Microsoft has clearly been eager to acquire capable talent throughout 2018 having purchased five studios including Obsidian Entertainment (Fallout: New Vegas) and Ninja Theory (Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice). With these acquisitions in mind, the credible rumours that Microsoft now seeks IO Interactive, the developer behind the Hitman series, can only be good news for everyone involved.
For Microsoft, these acquisitions represent an effort to rebuild and refocus after years of missteps. Aided by the well-received Xbox Game Pass, backwards compatibility, and more powerful iterations of the original system, the Xbox One has been somewhat redesigned from a failed all-in-one media device to a gaming system capable of rivalling any other. Though this effort has largely worked for Microsoft’s image, what it still critically lacks is games.
Since the Playstation 4’s launch, Sony has excelled in terms of first-party exclusives with those like Uncharted 4, God of War, and Spider-Man (just to name a few), each defining the otherwise average system. Meanwhile, the Xbox One only received fewer titles that either pale in comparison or released for other platforms anyway. Now with a decent platform of its own, Microsoft’s natural next step would be to develop some great exclusives for it.
Though late, the company’s recent acquisitions only make sense to solve this problem while simultaneously saving smaller, struggling studios. The purchase of Obsidian may have been a shock to fans, but to the company itself, a partner like Microsoft is “absolutely critical” for it to continue making the experiences that it wants to make. Of course, Microsoft has a great interest in helping these studios make games for its systems — but providing them with financial aid while maintaining their creative liberty in the meantime is an important step in the right direction.
For IO Interactive, finding a partner like Microsoft is all but necessary. Hitman 2’s lack of cutscenes demonstrates the financial hit the studio took after leaving Square Enix, and while the game may have released to “very positive” reviews, sales are reportedly low — too low for the studio to continue to function without aid of some sort. Many are doubtful that the studio would even survive to produce another Hitman if the rumours about Microsoft’s purchase are not true.
Beyond providing such benefits, moves like Microsoft’s also have the potential to shape the games industry for the better. Encouraging smaller developers to thrive means they may no longer be chained to companies such as Square Enix and EA who push for malicious business practices at the absolute detriment of consumers and the overall success of their games. For IO Interactive specifically, this freedom is just what it needs to distance itself from Square Enix’s practices that previously hindered its success and flourish on its own.
Perhaps such acquisitions represent an unfortunate time in which developers seemingly cannot make it independently without significant struggle. However, to see companies like Microsoft helping smaller studios create the games they envision and encouraging them to do so in a market dominated by triple-A titans is encouraging—a win-win situation for both consumers and developers alike.