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Acquisition Suspicion

"All good things come to end, I suppose," cried the aching masses upon witnessing Ninja Theory's video explaining the Microsoft buyout. Knees quake as the corporate giant awakens, with everyone wondering whom they may devour next. Cut off the head before it slithers away to squeeze another victim! Who else can they ruin the artistic integrity of with the aroma of dirty Windows Vista money?!?!

So…perhaps that intro got tiring halfway through. You get the gist of it. Microsoft's E3 became the talk of the town with their meltdown-level studio acquisition announcement: a brand new studio, two 2nd-party developers now officially MS' 1st party, and two independent teams (Ninja Theory and Compulsion Games) coming under MS' wing (1). The independent studio acquisitions caused the most grief from gamers under two lines of reasoning:

1.) What were once devs sharing their products across several platforms are now deprived such freedom depending on Microsoft’s say-so. This in turn limits a sizable chunk of their prior fanbase in the process.
2.) They've now been devoured by MS' oh-so-devious temptations.

Now, there's not really much I can contend with in respect to the first point. I follow that genuine concern in seeing fans lose out on the opportunity of their favorite developer’s future titles locked on platforms they may have no interest in using. One COULD suggest that’s the entire point of console wars, but I know of those ‘intense’ fans never wanting their money funneled towards MS. What I am interested in is that second point with which a lot of shade has been tossed at them in respect to past influences on their closest teams--some of which is rather exaggerated. With that, let's try to separate fact from fiction and assess what we could anticipate from these purchases.

To do so: I wanted to generalize two types of criticism I’ve seen the most levelled against them in the wake of this E3 news.

-"They're like a poison. Just look at their past--esp. how they destroyed Rare."

There’s nary a time where this sort of sentiment isn't hastily made—and I suspect just to horde some likes. That doesn't mean such a claim isn't without evidence. One of the biggest failings of the Xbox brand was the closure of Lionhead Studios and Press Play in one fell swoop (2). But before we get into making spurious comparisons to something like the developer black hole that is EA, it'd also be fair to acknowledge how they and Twisted Pixel left on amiable terms. A team that wasn't dissolved on a whim but instead part ways for different creative endeavors (3). But that sounds less sexy to talk about compared to the instant satisfaction of controversy.

And let me be the first to say I find this whole 'killing' of Rare charge to be recycled ad nauseum to the point I'm convinced that many are only bringing it up in bad faith—this coming from a fan who grew up with and cherished N64 Rare games (discounting Perfect Dark as I didn’t play until later). Now, that doesn't disregard any dip in quality and prestige, mind you. It's the severity that I'm trying to refute.

If I were to compare the earliest-charted Metacritic averages of Rare (Blast Corps-Star Fox Adventures) you'd land on an 88. Comparing that to Rare's console-oriented releases after the MS purchase (Grabbed By The Ghoulies-___________ ) nets you a rounded average of 75. And before appeals about utilizing Metacritic come up for games that arguably don't hold up with gamers today (Perfect Dark Zero) well...I can just as easily raise qualms about Donkey Kong 64 bagging such an unjustifiably high score. We can bandy ‘deserved’ scores ‘til the cows come home and it won’t matter. Plus, I'm not using Metacritic because I like it; I'm using it because YOU seem to like it. A vocal bunch on here appears to have no dispute about a specific game's 'objective' quality whenever said Metascore helps their argument. I'm just presenting it in the way that's most convenient. And when considering how Kinect games drag down even that generally positive average, I'm compelled to roll my eyes when hyperbole comes sneaking in.

Let's say I'm just deflecting really hard from the Metascore comparison just made, brushing it off as though it was nothing (note: I'm not). The fact remains that a lot of Rare senior leaders, including The Stamper Brothers, left quite early into this acquisition as well; with that noted, I don't think it's fair to lay the charge of terrible management at MS's feet when that team is reeling from the absence of so many key personnel too.

But even if I WERE to act appalled by such a devalued developer via publisher poison, should blame go squarely on MS making the most lucrative deal at a prime opportunity? Remember: MS didn't pull some backdoor tactic prying them out of Nintendo's oh-so-warm-and-tender hands. There’s not this convenient anti-corporate narrative where MS swindles shareholders until they got 50.1% control. I don't want to spend too much detail here, especially with good references elsewhere (4), but suffice to say Ninty was being too shrewd at the time and MS's closest competition was actually Activision. Say what you wish about the inconsistent track record with Microsoft but it shouldn't take much for even the biggest contrarian to admit this was a lesser-of-two-evils scenario. What Bungie accomplished under them versus Bungie now is rather telling of that. There's no way Rare wouldn't have eventually become an army of shoe polishers for Bobby Kotick.

