As my colleagues and I left the Galen Centre ahead of E3 2014, there seemed to be a general consensus regarding the Xbox One’s future and games lineup, and it was one of hope.
Microsoft had just held its pre-E3 briefing, and lifted the lid on a number of console exclusives. They all looked and sounded great.
After what had been a troubled start to the console’s launch, the Xbox brand appeared to be on the long trek back to respectability.
New Xbox head Phil Spencer, who replaced Don Mattrick in March, 2014, admitted that some “wrong decisions” had been made regarding the console, and that it would shift its focus back onto gamers and away from a broad “entertainment” focus.
Simply, he wanted to bring the Xbox brand back to its roots: gaming. In such a short period of time, the Xbox One went from being an “all in ‘one’ entertainment device” aimed at families, to a refined gaming console with a packed lineup of exclusives.
While Sony’s PlayStation 4 continued to dominate sales charts, Microsoft appeared to be on the right track, and its E3 2014 showing proved it. Five games in particular stood out at the Galen Centre on that dry, muggy Los Angeles day. They were Ori And The Blind Forest, Scalebound, a remake of Phantom Dust, Project Spark, and Crackdown 3.
Ori And The Blind Forest is the only game from that list to have seen a full retail release. We barely saw a thing from the other four.
It launched in early 2015 to wide critical acclaim, and proved to be one of the Xbox One’s best ever games (a title it holds even to this day, almost two years on). At the time, it appeared as though Microsoft’s promise of unique, fresh new exclusives was coming to fruition.
However, it’s been all downhill since.
None of the likes of Quantum Break, Sunset Overdrive, Dead Rising 4 and ReCore are anything more than just “good”, and they all closely tread the “above average” line.
Halo 5: Guardians went to great lengths to reignite interest in the series — and it’s solid — but 343’s games aren’t even close to the standard we expected from Bungie.
Gears Of War has lost some of its pizazz: the fourth main entry was fun, but too familiar.
Forza Horizon 3 was good, but, like other established Xbox franchises, appears to be going through the motions.
The good news was that, while the familiar and defining Xbox brands were losing some of their appeal, things still looked promising. Scalebound was intriguing, Phantom Dust was being remade for a new generation, Project Spark fed into creative urges, and Crackdown 3 was … well, Crackdown: open-world shenanigans.
Fast forward to early 2017, and the IP situation is getting worse for Microsoft and Xbox. Fewer people than ever appear to care about Halo, Gears, Dead Rising and Forza. Scalebound has been cancelled, Project Spark never left beta, Phantom Dust has been relegated to merely a “remastering”, and Crackdown 3 has been MIA.
I saw Crackdown 3 at Gamescom 2015 and was rather shocked at the lack of actual solid, hands-on gameplay available. All the team had to show me was how the “power of the cloud” has allowed them to create a cooperative game in a destructible world.
It looked fun, but it didn’t really seem like Crackdown, which was always about exploration and superhuman ability.
In hindsight, it seemed eerily similar to the Scalebound fiasco, and I wouldn’t be remotely surprised if Crackdown 3 eventually bites the dust and is cancelled, or if development is scraped and started from scratch for Scorpio.
It’s almost impossible to ignore Microsoft’s IP issues, and how painfully embarrassing its E3 2014 ended up being. This tweet after E3 2014 seemed about right at the time, but in hindsight it was obviously a bad move: either Spencer came in and tried to guide these already-in-development games towards launch, or he rushed them into development to have something — anything — to show to demonstrate that Xbox One was back on the horse.
— Xbox (@Xbox) June 9, 2014
The Xbox brand has lost its best developers in Bungie and Epic Games, leaving the console’s most prized franchises to promising yet philosophically-different studios in 343 Industries and The Coalition.
Currently, the exclusives lineup looks mightily uninspiring: aside from Halo Wars 2, the likes of Crackdown 3, Sea Of Thieves and State Of Decay 2 are all that Western Xbox gamers have to look forward to outside of Scorpio.
This suggests to me that Microsoft may intentionally be cutting its losses with Xbox One, planning to reignite its tired gaming division ahead of a new console launch. There’s really no other way to explain it, because the current state of the IP lineup is extremely dire.
Neither Sony nor Nintendo have allowed any of their major franchises to drop off as much as Microsoft has allowed theirs, and while the Halo‘s and Gears Of War‘s of the world are still great games, they simply don’t demand the attention they used.
So what’s new from Microsoft, and why should we care? It should definitely make for a very interesting E3 2017, just ahead of the Scorpio era.