After years of development, following rumors of trouble behind the scenes, a major Xbox One exclusive was cancelled. The ensuing revelations showed that the game was having problems for years, with the relationship between its outside party developer and Microsoft souring, causing issues throughout the game. Even though the game was used in marketing events, such as E3, it was finally cancelled and fans were left to wonder why. Sure, this just happened with Scalebound, but it’s also happened a few times before, and it’s getting a bit disturbing.
Phantom Dust, Stormlands, Fable Legends, and True Fantasy Live Online. All four of these games fit this pattern in one way or another. All major games, from big developers, all used to show what sorts of experience gamers could have on their potential Xbox One, or Xbox 360 in TFLO’s case. And eventually all cancelled, or in Phantom Dust’s case shifted to a new developer, amid rumors of conflict between the developers and Microsoft itself.
I don’t want to break down each and every one of these games, users over at Reddit and NeoGAF have been discussing this over the last few days so you can find more detailed information there. What I do want to do is discuss this pattern, the potential causes of it, and how this reflects on Microsoft and Xbox One.
Once the true story of the development of these games got out, the major theme seemed to be the demands of Microsoft Studios. The company has a lot of responsibility to make sure games on Xbox One deliver a fresh experience for gamers. However, based on these limited cases, they seem to be very feature focused, demanding stuff that wasn’t originally agreed upon, or that would alter the game in significant ways.
For Scalebound, which we admittedly don’t have the full story of just yet, rumors are swirling that the cancellation is largely the result of Microsoft demanding more and more features from PlatinumGames, and not offering enough time or money for them to accomplish the goals. Looking at previous cancelled or reworked games, this is a huge trend.
Microsoft seems to jump from one important feature to another, then demand that it be added to its games
In Phantom Dust’s case, we know that Microsoft agreed to an initial budget of $5 million for a multiplayer only game. After development had started they approached Darkside, the developer of the game, and asked for them to add a single player campaign, without getting any additional funding. “They decided that fans were gonna want a single-player game,” one developer explained to Kotaku. “But they weren’t going to change the budget or the timeframe.”
Fable Legends is similar, in that the developers wanted to create a very different game than Microsoft was demanding. According to a behind-the-scenes breakdown from Eurogamer, nobody wanted to work on Fable Legends at all. Instead the developer, Lionhead Studios, wanted to make the full Fable 4 experience.
The most appropriate quote from that Eurogamer article is this: “Then there was Microsoft. Throughout its development, Fable Legends was used as a poster child for various Microsoft initiatives. In January 2015, Fable Legends became a Windows 10 game as well as an Xbox One game after Microsoft decided to switch focus to cross-platform play (“We didn’t know about Windows 10 when we started developing Fable Legends,” reveals a source. “In fact we were going to be on Steam.”) This caused Lionhead a massive headache. Cross-platform play with a PC version opened the game up to cheating.”
In many cases, Microsoft seems to jump from one important feature to another, then demand that it be added to its games, regardless of whether it fits the game, or if it is feasible given the development constraints. In Phantom Dust’s case it was a single-player campaign, for True Fantasy Live Online and Fable Legends it was some form of multiplayer support that hampered development. We don’t yet know what happened with Scalebound, but it’s not alone, and that should be bothersome to Xbox One gamers.
With all that said, I don’t want to leave the impression that Microsoft is torturing its developers, or even that they are a bad company. Many games get released on Xbox One without any of these problems, and even in these games’ cases, we usually only have one side of the story. Microsoft could have a very different explanation for what happened. Still, Scalebound was a huge game, from a well-known developer, and was years in development. To see it get cancelled should raise red flags all over the place. And the fact that this isn’t even close to the first time means a full exploration of what happened, and what can be done to prevent this in the future, should be done on all sides of the equation.
What could that be? Well, from these stories it seems like Microsoft jumps from one big feature to the next. It makes sense, if gamers are shifting toward wanting seamless multiplayer across Xbox One and PC, then they’d better have something to deliver with that feature. However, they seem to force this onto games where it doesn’t fit, or where the developer can’t deliver it. By asking, instead of telling developers if this feature would help, they could definitely improve these relationships. If no one wants to take on the feature, Microsoft has internal developers that can create a new project with that feature as a main focus.
Of course, it’s easy to say this from the outside, without billions of dollars on the line. In the end, we all just want good games. These games all looked like good games that many wanted to play, so their loss is hard felt. Anything that helps keep these games in development, and delivers a good final product will be happily accepted from all sides.