None of this is intended as denigrating old fans who've drifted away from new Rare's design ethos; furthermore, it’s tough for anyone to stomach a long-running developer with such valuable IP's in their creative vault locked to expending so many resources into Kinect games. Approximately a 5-year period focused on motion-based sports games. Yeesh! But as far as resuscitating old IP's, building new game foundations, and assessing what lies ahead, I can't help but scoff whenever the "Rare’s dead!" platitudes bubble to the surface as it stands today.

-"How can you expect to trust them with such a corporation that seems to have an uneasy relationship with their own game division?"

I'll admit, the dynamic of Microsoft's corporate culture is one of the most compelling & nuanced angles to take in admonishing any creative team signing a 1st party deal. If one could psychoanalyze the collective decisions of The Big Three, there's a compelling case to suggest MS may suffer from bipolar disorder. From their authoritarian bent during the 2013 blunder to end all blunders (5) to now being among the most fervent in crossing online platforms’ thresholds (6); going back to a shipped product ~4 years later to overhaul the matchmaking system Halo: MCC (7)...to giving sequels like Crackdown 2 pitiful development time; all the initial rules for Xbox One being reverted (8). It's a really, really, really strange history to say the least.

With all of this said, it'd be unfair to peg that history against what 'Team Xbox' is doing today. Bleating on about 2013's Xbox Division nowadays is the equivalent of me continuously bashing Sony's snobbish attitude at PS3's launch during the wonderful Age of Butler advertising. It's like a comedian exclusively using decade-old material.

Whether in respect to consumer response or the Xbox brand's place in MS's business hierarchical structure, there's a heap of difference between the division now and five years ago. The Head of Xbox is now a part of the Senior Leadership Team answerable only to the CEO (9), not a go-between nobody knows about. And their actions to virtually everything outside the issue of exclusive games had been handled with great aplomb. So it seems, let's say, “peculiar” when their biggest criticism is DIRECTLY corrected on stage yet windbags divert attention towards worrying as to how MS will screw things up like a foregone conclusion. It reveals your true colors as insincere actors.

To summarize, I consider this to be one of the most exciting moves of 2018 only tempered by said publisher's past inconsistencies. Holy s***...that sounds so mundane when considering the preceding text you had to read through! While I didn't intend to end with such boring reservations, the more I began typing this the more I questioned just how many people these appeals are responding to directly. I'm in this casual wait-n-see crowd that probably takes up the majority of viewers anyways; despite that, I'm compelled to repel some uncritical assessments spread about (here and elsewhere). Because when considering the change in MS’s corporate dynamics, their healthier responsiveness to consumer complaints, and more, there's more evidence to suggest these studios could produce their best work yet instead of assail their creative aspirations.

Links:

1. https://www.forbes.com/site...
2. https://www.windowscentral....
3. https://www.digitaltrends.c...
4. http://www.ign.com/articles...
5. https://www.youtube.com/wat...
6. https://www.theverge.com/20...
7. https://www.gamesradar.com/...
8. https://www.windowscentral....
9. https://www.zdnet.com/artic...

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Community52d ago
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coolbeans53d ago

Hope everyone enjoyed the blog. Please feel free to leave your comments and/or questions below.

50d ago Replies(1)
PhoenixUp53d ago

I just want Microsoft to legitimately improve their business ethos on delivering quality software that isn’t always service based. 17 years in the hardware industry and 36 years in the publishing industry yet the term “Microsoft title” still holds very little weight.

coolbeans52d ago

Interesting take. But where do you delineate between what is and isn't service-based? Is any later DLC like that for Super Lucky's Tale or Recore fall under that umbrella as well? What if they dabble into episodic games like Telltale?

49d ago
coolbeans49d ago

@gamerzero

-"Don’t pretend you don’t know was GaaS is to mitigate the heat on Microsoft."

Yeesh! You're desperate to squeeze any character-disparaging interpretation out of such innocuous questions. It was cute at first (worthy of my cringe collection), but not you're becoming an annoying bad-faith actor here.

-"GaaS is selling crap through micro transactions to increase revenue over an extended period of time."

Well, okay so if we're going by said argument than it's fair to say MS's recent software lineup isn't "always service based" as PhoenixUp put it. Or was he/she speaking in future tense to hope they're not all like that? I just wanted that more thoroughly specified before continuing a conversation.

