If there’s one word that sums up PlayStation’s dominance of Xbox this console generation, it’s games. I mean there are also sales, but the PS4 sales figures have been driven by a strong first-party offering. Yes Xbox has made inroads in the last couple of years thanks to its superior service offerings, but ultimately its catalogue of games has lacked the quality to go toe-to-toe with PlayStation.
This isn’t news though – Phil Spencer knows this better than anyone and it’s why Xbox has invested heavily in expanding its roster of studios through a number of acquisitions and startups. Studios like Obsidian, Ninja Theory, Double Fine and Compulsion Games have all been snapped up, tasked with bringing their strengths and flavours to the Xbox video game ecosystem.
Then there is The Initiative; a hotbed of industry talent all at Xbox’s disposal. Based in Santa Monica, The Initiative is led by former Crystal Dynamics studio head Darrell Galagher and has been given a war chest of resources to compete with Sony’s platinum-tier studios (Naughty Dog etc.), recruiting veteran developers from the likes of Naughty Dog, Sony Santa Monica, Respawn, and even Red Dead Redemption‘s lead writer and designer Christian Cantamessa from Rockstar. Such is the confidence in this team they’ve been trusted with creating “AAAA” experiences. I know our resident Xbox lover KierAAAAn can’t wait to play what they’re cooking.
Phil Spencer goes hands-on with The Initiative’s debut project
The excitement comes from the fact that Xbox has so many unannounced projects from these studios and not knowing what we’re going to get. Xbox knows their games have to be much better than its Xbox One offerings – it can’t afford many more Crackdown 3 or Scalebounds. But it also can’t rely on Halo Infinite to bring it back from the doldrums. It needs new and exciting IPs and that’s where its buffet of studios comes in.
We know Obsidian is working on the neat looking Grounded, but that isn’t why Xbox opened their chequebook to buy them. Xbox acquired them to work on a genre that Xbox’s first-party lineup has been sorely lacking: RPGs. After releasing the acclaimed The Outer Worlds last year and arguably the best Fallout game in Fallout: New Vegas (let’s not forget they did the criminally underrated Alpha Protocol too), who knows what kind of immersive world they can craft with a sugar daddy budget. Speaking of RPGs, there’s the Playground Games RPG – a brand new open-world action RPG according to a job listing. Having developed Forza Horizon titles since 2010, it’s going to be interesting to see the studio tackle a totally different genre.
Compulsion Games are another exciting prospect. Despite its mixed reception, We Happy Few was a promising concept and showed that the studio wasn’t lacking in the creativity department. Hopefully with more resources they can better hone whatever wacky concoction they’re working on next. Adding their own kind of wackiness to Xbox’s lineup is Double Fine, with Tim Schafer-led studio known for its Psychonauts series set to continue along its experimental ways. Ninja Theory is another studio whose acquisition was an impressive score by Xbox. After developing the divisive DmC: Devil May Cry in 2013, the studio would go on to release the well-received Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice in 2017. Its success would pave the way for a sequel, Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II, which was announced at The Game Awards in 2019 and shows Xbox’s commitment to letting its studios do what it does best: make video games.
We could go on and talk about how Undead Labs can elevate State of Decay and how inXile Entertainment can further enhance the company’s RPG offerings, but the five aforementioned studios give you an idea of how exciting next-gen could be for Xbox.
But that’s not the only reason, with the other exciting possibilities coming from their Xbox Series X showcase and their commitment to unique third-party and indie experiences, such as the Alien-inspired Scorn and the spooky The Medium (I mean Akira Yamaoka is involved). The lure of Game Pass and having more players exposed to your game is a huge boon for indies this time around, and I have no doubt that Xbox will many more deals to announce as the generation begins.
All of this isn’t to say that PlayStation’s next-gen lineup isn’t exciting, quite the contrary, but with PlayStation you know what you’re going to get. Guerrilla Games are hard at work on Horizon Zero Dawn 2, Santa Monica Studios are finding ways to find magic strike twice with God of War 2, Naughty Dog will be crunching their way to making another story-driven action blockbuster, Insomniac are weaving their magic again with Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, while Sucker Punch is maybe the only unknown, I guess a lot will depend on the success of Ghost of Tsushima. Plus, with both Naughty Dog and Sucker Punch releasing their latest projects at the arse-end of the current generation, it’s probably going to be a while until we see what they’re up to next.
Truth be told, while I’ve always been more #TeamPlayStation than #TeamXbox, I’ve always genuinely hoped that both systems excel when it comes to first-party software. After all, and we’ve said it numerous times, competition breeds stronger products. Besides, there’s been a number of Xbox One exclusives that I’ve really enjoyed, such as Ryse: Son of Rome (the sole reason I bought the Xbox One at launch), Sunset Overdrive, and Quantum Break (one of my favourite games this generation), so it’s not like Xbox has been totally devoid of good exclusives, at least in my opinion.
As technical and development boundaries continue to be pushed, there’s no doubt that this generation is the most exciting yet. Xbox has clearly been focusing on next-gen for a while now, building its service offerings and its roster of studios. They need to come out swinging, so hopefully they can blow me away (I hope you all get that reference) with Halo Infinite before a strong library of titles graces the Xbox Series X (or One X) and PC. It’s time to see the fruits of the labour and I’ve got faith that Big Philly will deliver the goods this time around. Get excited.