Xbox Game Studios has been a big success story for Xbox – at least, from a marketing perspective. The fan base have cheered at the various developers joining the Xbox fold in a seeming response to PlayStation’s powerhouse first-party studios. But what are the Xbox Game Studios actually working on? When will we see the results? Seeing as many of the Game Studios have started posting new job ads in January, we figured it was a good time to round up everything we know about each studio and their current projects. (Most studio sizes are based on LinkedIn connections and older reports; the real totals could be much larger).
Size: Over 500 employees
Previous Projects: Halo: The Master Chief Collection, Halo 4, Halo 5: Guardians
Current Projects: Halo Infinite, Holiday 2020
Jobs: Currently recruiting for several lead engineer, art and design roles
Everyone who knows Halo knows exactly what 343 is working on and when to expect it. Halo Infinite will be the next narrative instalment in 343 Industries’ Reclaimer arc of Halo storytelling, continuing the work the studio has put into stepping into Master Chief’s story after Bungie’s departure.
At the moment we just have a few confirmed details. The story will continue on from the events of Halo 5, for starters. The game will feature split-screen multiplayer once again, and run on a new engine called Slipspace. It’ll run on Xbox One, PC and Xbox Series X. It’s claimed that the engine will not only make the most of next-gen hardware, but it will take “better advantage of the still-not-fully-tapped power of the Xbox One”.
Although the narrative carries on the story of Halos 4 and 5, Studio Head Chris Lee has said that the game is an “ambitious” evolution that goes beyond a simple sequel; taking the “gameplay and narrative in bold new directions, while honoring the legacy”. Infinite is referred to internally as a “spiritual reboot”.
For our money, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Infinite is being designed to have a longer tail, leaning more emphatically into the games-as-a-service space. Firstly, there’s that title and the potential connotations – there’s no “Halo 6”. There’s also Lee’s reflections on the Slipspace Engine. Lee talks a lot about how Slipspace gives the developers the means to “iterate on experiences” – even when referring to “intimate moments” of narrative as we saw in the Discover Hope trailer, Lee talks about opportunities to “update those experiences to compliment gameplay”. It’s a curious way to speak about a narrative scene, and it suggests to us that every aspect of Infinite – including its story – could be designed for a longer-term commitment.
At the moment Infinite is the only big brand, known first-party Xbox title releasing at launch with the Series X, so whatever 343’s project turns out to be, expect more than just a simple sequel. The Halo studio have been tasked to deliver hope for an entire console generation.
Age of Empires / World’s Edge
Size: World’s Edge has approximately 15 employees
Previous Projects: Age of Empires I and II Definitive Editions
Current Projects: Age of Empires III Definitive Edition, Age of Empires IV – release dates unknown
Jobs: a handful of programming roles at Relic Entertainment
We’re only two studios in, and already things are getting confusing. “Age of Empires” is listed as an internal studio, yet Relic Entertainment are still leading development on the long-awaited Age of Empires IV. Recent Definitive Editions of the first two Age of Empires games were developed by Forgotten Empires – an official Microsoft supplier, sure, but not an internal studio.
So what the heck is the “Age of Empires” studio listed in on the official list of Xbox Game Studios? It’s actually World’s Edge Studio, headed up by Shannon Loftis who you may have seen at X019 showing off the first full Age of Empires IV trailer. According to Microsoft creative director Adam Isgreen, World’s Edge Studio isn’t directly involved in making any games – the small team are basically just there to make sure efforts by Relic, Tantalus and Forgotten Empires are all singing from the same hymn sheet.
So while Age of Empires is certainly an Xbox published franchise, there has been some very creative marketing fudgery in positioning it as a comparable studio to Playground or Rare. Regardless, we’re still excited to see Age of Empires IV – it’s been a long wait, and it looks gorgeous.
We’ll almost certainly see a Definitive Edition of Age of Empires III at some point soon, and the prominent placement of Age of Mythology on the Age of Empires website suggests to many that the beloved spin-off will get a similar treatment at some point in the future.
Size: 150+ employees
Previous Projects: The Gears of War series (post-Epic)
Current Projects: Gears 5 content and support, co-development on Gears Tactics – releases on April 28th 2020
Jobs: A handful of engineering and art roles, Senior Level Artist and Lead Producer
The Coalition makes Gears. Specifically, and in a weird parallel to 343’s Halo project, they made a remaster of the original in 2015 and then instalments 4 and 5 of the main franchise, spinning off in a new direction with a new threat. The Coalition have also been at least tangentially involved in the making of Gears spin-offs – the mobile game Gears POP! and the upcoming Win 10 strategy game Gears Tactics.
