E3 2018 saw Microsoft making its strongest pitch to date: that it offers value to those who prefer to play their games alone. Since entering the market in 2001, the company has tended to focus on the online world, with Halo: Combat Evolved, Gears of War, and Forza—though featuring worthwhile single-player components—all centred around multiplayer. However, the story has been rewritten following the publisher’s showing at the most recent E3 presentation.
To ignore the past is folly, and Microsoft has previously gained exclusivity over the likes of Lost Odyssey, Dark Dreams Don’t Die, Sunset Overdrive, and Dead Rising, but its latest effort to appeal to solo players is different. Rather than approaching third-party developers with an open chequebook, the company has doubled down on internal development. As a result, sequels to the likes of Alan Wake, the aforementioned Sunset Overdrive, and Recore may never eventuate, but that may be for the better. However, the Gears of War series is expanding with both a massive new campaign-oriented entry and an RTS spin-off, while Halo: Infinite promises Master Chief’s “greatest adventure” and will also reportedly launch without a multiplayer component on day one. Nonetheless, the true promise for Xbox’s future lies in its newest acquisitions.
Phil Spencer yesterday announced that Microsoft has bulked out its first-party studios significantly. The purchase of Ninja Theory (developer of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice and DmC: Devil may Cry), in particular, is a boon, bringing a studio that has always focused firmly on narrative into the fold. Meanwhile, Playground Games is widely rumoured to be working on a new entry in the Fable series, which, following Lionhead Studios’s unsuccessful forays into Kinect and online functionality, is expected to be a return to the core RPG experience. Comparatively, Compulsion Games is untested, but We Happy Few is shaping up as one of the most curious titles of 2018, adding a very different dimension from the action-oriented nature of the publisher’s other headline teams. Newfound studio The Initiative should also not be discounted, as studio head Darrell Gallagher has previously contributed to the Tomb Raider and Deus Ex franchises, yet, with nothing to show at present, its promise is obscured by inevitable uncertainty.
To date, Microsoft’s efforts to make the Xbox brand into a go-to platform for solo players has been hampered by the apparent lack of a culture dedicated to that idea. Narratives and campaigns have always played second fiddle to playing with friends across the company’s 17 years in the industry, but yesterday signified a long-awaited paradigm shift. The realisation of these efforts may still be years away—unlikely to bear ripe fruit until the next console generation, in fact—but Microsoft has finally pledged commitment to a future away from the shifting sands of multiplayer trends. As long as the company is willing to give its new subsidiaries full creative control without mandating the likes of Kinect or online functionality in its future projects, then the Xbox may finally have the means to compete with Sony and Nintendo on the single-player front.