Yesterday, Microsoft announced that Scalebound, its Platinum Games-developed open-world action game, was cancelled. This marks the end of a game first announced at Microsoft's E3 2014 presentation. That press event was key because it was the first event after the launch of the Xbox One and the first event with former Microsoft Studios general manager Phil Spencer as the head of the entire Xbox division. It was a look forward, promising more games and less of the general entertainment that categorized Microsoft's E3 press event a year earlier.
The eventual outcome of those initial Xbox E3 2014 announcements has been less than stellar.
The first up was Halo: The Master Chief Collection, a game that ultimately launched with a number of bugs and severe matchmaking issues. 343 Industries spent the next year patching and fixing the game, but even today some fans are still dissatisfied with the MCC's current state.
"With the initial release of Halo: The Master Chief Collection, however, we have not delivered the experience you deserve. I personally apologize for this on behalf of us all at 343 Industries," wrote studio head Bonnie Ross at the time. "On the matchmaking front, we have encountered unexpected issues that were not apparent in our internal test environment and that have resulted in a frustrating experience, including long matchmaking times and low session success rates."
Fable Legends, a new multiplayer take on Lionhead's RPG action-adventure series, was also announced at the press event. The game had been in development since Summer 2012 and in closed beta since October 2014, but by 2016 it was clear that it wasn't coming together. Legends was an early casualty of 2016, with Microsoft cancelling the project and closing Lionhead Studios in March. That marked the end of a studio founded in 1996 by veteran developer Peter Molyneux. Lionhead was acquired by Microsoft in April 2006, after a successful collaboration with the studio for the first Fable.
The Xbox One is firmly in second place this generation, but Microsoft still has hope it can turn things around.
Crackdown was revealed as well, a sequel to the fan-favorite Xbox 360 open-world title. The game's brief trailer touted full cooperative play and a destructible city via the power of Microsoft's Cloud. Fans were excited for Crackdown because of the return of series creator David Jones. The game became Crackdown 3 a year later at Microsoft's Gamescom 2015 event, with a planned release in 2016. Last year rolled around only for Microsoft to delay the game into 2017, with an undisclosed release window at this point.
Phantom Dust was my personal pain point, a reboot of a Japanese-developed cult classic for the original Xbox. Phantom Dust was an arena-based combat game with a collectible card game core. It's the kind of game that would fit right in with current free-to-play, eSports market. Phantom Dust's development went so awry that it killed independent developer Darkside Games after Microsoft cancelled the project. Phantom Dust is still returning, but now it's a simple remake of the Xbox original.
Then there was Project Spark, Microsoft's "open-world digital canvas". It was a game that allowed players to create and share new game worlds on Xbox One and Windows 10. Project Spark was actually announced the year before, but it returned for E3 2014. Like Fable Legends, Project Spark was ultimately discontinued in August of 2016.
Microsoft has never had a strong, sustained tie to Japanese games development, so the announcement that Platinum Games was working on Scalebound was something of a coup. It made fans of Japanese action titles excited to pick up an Xbox One. With yesterday's cancellation, that excitement is gone.
That's not say that Microsoft didn't deliver on some of its promises from E3 2014. Sunset Overdrive, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Ori and the Blind Forest, and Forza Horizon 2 were great Xbox One exclusives, even if the former two didn't light up the sales charts. There's the feeling that something isn't quite adding up with Microsoft's first and second-party efforts though. The end of 2016 and early 2017 releases are solid, including Forza Horizon 3, Gears of War 4, and Halo Wars 2, but there's the belief that not much new is coming.
2017 IN PREVIEW: New consoles from Microsoft and Nintendo highlight changing expectations for gamers.
Especially ahead of the official unveiling and launch of the more powerful Xbox Scorpio in 2017, Microsoft has to convince players that great Xbox-exclusive games are on the horizon. Instead, the highlights are falling off the radar for Microsoft, in a year where Sony is counting on PlayStation 4-exclusives like Persona 5, Horizon: Zero Dawn, NieR: Automata, Yakuza 0, Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 + 2.5 Remix, Gravity Rush 2, and Dragon Quest Heroes II.
Microsoft needs to find itself and find its games. This year will be key for Microsoft, with E3 and Gamescom representing a chance to blow off all the doors ahead of a console release. Hopefully whatever they announce this year actually makes to retail shelves.
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