The atmosphere in the roof lounge above the Novo Theater is good after yesterday’s Xbox Games Showcase. Not only between the media, the content creators, and the special guests who just finished watching the presentation, but also between the Xbox staff who are watching and taking the pulse of their reactions. There is almost a feeling of relief. After several difficult years, Xbox has put on a successful and promising show.
Among those who are optimistic is Xbox Game Studios boss Matt Booty, who sat on a panel with other executives shortly after the presentation and opined that Xbox had finally “turned the corner”. After several years with relatively few big blockbuster hits compared to its direct competitors, Xbox finally pulled out the big guns in games like Starfield and Forza Motorsport later this year, with more heavyweights like Avowed planned for 2024.
It’s a turnaround that’s been long-awaited after Xbox’s struggles in the previous generation of consoles and the promises the company seemed to be making with its big acquisitions in 2017-2019. During those years, the Xbox portfolio grew to a whopping 23 studios, leading many to believe that the console maker’s number of first-time releases would increase significantly in the years to come. So far, however, the Xbox release roster has been slow and steady, disappointing fans and leading to a narrative of the console generation failing.
The first turn of the crank
Booty believes the time has finally come for Xbox. In an interview with IGN, he explains that the delay is partly a symptom of the fact that many Xbox acquisitions had unfinished projects and DLC commitments at the time. They had to complete these projects before they could start working on the big Xbox games that fans had come to expect. What we saw yesterday, he continues, is “the first crank turn” under Xbox’s banner for studios like Compulsion Games, inXile and Obsidian, and assures there’s plenty more to come.
“I feel like we have that rhythm and cadence in our studios,” says Booty. “As I look forward to the end of 2024 from here today, I’ve seen builds of the games.” I’m confident that over the next 18 months everything will be fine, I know what state it’s in, there are not many planes there.”
Booty specifically calls 2022 an “interesting year in many ways,” citing the fact that the company had to fall back on much smaller games like Pentiment, Grounded, and Minecraft Legends to lead its portfolio. And while he doesn’t say it outright, his description of the future is guarded: We won’t be drowning in Xbox blockbusters all at once. While Starfield and Forza will have some work to do, a number of Xbox game studios are still in the wings and their respective projects are completely absent from the presentation. State of Decay 3, Perfect Dark, Elder Scrolls 6, Gears of War, Everwild, and more were conspicuously absent from presentation, Avowed’s release window was a fairly generous “2024,” and Fable didn’t get a release window at all.
What about all the other studios then? Booty assures that nothing is wrong. He says he’s “recently” visited the studios behind all the games I’ve mentioned, played the latest builds, and knows where they stand. And he hints that Xbox might be reserving some of its showings for “other events throughout the year, other beats that we’re trying to hit,” then adding that Xbox wants to “manage expectations” in terms of how , how it shows what’s coming up and what it offers Clockwork Revolution as an example.
We’re trying to be a little more disciplined about expectations.
“We played Clockwork Revolution a year ago and decided to wait and do it here at this showcase,” says Booty. “So we’re trying to be a little more disciplined about the timing of releases and how we handle expectations.”
The case of the missing first-party games
Still, some of these missing games have been in development for years since their announcement, so it’s understandable that audiences are a little worried about games like Everwild, Perfect Dark, and Elder Scrolls 6. And it’s not just an Xbox issue – Games Across the World Manufacturing in the industry seems to be taking longer and longer.
Booty agrees, “I think there’s a bit of a shift happening in what’s expected of a big AAA game and how long or how many people it can take to make it,” he says. He thinks it’s amazing. In this industry there are games like Vampire Survivors or other ID@Xbox titles that have been developed by very small teams in just a few years. But on the other hand, AAA games that hundreds of people work on can last four, five, six, seven years or sometimes even longer.
“Firstly, the 9th gen hardware is great – ray tracing, everything we can do,” he says. “But that runs through everything, the way the assets are created.” Like Forza Motorsport, how the cars have to be built, how the lighting has to be done, how the track has to be set up, all the details . The expectation is very high. Games are becoming increasingly complex in terms of expected interactions.”
Another factor, he says, is onboarding and the difficulty of making games enjoyable for both new and returning players as franchises endure and grow older and deeper. Booty cites FIFA or Madden as an example. Each new entry is easy to understand if you are already very familiar with previous versions. However, if you’ve never played before, getting into them can be incredibly difficult.
“And then we also make sure that if we’re distributing games outside of the Americas and Western Europe, what do we need to do to invest time in localization or accessibility of those things.” That’s all great, we’re very committed to them, but it comes to a complex point.”
Fable Xbox Games Showcase 2023 trailer
While these issues may be industry-wide, Xbox’s situation is unique in that years ago the company set an expectation for an imminent flood of content by acquiring all the studios at once, leaving fans wondering when the floodgates will finally open would open. And Booty seems to agree that Xbox’s big promises seem to have landed them in a bit of trouble — though he’s optimistic about the company’s ability to deliver in the years to come.
“If I had to be self-critical, I’d say maybe sometimes we try to get the reality of our situation out there a little earlier than others could,” he says. “But we’re trying to build trust with our player base. Trust with our fans and it’s important to let them know how these things are going.”
We also spoke to Matt Booty about Redfall and whether Xbox is taking a “hands-off” approach to working with its first-party studios. Booty also took part in a panel with other Xbox bosses to talk about Xbox’s first-party strategy, while Xbox boss Phil Spencer spoke about the importance of the console. And here’s where you can catch up on everything from the Xbox Showcase and IGN’s Summer of Gaming.
Rebekah Valentine is senior reporter for IGN. You can find her on Twitter @duckvalentine.