The complete Zenimax line-up covering Bethesda and id Software, Obsidian, inXile Entertainment, Double Fine Productions and much more: Microsoft has his Xbox-Sparte greatly increased in recent years – and with Activision Blizzard another big fish is to follow.
At first glance, this buying spree makes sense: after Microsoft introduced a few in the course of the Xbox One generation strategic mistakes committed, starting with an increased focus on multimedia content instead of games to an initially unusual focus on Kinect, people wanted and want with the Xbox Series X | S turn things around again. Since setting up your own studios can be very tedious and takes a lot of time, you buy talented and well-established studios that will serve the Xbox and PC divisions in the future.
Microsoft – a modern football club?
The idea behind it is obvious: ideally, experienced developers do not need so much supervision, reasonable internal structures already exist and with the additional money games can be created for which players are only too happy to buy an Xbox console or at least a Game Pass subscription fetch. And maybe you can then have a say again when it comes to the awarding of Game of the Year-Awards goes, where Microsoft has rarely been able to speak up in recent years.
Xbox Game Studios has grown significantly in recent years – thanks to many external acquisitions.
To a certain extent it reminds me of football. To be more precise, to clubs like Paris Saint-Germain or, to stay in our editorial homeland, Hertha BSC Berlin. Two clubs where at some point someone decided to Investing huge amounts of moneyto get off to a great start. In the case of PSG, it goes so far that you treat yourself to world stars like Messi, Neymar, Ramos and Mbappé and speculate that they will fix it and win the coveted Champions League trophy. But the reality is different: PSG will not be able to win the “CL” again this year and Hertha is threatened with falling into second division despite millions of investments.
Of course there are more such cases in the huge football business and a certain pattern often repeats itself: you can do a lot with a lot of money, but it won’t be a sure-fire success. Or to throw a few euros into the phrase pig: Money doesn’t score goals – at least not necessarily. However, if you rely on expertise and fill the important positions with the right people, which of course cost just as much money, you will still be successful at some point, see Manchester City.
Redfall: A symbol of the problem
From my point of view, a similar picture is currently emerging at Microsoft: A lot of money is being invested, but it hasn’t really taken off yet – at least in the AAA area. While Microsoft on its smaller projects, like Repentance or Hi-Fi Rush shows a fine and good hand, you will be disappointed on the floor above. Recent example is Redfallthe new game from Arkane Austin, which in the past among others Prey have developed. The latter has an OpenCritic score of 81, while Redfall has a mere 59.
Phil Spencer gets honest about Redfall: pic.twitter.com/JUoqTrlLvU
— Kinda Funny (@KindaFunnyVids) May 4, 2023
Exactly what went wrong and why Arkane decided on a co-op shooter instead of concentrating on its own core area – single-player players with a dense atmosphere and playful freedom – is open to speculation. But that’s not the point at this point, because Xbox boss Phil Spencer himself made the reason for the failure public: Arkane Austin was under-supported at RedfallSpencer revealed in an interview with the YouTube channel Kinda Funny Games.
In other words: With the purchase of Zenimax and thus Arkane Studios, you have taken on a project that you probably hoped that the experienced developers would be able to pull off. Unfortunately, the end result is well known: Instead of reaching for high rating regions, you are currently one of the worst rated games of the year. Regionalliga instead of Champions League in front of a huge backdrop – to keep the analogy with football alive.
It takes more than just money
Similar to PSG or Hertha, Microsoft shows that just investing money and relying on big names is not the way to success. And both football clubs and Microsoft actually have the resources to get more out of the investment, which is certainly not an easy task.
It’s not just about increasing development time: as Spencer also points out, a few more months in the oven wouldn’t have made Redfall a fantastic game all at once. The problems plaguing the recent Arkane game should have been addressed much sooner – and this is also a failure of Microsoft. In addition, it is not the first time, because already at Halo Infinite there were some problems that could have been solved earlier. But maybe one hoped here too that the big name and the large amount of money that was invested would somehow be enough.
Just like back then, Phil Spencer is now vowing improvement again at Redfall. Internal processes would be reconsidered and improved. Whether that is really the case remains to be seen. In any case, the pressure on Bethesda hasn’t decreased as a result of all these events – it was there Starfield was already poised to be one of Microsoft’s most important games in a long time.