It's safe to say that it's been a bad few weeks for Microsoft’s Xbox division. First, the UK Competition and Markets Authority surprised many in the game industry by blocking Microsoft’s plans to acquire Activision Blizzard. Then, this week, Redfall, the latest game from Microsoft's own Arkane Studios, was released to mediocre, at best, reviews.
To his credit, Microsoft’s Xbox head Phil Spencer is not shying away from the bad Redfall reviews. In an interview on the Kinda Funny XCast video podcast, he stated that “there is nothing more difficult for me than disappointing the Xbox community, to just watch the community lose confidence and be disappointed, I'm disappointed. We'll revisit our process."
However, I was a bit shocked to hear that Spencer was taken aback by Redfall’s reviews after its launch. He said that Microsoft did mock reviews of the game before it was released, and they were much higher than the reviews that the shooter received after its release in the real world.
The reason that this shocked me is that I watched many Redfall hands-on previous back in March on YouTube, and more than one of them expressed some caution about the game’s prospects based on their time with the game. Why were these hands-on experiences not taken into account when Microsoft and Arkane were evaluating Redfall before launch?
The truth is that Microsoft has had problems with its first-party Xbox game releases for well over a year, and it sounds like the company’s own internal testing and evaluations need some serious revamping.
Before Redfall, Microsoft’s last major AAA Xbox and PC exclusive game release was Halo Infinite back in late 2021. Since then, we have seen smaller games like Grounded, H-Fi Rush, and others released, but nothing that came close to what I would consider to be a AAA game. We did get Minecraft Legends in April, but that was launched on more than just Microsoft’s platforms and it also got some mediocre reviews.
I understand that the Covid-19 pandemic has caused issues in the entire video game industry, with many developers still experiencing issues caused by many of their employees working from home. However, in 2022, Sony’s PlayStation Studios managed to release major first-party exclusive games like God of War Ragonrok, Horizon Forbidden West, and Gran Turismo 7, Nintendo’s first-party games in 2022 included Splatoon 3 and Bayonetta 3, and later this month, it will release perhaps the most anticipated Switch game yet in The Legends of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom.
Microsoft’s lineup of games during this period has been sorely lacking, and right now it doesn't look like that might be solved anytime soon. We have Bethesda Games Studios’ Starfield due in September, but based on how Microsoft pushed out Redfall, I honestly anticipate that Starfield will be released with a ton of dumb, and perhaps even game-stopping bugs unless it gets delayed again. We are also still waiting to see Turn 10’s Forza Motorsport revamp, but I'm not confident it’s coming out in 2023.
Moreover, Microsoft has a ton of internal game studios that are working on various future projects but with little to no info on many of their current status. We want to hear major updates on Ninja Theory Hellblade 2, and Undead Labs’ State of Decay 3, and The Initiative's Perfect Dark reboot. Oh, did we mention we want info on Playground Studios' Fable reboot, or Obsidian's Avowed and The Outer Worlds 2?
What about some updates on whatever The Coalition, Compulsion Games, or Inxile is working on? I'm also wondering what Bethesda Game Studios' teams like id Software, Machine Games, and Roundhouse Games has cooking.
I sense a pattern here. A few years ago, Microsoft, under Phil Spencer's leadership, bought a ton of game developers, and then all of Bethesda Softworks' teams, specifically so the company could have a bunch of major first-party games that could rival or even beat the first-party games from Sony and Nintendo. The results have not led to that happening at all.
All of these means that Microsoft’s upcoming Xbox Games Showcase on June 11 will have to be a grand slam home run to keep confidence in the Xbox brand. Spencer must show that Microsoft plans to launch major AAA games, and not in a few years time, but in the next 12 to 18 months, that will help sell Xbox consoles and fill its Xbox Game Pass subscription library. with must-have titles.
At the same time, I also want to hear Spencer go over specific plans to revamp development at the company’s various studios, and in its own evaluation and testing processes. There really is no excuse to release a major game like Redfall with so many obvious issues. Perhaps Microsoft felt that it just needed to release the game no matter what, but regardless, Redfall’s poor reception has generated a lot of ill will, even for Xbox fans.
Spencer needs to make big swings and show at the Xbox Games Showcase that the company can do a course correction and get the Xbox brand back on track and not be number 3 in a three-horse race. If he can’t, perhaps he and Microsoft should think seriously about stepping down as head of Xbox.
It gives me no pleasure to write this opinion. Phil Spencer has been a huge factor in the Xbox brand coming out of the debacle of the Xbox One’s launch nearly 10 years ago. His efforts to add backwards compatibility of older Xbox games to the Xbox One and the Xbox Series S and X consoles has been commendable. The Xbox Game Pass service has been a successful way to introduce people to lots of great games at a low cost to consumers. The company's efforts with cloud gaming are also excellent and give gamers a way to play games on almost any device.
However, the past year and a half has shown that perhaps he’s lost some control over the Xbox division, in terms of getting solid first-party games out on a timely basis. He can gain that control back, but he needs to do so ASAP. Otherwise, it may be time for him to leave so Microsoft can bring in someone with fresh eyes.