Only a couple of years ago, the biggest claim against Microsoft was that they didn’t have enough exclusive content, and not enough studios to make it. It’s taking a while for some of those exclusives to come together, but today the lineup of Xbox development talent looks very different.
Under the direction of Phil Spencer, Xbox has been steadily expanding the Xbox Game Studios tent. Initially the numbers were few, featuring just Rare, Lift London and Microsoft Game Studios Vancouver. But then the acquisition of Mojang in 2014 for $US2.5 billion changed Microsoft’s attitude to studio buyouts, and as the Xbox One pivoted to a services-first console, so did Microsoft’s appetite for talent.
The biggest move came in 2020, with Microsoft acquiring the entirety of ZeniMax Media — parent company of Bethesda and all its subsidiary developers — for $US7.5 billion in cash. Not only was it an enormous groundswell of IP to add to Xbox Game Pass, but the acquisition came with several major AAA studios of their own.
So as it stands, the Xbox developer lineup is very different going into the next-generation than what it was at the start of the Xbox One era. Here’s all the studios that currently sit under the Microsoft banner, or what you’d traditionally consider “first-party” studios:
- 343 Industries (Halo Infinite, Master Chief Collection)
- Compulsion Games (We Happy Few)
- Double Fine (Psychonauts 2, Grim Fandango Remastered, Broken Age, Brutal Legend)
- inXile Entertainment (Wasteland 3, The Bard’s Tale)
- Mojang Studios (Minecraft, Minecraft Earth)
- Ninja Theory (Bleeding Edge, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice)
- Obsidian Entertainment (Fallout: New Vegas, Alpha Protocol, Pillars of Eternity, The Outer Worlds, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Tyranny, Avowed)
- Playground Games (Forza Horizon)
- Rare (Sea of Thieves, Perfect Dark, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Everwild)
- The Coalition (Gears of War 5)
- The Initiative
- Turn 10 Studios (Forza Motorsport)
- Undead Labs (State of Decay, State of Decay 2)
- World’s Edge (Age of Empires: Definitive Edition)
The list of developers also includes Xbox Game Studios Publishing, which typically acts as the publisher for most of the aforementioned names. However, they also help publish games with Microsoft IP from third-party studios, like Forza Street, Crackdown 3 (from Sumo Digital), the Xbox port of PUBG, and Microsoft Flight Simulator from Asobo Studio — which isn’t currently owned by Microsoft, despite much speculation over the past year.
Microsoft announced earlier this year that they had 16 first-party studios under their banner, although it wasn’t clear whether Xbox Game Studios Publishing was included in that list. The press tried to work out at the time what the rumoured 15th or 16th studio was, but it was never made public.
With the Bethesda acquisition, all of these studios are now under the Xbox first-party banner:
- Alpha Dog Games (Wraithborne, Monstrocity Rampage)
- Arkane Studios (Dishonored, Deathloop)
- Arkane Studios Austin
- Bethesda Game Studios (Fallout, Elder Scrolls, Fallout 76)
- Bethesda Softworks
- id Software (Quake Champions, DOOM Eternal, DOOM)
- id Software Frankfurt
- MachineGames (Wolfenstein: The New Order)
- Roundhouse Studios
- Tango Gameworks (Ghostwire: Tokyo, The Evil Within)
- ZeniMax Online Studios (The Elder Scrolls Online)
The acquisition also brings some older partners back together, like Fallout New Vegas developers Obsidian. There’s a lot of potential collaborations across the group, and the list of first-party studios doesn’t include any deals Microsoft has on the indie front through their [email protected] program. In total, that’s 23 studios that are publicly known, more if you count all the regional offices and locations for devs like id, Bethesda Game Studios, or Mojang.
Including their partnerships with developers like Asobo Studio, the lineup leaves Xbox in a much better position for the next generation than they were heading into the Xbox One/PS4 era.