With Gears 5 just in the rear-view mirror, it’s unlikely that Coalition are gearing (sorry) up for the sixth instalment to release any time soon. Whether they will ever work on other projects is up for debate, but it seems unlikely – like 343, the entire existence of The Coalition is due to Microsoft bringing development of a specific Xbox brand in-house. On top of that, the ending of Gears 5 very clearly sets up the stakes for Gears 6, a potential resolution to the current trilogy – it would be bizarre to see The Coalition focus on anything else.
Size: 40-50 employees
Previous Projects: We Happy Few
Current Projects: Unknown
Compulsion Games was effectively rescued by Xbox, first in marketing We Happy Few and then acquiring the studio outright. Unfortunately the game just didn’t live up to expectations.
A 40-minute YouTube documentary covers the story of how We Happy Few came to be, the struggles of development and the eventual acquisition of the studio by Xbox. That’s essentially the last we’ve heard from Compulsion Games, who announced that We All Fall Down would be the last DLC for We Happy Few. With no job postings and no news from the studio itself since November, we simply have no idea what they’re working on next.
A sequel that completely rebuilds what We Happy Few is all about from the ground up wouldn’t be a bad shout – people fell in love with the aesthetic of the original trailer, but felt let down by the realisation that it was a strange procedurally-generated mash of ideas hampered by bugs. There’s a possibility that nostalgia for the initial premise alone could convince people to buy back in, but it’d be a risky move for Xbox to take. We wonder if the team will now try and move away from We Happy Few and unleash their creative powers on something completely different.
Size: 60-70 employees
Previous Projects: Massive Chalice, Costume Quest, Brutal Legend, Psychonauts, RAD, Iron Brigade
Current Projects: Psychonauts 2 – due in 2020 – and an unannounced new project with multiplayer
Jobs: Multiplayer Programmer for the unannounced project, gameplay programmers for Psychonauts
Double Fine’s next project is apparently going to have some multiplayer element – though it’s unclear whether it will be entirely multiplayer focused. We would guess not, as they’re only looking to hire a single Multiplayer Programmer rather than a multiplayer design lead and a host of underlings. What that project could be is anyone’s guess – this is a studio that has released games about rusty alternate-reality mechs, detachable heads and kids saving the world in Halloween costumes.
In the meantime, we’re on slightly more solid ground with Psychonauts 2, the last major project that Double Fine was working on before their acquisition by Xbox Game Studios. Compared to other studios acquired by Xbox, Double Fine might take a little longer to get out of the weeds of their previous commitments on the publishing side – their Double Fine Presents initiative was responsible for helping hit indie games like Knights and Bikes, GNOG, Everything and Gang Beasts get marketed and released.
Previous Projects: None
Current Projects: Unknown
Jobs: Senior Animation, Art, Engineering, Design and Writing roles
The Initiative is one of the great unknowns of the Xbox Game Studios project – billed confusingly as a “AAAA” studio, The Initiative describes itself as “passionate about craft, creating stories, and building the next big thing in gaming”.
Details are desperately thin on the ground, and the only narrative running through The Initiative’s two year history has been a series of high-profile hires, including technical directors involved with Red Dead Redemption 2, the director of Sunset Overdrive, senior staff from the rebooted Tomb Raider series, God of War’s senior level designer and, bizarrely, a senior software engineer from Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
It’s very hard to say how far we are away from The Initiative actually revealing what the heck they are working on – there’s a pretty comprehensive list of roles left to fill on the studio’s website, including senior roles across all artistic departments. The Initiative are still on the lookout for a Senior Writer, who will “help grow our game world, create key storylines and characters that players will love, and deliver tight and compelling dialogue”. Interestingly, it doesn’t look like the studio is looking for a narrative auteur – a desirable feature of the applicant is to have experience in a writer’s room, and the role includes coordination with “narrative leads and other writers”. Recent interpretations of a Phil Spencer tweet have sparked rumours that The Initiative might be rebooting an existing IP.