DarkVoyager52d ago

I feel no matter what Microsoft does with Xbox at this point it will never be what it once was. Sony and Nintendo will dominate going forward.

gangsta_red52d ago (Edited 52d ago )

Excellent blog and I agree with all your points. Where I read Rare is dead I also have to roll my eyes especially looking at the recent title Yooka Layle(SP) which is supposedly developed by some key old school Rare heads and yet was a disappointment and barely made a blip on the "awesome game" radar.

Rare definitely could have done better than Kinect but sales wise I believe some of their highest grossing titles since in business has been their Kinect offerings. Take it as you will but they're definitely not struggling.

I take the last few years of the 360 into the later times of the Xbox One up until now as a stuggle to get as many chefs out the kitchen as possible. I am 100% sure that by the next Xbox console we're going to be hearing all sorts of stories on how different execs, managers and higher ups had their hand and plans in the beginning of Xbox One and what it took to actually bring it all back to where we are and hopefully headed now.

The closing of Lionhead imo was a casuality of MS mismanagement and being out of touch from the stories I read. They set them up with a couple of failed Fable games and then again set them on a house for a F2P 4v1 Fable game and then shut the place down when none of it worked. Again, it just screamed of old men in a board room barking orders because they saw analytic trends and not actually being in touch with the fan base.

Twisted Pixel I felt had a lot of potential. They made some great games but just couldn't push through with a really solid title to put them on the map. They had the humor and arcade talent and to this day I thought they would have been perfect for a Conker revival. Now, I don't even know what they do or if they're even still around.

As for the Xbox today it is definitely looking like the 360 of old and it's obvious now that Phil was definitely cleaning house all this time. They have improved on features, dev policies, consumer friendly actions, better hardware and answered the main, glaring complaint from all fan bases, lack of first party studios.

It'll be interesting to see what they do next for their upcoming console. I'm fact, I am very curious to see exactly what will be new for PS5 and Xbox Two. What more can they do and add from their mid gen console?

TL;DR

coolbeans52d ago (Edited 52d ago )

I appreciate it.

-"Where I read Rare is dead I also have to roll my eyes especially looking at the recent title Yooka Layle(SP) which is supposedly developed by some key old school Rare heads and yet was a disappointment..."

I can't believe I forgot to bring that up as well. That was something in the back of my head when considering the Rare portion of this blog as well. One can digging through older Yooka-Laylee articles to see this sort of assumption of quality & how it was spearheaded that 3D platformer revival. While the latter holds some merit, the notion of being free from MS's grasp would bring back 90's Rare-quality gaming to the modern day was blown to smithereens. I'm actually thinking of incorporating their example in regards to popular pitfalls in Kickstarter games.

More and more, I think of John Cleese's 15-year comment in respect to his best work: working yourself up to that creative peak, hitting your stride for ~15 years, and slowly losing some of that valuable edge you just can't seem to get back. But that's just me rambling.

-"Twisted Pixel I felt had a lot of potential. They made some great games but just couldn't push through with a really solid title to put them on the map. They had the humor and arcade talent and to this day I thought they would have been perfect for a Conker revival. Now, I don't even know what they do or if they're even still around."

Well, Twisted Pixel first game after leaving MS was a well-received Oculus Rift VR game called Wilson's Heart. And it seems like they have another Oculus game in development (EDIT: called Defector https://www.youtube.com/wat... ) . So it's clear they had their (current) creative ambitions on a type of platform MS wasn't even offering. There's still hope for them to come back to MS as a 2nd-party too. As mentioned in the blog, they left on amiable terms leaving open the possibility to work with MS again.

-"It'll be interesting to see what they do next for their upcoming console. I'm fact, I am very curious to see exactly what will be new for PS5 and Xbox Two. What more can they do and add from their mid gen console?"

Definitely. I think many people are considering your question as well, which leads me to consider the possibility of consoles adopting a more iterative PC/mobile upgrade model.

gangsta_red52d ago

Sheeeesh, reading my comment over...I really need to stop leaving comments from my touch screen phone with auto correct on.

"As mentioned in the blog, they left on amiable terms leaving open the possibility to work with MS again."

I hope so, these guys definitely need a triumphant return to the console space. MS should definitely try and reach out to them again. I didn't know they were deep in the VR space, good to hear that they're still around and made a well received game.

"...possibility of consoles adopting a more iterative PC/mobile upgrade model."

