Just What Are Xbox Playing At?

Look, we’re trying our hardest here to be on brand. Xbox is our go-to console for many reasons – the potential greatness of their first-party output, the best controller and set of services in the business, our social and purchase eco-system – but this week they have sorely tested everyone’s patience.

In case you’ve missed it, Xbox announced they are shutting down Tango Gameworks (Evil Within, Hi-Fi Rush), Arkane Austin (Prey, Redfall, Dishonored), Alpha Dog Games (Might Doom) and consolidating Roundhouse Studios into Zenimax Studios (Elder Scrolls Online). This came out of the blue for the public, and by the sounds of it, to the studios too. There’s been much support for those affected, from Arkane Lyon head Dinga Bakaba publically calling out all gaming execs, to legendary Austin-based designer Harvey Smith offering any help he can to those affected, not to mention the plethora of articles, think pieces, social media posts and more. And too right, too.

Part of Xbox’s strategy in purchasing Bethesda (as well as Mojang and ABK, among others) has been to bolster the first party offerings with well-respected studios, and empower them to make games that would provide Xbox and – more specifically – Game Pass with titles that would make the service unmissable. Or so we thought.

Last year, Hi-Fi Rush surprise launched to nothing but praise and acclaim. Our own Ian was considering it for his Game of the Year at one point, and many others did so too. It won many awards – most recently a BAFTA – and had only recently been ported to other consoles in a move many saw as doom and gloom but proved to be a smart choice at exposing how good the Xbox studio could be to other platform players.

In other words – it was the perfect example of what we thought was the end goal.

And then, just weeks after Sarah Bond tweeted at them to celebrate their 14th anniversary, Xbox shut down Tango Gameworks.

It’s been the easy go-to for peoples outrage, but that makes it no less shitty. While Alpha Dog and Roundhouse were far less publicly known, they no more deserved this treatment than the others. And we gave Redfall as much shit as anyone, but Arkane Austin also were jointly responsible for one of my favourite games ever in Dishonored, and it’s since been revealed they were not only working on an offline mode for the vampire game, but also pitching a new immersive sim – possibly even a new Dishonored.

To say this is a baffling decision is to put it mildly. At a time when even the big boys of the team – 343i, Coalition, The fucking Initiative – are struggling to get games out at a regular clip, and considering even Halo missed the mark (well, we liked it but it fell off far quicker than it had any right too) after delays and reported issues, why Xbox would then think “shit, we’re in need of well-received and awarded games, let’s shut down four studios who could provide us a source of smaller, more frequent titles?”.

I’m no business man, and I certainly have no inside scoop or knowledge of the goings on at Microsoft, but there seems to be little sense in these choices to shut these teams. There have been reports of further layoffs/closures, and while I initially was reluctant to bounce off this talking point, thoughts must go now to places like Ninja Theory and Double Fine et all. Just last week I wouldn’t have even considered that they’d be at risk of closure; now, it feels as though anyone could go at any time.

And the icing on the cake of this shitstorm? Not a word publicly on all of this. There’s been leaked Town Hall meetings, where some of the most bafflingly excuses have come out (something something peanut butter and bread…) and Sarah Bond was recently interviewed on Bloomberg Tech, where she looked thoroughly fed up when not talking about growing business and other nonsense terms – while also glossing over the direct question about the closures.

At least in the past, Phil Spencer would have come out with a statement, or appeared on a podcast or three to discuss any issues. Here? Complete silence. I’m sure there’s something in the works but as of writing there seems to be a lack of apathy towards those just shitcanned for no (good) reason.

So where does that leave us? My favourite weekly newsletter Hit Points sums it up quite nicely in their post about the affair, and makes the point that now ABK is part of the fold – and Xbox is suddenly $69B worse off for it – the strategy is clearly shifting from ‘Game Pass is king’ to ‘Big Ticket Items Only please, fuck about with those fun, distinct and creative games that’ll make our platform worth a damn’.

And, dear friends, for the first time since the launch of the Xbox One I find myself wholly disillusioned by Xbox. I was critical of the outrage over four games going to PS5/Switch, and I’ve long been on-board for most of Xbox’s weird moves and twists. But this one? This seems to be a step too far. Not just for shutting down the studios, but for where it leaves Xbox as a format, brand, and place to play. Sure, we’re still going to get some great games (Hellblade 2’s imminent release will hopefully go well enough to prevent NT from having to check over their shoulder) but what’s to stop them dropping Day One for first party out of nowhere, or adding another layer to Game Pass that includes access to the big budget titles, while our current membership’s library dwindles? Or any other random idea that the bean counters at MS dictate will be needed to offset that massive purchase?

I’m not one who thinks platform exclusivity is king – put everything everywhere I say – but if you want people to come to your console and service, having, you know, studios to make the games is a great way to start. Hell, they could have had Tango and Arkane Austin make multiplatform titles only and that would have been a better use of their time than ‘thanks and everything, but off you go’.

Xbox has been rightly shat upon this past week for this move, and what it could mean for the future. We’ve got the June Showcase coming up soon, and while that should be a time for celebration and excitement, now we’re not alone in wondering just how they can have the bare-faced cheek to show off some snazzy new games while this dark cloud looms overhead.

Of course, nothing is forever but as has been pointed out before, Xbox seem to be the masters of making positive change only to shoot themselves, their loved ones, and their pets in the foot. Xbox 360 going gangbusters and being the place to play? Let’s overcharge for its successor, pack a Kinect in, and focus on ‘TV, TV, TV’. Reveal several big games, and coin the phrase AAAA? Don’t mention any of them ever again, or flat out refuse to acknowledge their existence. (or release a great looking new trailer, then go quiet on it all over again)

Release big critical hits like Hi-Fi Rush? Cancel sequels and bin off the studios.

It’s stupendously idiotic stuff from the outside, and without any form of official explanation (that makes sense) will only serve to further put people off of trusting Xbox, and wanting to pick up a console or Game Pass sub.

We’re not alone in our disappointment, and there are many great pieces out there to read for more thoughts and opinions. For now, I have no more words in me, other than to say – Xbox; do better.

Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

Written by
I've been gaming since Spy vs Spy on the Master System, growing up as a Sega kid before realising the joy of multi-platform gaming. These days I can mostly be found on smaller indie titles, the occasional big RPG and doing poorly at Rainbow Six: Siege. Gamertag: Enaksan


  1. Playing Eiyuden Chronicle: Hundred Heroes will help keep your mind off the negativity towards Xbox. It’s a fun JRPG. Now if only 505 Games’ technical support will help resolve the overheating of the game on Xbox Series X and Xbox One X.

  2. Could not agree more – this is trash


Leave a Reply

Lost Password

Please enter your username or email address. You will receive a link to create a new password via email.

Skip to toolbar