This blog is a mental exercise. I have imagined that I am an intern at Microsoft. Phil Spencer’s secretary advises me that they are buying up a bunch of video game studios and they need a list of studios to consider acquiring. This blog is that hypothetical list. I’ve spent a significant amount of time pondering and researching this.
The purpose of this blog is not to litigate whether or not Microsoft should buy more studios. It is not to debate what has happened or what will happen to the studios they acquire. The blog assumes that Microsoft will continue to purchase studios and publish games developed by these studios for the foreseeable future.
It is important to note that I have absolutely zero connections to Microsoft or any of the studios discussed (or any studio, really). I have no financial interest in this. I haven’t even played games from most of these developers. It’s just a mental exercise for me, pure and simple. I also cannot confirm if any of these studios could actually be purchased at this time, or how much they would sell for. I did my best to limit my research to studios that are not already owned by large publishers, but I can’t promise that I’ve been perfect about this either.
But without further ado, here are the top 10 studios that Microsoft should consider acquiring:
Game developed: Conan Exiles, Dreamfall: The Longest Journey
Funcom is a Norwegian developer that’s been around for decades. They have experience building games in several genres, ranging from Adventure to Survival to MMOs. Xbox could really benefit from a killer MMO. They could also use more games focused on story telling. Funcom could fill these niches.
9-11 Bit Studios
Games developed: Frostpunk, This War of Mine
11 Bit is a Polish developer that focuses on strategy games. Xbox could really use more of these.
Games developed: Layers of Fear, Blair Witch (upcoming)
Bloober is another Polish team. They’ve been around for a decade or so. Their last few games have all been Horror. This is a genre that Xbox really lacks any exclusives in.
Games developed: Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, contributed to several Call of Duty games
Nerve has worked a lot on first person shooters. With multiplayer, in particular. Nerve could be an incredibly valuable asset as Xbox continues to grow its online gaming community with compelling first person shooter experiences. They could really use a unique experience for large player teams.
Games developed: The Jackbox Party Pack series
I love the Jackbox games. They’re brilliant. The best party video games that don’t have Mario in the title. Xbox has a total lack of exclusive party games. Jackbox could solve that. Their games are also beneficial when the controllers for your console are expensive. You only need 1 controller to play these games. All the actual gameplay takes place on your smart phone or tablet. It’s a really easy investment for someone that has friends or family over. And if you throw some of their games on Game Pass, you’ve got a great reason for people to subscribe.
5-Reality Pump Studios
Games developed: Two Worlds
Back in the days of the Xbox 360, the Polish developer Reality Pump put out a game called Two Worlds (that looked extremely similar to Oblivion). They’ve put out a sequel, and a few expansions. They’ve indicated that they’re developing a third game in the franchise. Microsoft has purchased Obsidian and inXile. They are demonstrating a clear commitment to having Xbox be the home of western RPGs. Reality Pump could greatly help in this effort.
Games developed: Surviving Mars, Tropico 5
Haemimont is a Bulgarian developer that specializes in city-building games. Xbox has an audience for sim games (see Zoo Tycoon and Screamride). They can’t buy the SimCity developers. So, what’s the next best thing? Buy a studio that builds compelling sim experiences that work on a console.
Games developed: The Keflings series, Band of Bugs, Outpost Kaloki X, Cloning Clyde
When the Xbox 360 was launched, Microsoft put out an incredible progam that I miss dearly: Xbox Live Arcade. Developers could release small games on this platform and sell them for 5-20 bucks. NinjaBee hit the scene and put out several great little games on the service. Halfway through the system’s lifespan, Xbox launched the New Xbox Experience and gave players the ability to make Miis. Er, Avatars. They promised that some games would allow you to play as those avatars. The first game to feature this was A Kingdom for Keflings. It’s a city building game in which you play as a giant who wanders around helping these tiny people (Keflings) build a little town. It’s very charming, and fun to play.
I’m also found of NinjaBee because they’re based in Utah (my home state). I just really like these guys. Unfortunately, their social media and website haven’t been updated in about a year and a half. I feared that the studio had become defunct. I found a contact email for them on their website. I emailed to ask if they were still around. I got a quick response that read in part:
“We’re still around. We haven’t made any new NinjaBee game recently, so there hasn’t been much to talk about – thus the silent social media. We’ve been focusing on contract work on other people’s game projects, which is more reliable than making our own games, but we do intend to get back to Keflings and other NinjaBee games when we can.”
I was super happy to hear this. I hope they're able to resume development of their own stuff soon. Microsoft could use a smaller team like Ninja to build smaller experiences relatively frequently. This will keep people coming back to Game Pass.
Games developed: Age of Booty, Crimson Alliance, contributed to the multiplayer of games such as Doom, Halo 4, and Call of Duty Black Ops
During the development of Halo 3, Max Hoberman (the lead multiplayer designer of Halo 2) moved to Austin, Texas. He found there a large number of talented game developers. He brought them together and formed a company. For their first project, they made the final pack of DLC maps for Halo 2. They’ve put out a couple of original games. But their biggest success has been working on the multiplayer portions of large first person shooters. They are incredible at multiplayer game development. Xbox could greatly benefit from having them develop exclusive online multiplayer experiences.
Games developed: The Divinity series, Baldur’s Gate III (upcoming)
Larian has been around for a few years now. They have been known for Divinity: Original Sin and the other games in the series. Wizards of the Coast has entrusted them to make Baldur’s Gate III, a long awaited sequel to a beloved RPG. Larian are some of the finest western RPG developers around. As mentioned earlier, Microsoft is clearly dedicated to RPG experiences. They could hardly do better than adding Larian to their family of studios.
So that’s it! That’s the list. I lowered that down from about 33 studios I was considering. It was difficult. Over the course of this project, I gained a new appreciation for just how many talented game studios are out there. I love that there are talented, creative people pushing the games industry forward. It’s a great time to be a gamer.
So how about you? If you were in charge of Xbox, what studios would you acquire in order to build your first party line up?