One of the features that I suggested that new consoles do is backgrounding/minimizing multiple games. They already do this for one game on both consoles but this feature needs to be expanded on for next gen. I would love to background game A, start game B and then when finished go back to game A from exactly where I left off without having to load the game back up again.

50d ago
coolbeans52d ago

Hey, if that first comment is the result from a smartphone you deserve credit compared to my response (missing words and what not).

-"I hope so, these guys definitely need a triumphant return to the console space. MS should definitely try and reach out to them again. I didn't know they were deep in the VR space, good to hear that they're still around and made a well received game."

I mean...they seem content with it atm. But with the rumors swirling about of MS putting VR plunge on hold, there's potential in the future should MS go through with it.

-"One of the features that I suggested that new consoles do is backgrounding/minimizing multiple games. They already do this for one game on both consoles but this feature needs to be expanded on for next gen."

Would be cool. Let's start out with having a good feature-list at launch instead of waiting years down the line (music playback, etc. etc.)

AspiringProGenji52d ago (Edited 52d ago )

Phil Spencer had enough time to turn things around and he didn’t. All they did at last E3 should have been done a while ago, but NO it took God of War and the xbox fans on Twitter to finally question all his talk and promises he has YET to fullfil until Next gen. This could have been done way before he was promoted

The only thing that he has done great this gen is implemented features that Sony has shrugged off like Backwards Compatibility, Gamepass, and Cross play to get an edge on PR. But, do you wonder why they don’t get enough credit or Can’t catch up to Sony?

Switch: Super Mario Odyssey 10/10

PS4: God of War 10/10

Xbox One: Enhanced Gears of War 2 graphics and Red Dead Redemption 4K patch

So much for “exclusives don’t matter.” “PS4 is on the elsd because of couple extra pixels.” It’s as if MS has been listening to these comments and blog post and deluded themselves. So, people are right to not trust them based on past decisions. While the studio acquisitions are great step in the right direction and show promises, it still gonna take a lot to turn things around.

coolbeans52d ago (Edited 52d ago )

It's weird responding to what I can't help but consider to be a facsimile of the unreasonable underbelly within the N4G community.

1.) He's had to time to turn things around and hasn't...except you'll contradict yourself bringing up what transpired this past E3...

2.)...oh but we'll skip over this by bringing up how God of War & Xbox fans on twitter are responsible for the studio acquisition somehow(?)...

3.)...oh then we'll give some credit on implemented features but not without highlighting their obviously-underhanded intentions (if only these weren't some of the most requested features from, oh say, xbox fans on twitter). That's the only reason they can be pushing for them!

Guy...this is only a few sentences in and already you're presenting this contradictory quagmire of a comment. You present unclear language in respect to Spencer not "turning things around" when certain links showcase critical changes made from Mattrick's departure. I'm not one to harp on grammatical messes (see my 1st, pre-coffee gangsta response), but messes in argumentation & consistency like this are really bothersome.

-"But, do you wonder why they don’t get enough credit or Can’t catch up to Sony?"

Why they don't get enough credit (from some)? Judging by this comment, I'm getting strong inclinations of it being ideologically-driven.

Can't catch up to Sony? Well I don't have to wonder as there's a bunch of factors I already acknowledge.

-"So much for “exclusives don’t matter.” “PS4 is on the elsd because of couple extra pixels.” It’s as if MS has been listening to these comments and blog post and deluded themselves."

...WHAT?!?! You're just building a strawman to conveniently topple over. My blog, or collection of blogs, doesn't contain this kind of argumentation. And if you're just venting about what others have said? Well...try sticking to the script of what THIS blog pertains to, rather than having me answer for what others have said.

Overall, you've gotta stop with this recycled, bad response structure. Virtually everything here just seems lifted from some saved Word doc titled "Xbox OWNED compilation" without any semblance of reading my content and formulating a conversation based around it. If that's the route you're interested in going? Don't bother responding.

TheGamingEffect52d ago (Edited 52d ago )

This is exactly why I dont debate video games, or the video game Industry with these guys. Its always regurgitated nonsense with them. Nobody has their own thoughts anymore, and both Xbox and PS4 supporters are bias to the core. Its ridiculous.

gangsta_red52d ago

So are we just going to forget Ori that also got a lot of 10/10 or does that not fit your narrative?

"All they did at last E3 should have been done a while ago"

So how far ago should they have done it and when is far not far enough, when is it not too late too? I always love that thin argument whenever something gets done, it's always "it should have been done long ago".