While it sounds like we might be a way off from a finished product, we may at least get some visual or aesthetic clues soon. The company is pretty well staffed up in senior design, animation and character artist roles – potentially enough to put together an E3 proof-of-concept tease as we saw with Rare’s Everwild, if not a full-blown trailer like Halo Infinite or Hellblade II.
Size: 90 employees
Previous Projects: Wasteland 2, Torment: Tides of Numenara, The Bard’s Tale IV
Current Projects: Wasteland 3, release date May 19th 2020
Jobs: Lead Producer, senior technical roles – unclear if these have been filled
inXile don’t have a lot of titles under their belt compared to some of their contemporaries in the Xbox Game Studios fold, but that’s not to say that they are without talent and pedigree. The beloved Wasteland series was co-designed by studio head Brian Fargo, founder of legendary 80s and 90s developer Interplay. Interplay’s Black Isle studio would go on to make Baldur’s Gate, Planescape Torment and Fallout. InXile carried on development of Wasteland and produced Tides of Numenara as a spiritual successor to Planescape. Fargo actually announced his retirement in 2017 but came back to lead the studio when Xbox acquired it.
inXile are working on finishing off Wasteland 3 at the moment with no specific plans beyond. Given their pedigree, we should probably expect more narrative-driven RPGs. In fact, job listings on inXile’s website state that they are working on a “next-generation role-playing game”. The roles listed are pretty senior, so we suspect this project is still in its infancy.
Mojang are of course in charge of Markus Persson’s Minecraft, which has continued to expand over the years and still places high on the player charts on Xbox and the streaming charts on Mixer and Twitch. Mojang have rolled out a Beta for Minecraft Earth, their mixed-reality mobile effort that hopes to latch onto the coat-tails of Pokemon GO’s success – no sign of achievements for it just yet, though.
Elsewhere Mojang are working on Minecraft Dungeons, which is basically a simple isometric dungeon-delver. It left us a little cold in previews at Gamescom, but perhaps the game will grow into something more substantial.
It’s unlikely that we’ll see much else from Team Minecraft in the near future beyond Earth and Dungeons, as they happily continue to expand the original Minecraft with frequent updates. It’s telling that Mojang’s job listings include more consumer products roles than they do development roles – Minecraft has simply become so, so much more than a video game.
Size: 120 employees
Previous Projects: DmC, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, Enslaved, Heavenly Sword
Current Projects: Bleeding Edge (releases March 24 2020 ), Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II, Project: MARA
Jobs: Senior character artist and designer, programmer internship program
Regardless of players’ opinions of DmC, the massively reworked Devil May Cry that appeared between 4 and 5, Ninja Theory are pretty well respected. Their small output of games since 2004 include Heavenly Sword, Enslaved and the hugely acclaimed Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice.
It was a bit of a surprise to find that, once Xbox Game Studios picked up Ninja Theory, it turned out that the developer wanted to work on a manic cyberpunk 4v4 brawler in Bleeding Edge rather than continue their exploration of Northern European mythology and mental illness.
However, the first big official trailer for the Xbox Series X was indeed a follow-up to Hellblade, and it looks beautiful. Ninja Theory have ramped up recruitment massively as they work on Bleeding Edge, Hellblade II and “Project MARA”, an “experimental title” that aims to showcase the horrors of the mind “as accurately and realistically as possible”. It’s not clear whether this will be a released game of any sort – Ninja Theory describe it as “a showcase of what could become a new storytelling medium”.
Size: 200 employees
Previous Projects: Fallout New Vegas, South Park: The Stick of Truth, Pillars of Eternity, The Outer Worlds
Current Projects: Grounded (enters Preview in Spring 2020), unannounced RPG
Jobs: Narrative and technical roles related to an undisclosed RPG
Obsidian have a storied history creating compelling RPGs, culminating in the critically acclaimed The Outer Worlds, the last project the veteran developers worked on before their acquisition by Xbox Game Studios. It was a bit of a surprise to see the developer come out with Grounded at X019 – not an RPG at all, but a co-op survival game with a Honey I Shrunk the Kids vibe. It’ll be the first Xbox Game Studios game to go into Xbox Game Pass as a Game Preview title.
RPG enthusiasts needn’t despair, though – it looks like Obsidian is ramping up for its next big RPG according to several job listings on their site. It’s impossible to say what they’re working on for sure, but a couple of aspects of the Narrative Designer role stand out. Firstly, one responsibility will be to “maintain the consistency of integrity of the intellectual property in the game’s writing”. Now this could be a brand new IP, but the phrasing leads us to think that the role will be looking at an established franchise. The most obvious bet would be a sequel to The Outer Worlds.
