Xbox Game Studios (formerly known as Microsoft Games, Microsoft Game Studios, and Microsoft Studios) is the American video game developer division of technology conglomerate Microsoft.
The studio is responsible for creating games for its Xbox family of consoles as well as PC. Some of these include Halo, Gears of War, Forza, Fable, Ori and the Blind Forest, and PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds. The studio has also been recently known to have initiated several high-profile acquisitions of multiple development companies, most notably Rare Ltd. (creators of Banjo-Kazooie and Sea of Thieves), Mojang Studios (creators of Minecraft), Undead Labs (creators of State of Decay), and ZeniMax Media (rights holders of The Elder Scrolls, Doom, Wolfenstein, and Fallout).
2000 - 2011: Microsoft Games and Microsoft Game Studios
Before the proper formation of the studio, Microsoft had long established its Games Group to develop titles for the Windows operating system. Around March 2000, the Games Group would then be moved into a different division called Microsoft Games, following the company's reveal of its first home console - the Xbox; the division was initially led by senior vice-president Robbie Bach and vice-president Ed Fries. The newly formed division was to develop and publish titles for both the console and Windows. A year after the formation, it was renamed to Microsoft Game Studios.
Following the establishment, Microsoft Game Studios began a series of high-profile acquisitions and creations of subsidiary, with the first acquisition being Bungie in June 2001. At the time, Bungie was in the midst of developing Halo: Combat Evolved; following the purchase, the game became a launch title for the Xbox. In the same year, MGS launched its first internally-made subsidiary, Turn 10 Studios, to develop the Forza series. In 2002, Microsoft made its second major acquisition with Rare Ltd., a former second-party developer for Nintendo. In 2004, another internal subsidiary, Carbonated Games, was launched to develop titles for the web-based MSN Games service on MSN Messenger. In 2006, a third acquisition was made with Lionhead Studios, creators of the Fable series.
In 2007, MGS announced the opening of a European branch in Reading, England with general manager Phil Spencer at the helm. In the same year, Don Mattrick was named vice-president of Xbox and Games Business. Also in 2007, Bungie amicably split from MGS to become a privately held company, leaving Microsoft the rights to the Halo franchise. The original development team went on to create two additional titles, Halo 3: ODST and Halo: Reach, MGS created another internal subsidiary, 343 Industries, in its place.
In 2008, Carbonated Games was disbanded and replaced with another internal subsidiary, Xbox Live Prodcutions, to create games for Xbox Live Arcade. In January of the following year, over 5,000 employees were laid off throughout Microsoft following low sales of personal computers as a result of the late-2000s financial crisis. In the following May, Microsoft acquired Canadian studio BigPark to develop titles for the Kinect motion sensor add-on for the Xbox 360. Later in the year, Phil Spencer was promoted to corporate vice-president of MGS, succeeding Shane Kim. In 2010, MGS established MGS Mobile Gaming, a development team focused on creating titles for Windows Phone devices.
2011 - 2019: Microsoft Studios
In June 2011, the studio quietly renamed themselves to simply Microsoft Studios. In the same year, they acquired Twisted Pixel Games and established another subsidiary, Microsoft Casual Games. In 2012, another acquisition was made with the studio Press Play. Microsoft Studios' Vancouver branch was also downsized after the cancellation of their Kinect game Project Columbia, with the remaining staff now going under the name Black Tusk Studios. In 2013, a new European studio, Lift London, was created to develop cloud-based games for televisions and portable devices. In the same year, Don Mattrick left the company prior to the release of the Xbox One; he was eventually succeeded by Julie Larson-Green.
In 2014, several intellectual property acquisitions were made; these include a publication deal with Undead Labs for State of Decay, the rights to Gears of War from Epic Games (which were then assigned to The Coalition, the rebranded name of Black Tusk Studios), and the Rise series from Big Huge Games. In February, Phil Spencer replaced Jason Holtman as head of Microsoft Studios. Later in the year, another high-profile acquisition was made with Mojang Studios, which was purchased for $2.5 billion.