It's funny because it just proves how the bitching and complaining will never stop because it will always fall back on something even weaker when it's finally resolved or answered.

"but NO it took God of War.."

Do you honestly and truly believe that MS just up and bought/created 5 studios the day after God of War came out?

You don't possibly think that they were hearing this criticism through out this gen and had this in the works for sometime or do you actually believe that purchasing, aquiring and creating new studios happened over night? The day of E3.

"So, people are right to not trust them based on past decisions."

Followed by,

"While the studio acquisitions are great step..."

Basically, what this means is you're going to complain no matter what they do. They make Game Pass, it's some type of Trojan horse for GaaS (which you didn't say but others have), they create BC, it's only for PR, they add 5 new studios, they should have done it long ago. There's a back biting comment for every great feature MS adds to Xbox.

If we want to talk about history then we might as well look at certain folks comment history too and this tells us no matter what MS does people will still be here to rant and rage about it.

Srhalo50d ago (Edited 50d ago )

"So how far ago should they have done it"

Before the generation was over...

None of the games started by these new studios will release before the end of this generation. And I'd like to point out that 2016 2017 and 2018 were all pretty much barren where Microsoft went months with out releasing games. In 2017 they went 9 months. And outside of Forza Horizon they haven't had a game crack 90 with many of their games in the 60's and more games in the 70's than the 80's.

"Do you honestly and truly believe that MS just up and bought/created 5 studios the day after God of War came out?"

Pretty much yes, that's kind of what happened. Playground was purchased in June 2018, and it was after We Happy Few was announced multiplatform and after Hellblade launched so clearly these purchases happened less then 6 months ago... I'm guessing 2-3 months or so before E3 so in 2018.

If I had to guess Microsoft expected "the worlds most powerful console" to change things for them, when that didn't happen they were finally forced to realize that games actually matter. Remember deep into 2017 Phil was still talking about Microsoft providing the hardware and letting other companies provide the software.

They make Game Pass, it's some type of Trojan horse for GaaS (which you didn't say but others have),

I'll say it, and it's the truth.

The only thing that stopped that from being the case was the fallout from Battlefront 3. We know from leaks that Sea of Thieves was originally planned to have loot boxes and while it hasn't been stated outright it's pretty obvious that was the plan for State of Decay as well, and Forza we also know was going to have a loot box system since Microsoft themselves said it.

Let's not pretend we don't remember Phil's GaaS interview where he himself said that was the future for Microsoft.

"Basically, what this means is you're going to complain no matter what they do."

And basically your going to defend everything they say and pretend to forget the actual history when it's not convenient for your narrative.

"If we want to talk about history then we might as well look at certain folks comment history too and this tells us no matter what MS does people will still be here to rant and rage about it. "

We can look at your comment history too...

gangsta_red50d ago

@Srhalo

"None of the games started by these new studios will release before the end of this generation."

That's not the topic or discussion at hand though is it? The topic is MS correcting the many mistakes people criticized them for and then those same people still complaining when those issues are addressed.

"Pretty much yes, that's kind of what happened."

Then you truly have no idea how acquisitions of development studios or any company for that matter works.

Just because they announced them during E3 doesn't mean they just purchased them that day or the night before. Even before God of War was released there were rumors of MS in the market for aquiring studios.

"I'll say it, and it's the truth."

Based on what? How many of the games on Game Pass actually have the GaaS model? SoT so far is the biggest game with that type of model, so again that truth seems to be knee deep in not actually being knowledgeable of the content currently on Game Pass. Even the most recent editions to Game Pass have been single player focus games.

It's just another attempt to complain about a service MS rolled out. Make up conspiracy theories and run with it.

Let's also not for get Phil's interview, the same interview where he said he was still interested in single player games. Something a lot of people for some reason tend to forget when complaining about MS, Xbox and GaaS.

"And basically your going to defend everything they say and pretend to forget the actual history when it's not convenient for your narrative."

Very weak attempt at a point here and it's hilarious that any rebuttal or counter point is always replied with the "defend" excuse. So, basically it's okay to attack everything and acknowledge nothing but the minute someone does it's them "defending".

"We can look at your comment history too..."

Please do, no where did I say you couldn't. Look through my history and you'll see I have actually criticised MS for their shortcomings. The difference is i have also recognized they're changes and many attempts to correct their mistakes.

But it's obvious that if you're not shitting on them 25/8 and moving goal posts to fit your narrative then you must be "defending" them.

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