimes even longer.
“One of the 9th generation gear is great — ray tracing, all the stuff we can do,” he says. “But that flows through everything through how assets are built. Like in Forza Motorsport, how cars should be built, how lighting should be done , and how the track should be set up, all the details. The anticipation is very high. The games are getting more and more complex in terms of expected interactions.”
Another factor, he says, is the setting, and the difficulties associated with developing games to be comfortable for new and returning players as franchises go on and get older and deeper. Booty offers FIFA or Madden as an example. Each new entry is easy to understand if you’re already very familiar with the previous ones, but if you’ve never played them before, they can be quite difficult to get into.
“Then we also ascertain as we take the games out of America and Western Europe, what do we need to do in terms of spending time on localization or accessibility to these things. They are all great, we’re very committed to them, but they get to the point of complexity.”
Fable Xbox Games Showcase 2023
While these issues may be industry wide, the Xbox situation is unique in that it set anticipation of an upcoming rush of content years ago when it took over a heap of studios at once, leaving fans wondering when the floodgates would finally open. And Booty seems to agree that the Xbox’s big promises have gotten them into some trouble – even if he’s optimistic about its ability to deliver in the years to come.
He states, “If I were to be self-critical, I would say that maybe sometimes we try to get the reality of our situation out a little bit earlier than other people might. But we try to build trust with our player base and trust with our fans, and letting them know how this is going is important.”
We also spoke to Matt Booty about Redfall, and whether or not Xbox has a “hands-off” approach to working with first-party studios. Booty also appeared on a panel with other Xbox chiefs to talk about first-party strategy for Xbox, along with Xbox chief Phil Spencer talking about the importance of the console. And you can catch up on everything from the Xbox Showcase and IGN’s Summer of Gaming here.
Rebecca Valentine is a senior reporter at IGN. You can find her on Twitter @employee.
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