In 2015, Microsoft announced the merger of its UK studios, Lift London and Soho Productions, into one studio under the Lift London name. In September, Twisted Pixel and Microsoft Studios amicably split ways. In March 2016, Lionhead and Press Play were shut down following the cancellations of their upcoming respective projects, Fable Legends and Project Knoxville. Several other subsidiaries (namely BigPark, Good Science Studios, Leap Experience Pioneers, and Function Studios and State of the Art), had been closed as well and consolidated into other teams.
In September 2017, Phil Spencer was promoted to the senior leadership team, now holding the title of "executive vice-president of gaming", while former business leader in Mojang Studios Matt Booty was promoted to vice-president of Microsoft Studios. On June 2018, during E3, several more acquisitions were announced; these included Ninja Theory (developers of Heavenly Sword and Hellbalde), Playground Games (developers of the Forza Horizon series), Undead Labs (creators of State of Decay), and Compulsion Games (creators of Contrast and We Happy Few). A new studio in Santa Monica, California named The Initiative was also unveiled. More acquisitions were made the following November, namely Obsidian Entertainment (makers of Fallout: New Vegas and The Outer Worlds) and inXile Entertainment (creators of The Bard's Tale).
2019 - Present: Xbox Game Studios
The company rebranded itself yet again on February 2019 to its current moniker, Xbox Game Studios, as to reflect Microsoft's usage of the Xbox brand to support gaming across all of its supported devices. Another acquisition was announced at that year's E3, being Double Fine (creators of Psychonauts), as well as the formation of a new internal subsidiary named World's Edge, bringing the company's studio total to 15. That same year, Xbox Game Studios began publishing some of its exclusive titles to the Nintendo Switch, notably Cuphead and Ori and the Blind Forest. However, the company clarified that these were dedications to "existing commitments to other platforms" and have no plans to expand exclusive first-party titles to other systems.
With 15 studios under its ownership, Matt Booty believed they were not likely to acquire anymore studios, stating that the company has been "shifting [their] focus...from acquisition and growth, to a phase of execution and delivery". Despite these statements, another high-profile purchase was made on September 2020, with Microsoft acquiring ZeniMax Media and its family of studios (most notably Bethesda Games, developers of The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, and Doom) for $7.5 billion in cash, with the acquisition expected to close before June 2021.
- Xbox (2001 - 2009)
- Xbox 360 (2005 - 2016)
- Xbox One (2013 - 2020)
- Xbox Series X / Xbox Series S (2020 - Present)
- Kinect (2010 - 2017)
Involvement with Super Smash Bros.
Xbox Game Studios is the eighth third-party company to join Smash following the inclusion of playable DLC characters from two of its subsidiaries. The first of which is Rare Ltd.'s flagship characters Banjo & Kazooie, who joined Super Smash Bros. Ultimate as a part of Fighters Pass Volume 1. Packaged with their DLC is the stage Spiral Mountain, a collection of music tracks, and multiple Spirits on the DLC Spirit Board.
Mojang Studios's Steve and Alex (with a Zombie and an Enderman as their palette swaps), the playable characters from Minecraft, later joined Ultimate as a part of Fighters Pass Volume 2. They bring with them the stage Minecraft World, 7 music tracks, and multiple Spirits. Separate paid DLC Mii Fighter costumes modeled after a Creeper, a Pig, and the Diamond Armor are also available.
- Xbox Game Studios is the only third-party company to have its playable representatives come from subsidiaries, as it lacks an in-house development studio.
- It is also one of five companies to be introduced to Smash through DLC; the other four being Square Enix, Atlus, SNK, and Mojang Studios.
- As Xbox Game Studios is a division of Microsoft, it technically is the only company that currently competes with Nintendo in the console market.
- This is discounting Sega and SNK, both of which were former console makers and competitors of Nintendo, but have since become development and publishing companies instead.
- During Masahiro Sakurai's gameplay demonstration of Banjo & Kazooie, he mentions that the only way to play the Banjo-Kazooie games are through Rare Replay on the Xbox One. This then caused the term "Xbox One" to trend amongst Japanese players on Twitter, something that hadn't been done before due to the Xbox family of systems' notoriously poor performance in the country.
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