E3 press conferences rarely contain big business announcements these days. So it was amazing to see the platform announce the acquisition of four studios, Playground Games, Ninja Theory, Undead Labs and Compulsion Games at its event this year.
Microsoft has somewhat struggled with first-party releases over the life of Xbox One, so this investment in the future is money well spent. That said, there's been some absolute gems in the Xbox One era, with Playground Games' Forza Horizon series one of the very best, both critically and commercially. And now rumours are circulating that the studio's nascent second team is working on nothing less than a new Fable title.
We got in touch with Gavin Raeburn, studio director at Playground Games, and MCV's 2017 Person of the Year, to ask why the studio has decided to become part of Microsoft Studios after years of working together.
You've been working closely with Microsoft for many years – why has this deal come now and how long has it been brewing?
We’ve built up a great relationship and a huge amount of trust with Turn 10 and Xbox over the last eight years. We both have a shared vision to create the very best experiences we can for our fans.
So now that we are developing two major titles for Xbox [possibly Fable according to rumours], becoming first party felt like a natural progression for us. It’s a change that I believe will enable us to make even greater games in the future.
We can now collaborate more closely with Xbox and the other first party studios, which I’m really excited about. And we can also help influence platform level decisions.
We can also take a longer view on our projects and be more strategic with our plans for tools and tech, which can be difficult as an independent studio where securing that next project is all-important, and growth isn’t easy.
I really do believe our best years are ahead of us. Our goal until recently for the studio was to become the best independent developer in the world. But now that we’ve been acquired, we want to leverage the additional support of Microsoft to become best developer in the world. A lofty goal, but one I think we could only ever achieve as part of Microsoft.
Do you think the security and prestige of first-party status helps attract top talent? How hard has it been to attract a whole new studio's worth of talent?
Hiring a full team can be tough, especially in a challenging recruitment market such as the one we’re in now. But Xbox is such an exciting place to be, that even in a tight recruitment market, we’ve still been able to make world-class hires. I can only see this improving now that Playground is first-party with the added security this brings.
You already shared technology with Turn 10 - presumably you'll get even greater access to Microsoft Studio's codebase now?
Yes, absolutely. As an independent studio, you tend to work in a very siloed way, so I’m really looking forward to seeing what we can learn from the other first-party studios and what we can contribute to them as well. I strongly believe that collaboration makes for better games. [And so does Xbox head of first-party Matt Booty in our recent interview]
Presumably, as you were publishing exclusively through Microsoft before, there's no huge change in terms of that side of the business?
No change at all. In fact, very little changes in the way we run our studio day-to-day. It was very important to both us and Microsoft throughout the acquisition process that our culture and approach to game development remained the same.