But there’s a wrinkle – “Pluses” for the potential applicant include “experience writing for multiplayer games”. That doesn’t necessarily rule out The Outer Worlds – it could go multiplayer, or this role might require some work on Grounded alongside the Outer Worlds sequel. Or it could be something completely new. Heck, if we’re talking existing franchises with a multiplayer component, it could even be Fable 4. Probably not though, as we’re fairly certain that’s what the next group of folks are working on.
Playground Games get the award for most prolific hirer of the Xbox Game Studios stable – it seems like there’s a new post on LinkedIn every five minutes advertising a job or welcoming in a bunch of newbies. Playground are of course most well known for their phenomenal Forza Horizon series, and are almost certainly planning for Forza Horizon 5. We probably shouldn’t read too much into current Forza Horizon related job postings, though – Forza Horizon 4 is still trickling out occasional new cars and content, as well as the new Eliminator mode.
The bigger story is the founding of Playground Games’ second studio, built from the ground up to work on an “open-world action-RPG”. Now there is very, very little evidence to suggest that the game they are working on is Fable 4, yet the rumour has become so ingrained – with no denials whatsoever from Playground Games themselves – that it would be a shock if the new studio revealed anything else. That said, Playground have gone to some lengths to speak of their new project as “entirely new” in their job listings – but a Fable sequel would still be a “new” project, right?
E3s have come and gone without any sign of Playground Games’ new project – with hype for the Xbox Series X ramping up this year it seems a safe bet that we might at least hear about it.
Size: 200-250 employees
Previous Projects: Banjo-Kazooie, Goldeneye 007, Viva Pinata, Sea of Thieves, Perfect Dark
Current Projects: Sea of Thieves, Battletoads, Everwild – no known release dates
Jobs: Engineers and animators
Rare has always been an oddball, and none of their projects have turned out to be quite so odd as Sea of Thieves – exciting on paper, baffling and disappointing at launch, and now moderately successful in its own right as a continuous service game. It’s hard to see that the Battletoads reboot is going to do a lot of business as a successor – not a huge call for side-scrolling beat-em-ups these days.
We’re reliant instead on the mysterious Everwild for our next Rare hope. Teased at X019, we know basically nothing about the game’s structure or story. All we have seen is a rather gorgeous trailer showing off some mysterious fantasy animals and a collection of brightly-dressed human folk creeping cautiously around them. While it’s unclear what the game is about, it actually looked fairly solid in the trailer, as though development is reasonably far along. Hopefully we’ll hear more about it in 2020. In the meantime, Rare haven’t made any plans to stop supporting Sea of Thieves with regular new content.
Size: 130 employees
Previous Projects: Forza series, Forza Horizon series
Current Projects: Probably the next Forza Motorsport
Jobs: Environment and UI artists, engineers for the Forza Motorsport team
Turn 10 are the original inventors of Forza and work with Playground Games on the Forza Horizon series, as well as create their own entries in the Forza Motorsport series. Some have speculated as to whether the wildly popular Horizon would supplant Motorsport entirely, but some recent job listings suggest that the Motorsport project is alive and well.
Turn 10 are recruiting UI, licensing and environment specialists as of last week, so the team are potentially ramping up production on the next Forza Motorsport. Whether it’ll make it to Xbox Series X as a launch title is anyone’s guess, but it’d certainly be par for the course if Xbox used the next Motorsport at E3, as a technical marvel to show off some new hardware.
Sadly, State of Decay 2 was one of a few promising Xbox exclusives that failed to meet expectations in 2018-2019 – though many have reported that the game is pretty solid now that some of its worst bugs have been patched out. In the wake of that release, we’ve heard little from Undead Labs aside from the announcement and launch of story expansion Heartland at E3 2019.
It’s unlikely that Undead Labs are going to pivot away from their franchise, but what remains to be seen is whether the studio plans to continue growing the second game for a new generation of hardware, or whether they are going to forge ahead with State of Decay 3. Current vacancies give little away, speaking more about the continuation and evolution of the franchise rather than declaring the exact name of the game to be worked on.
Xbox Game Studios Publishing
Curiously, Xbox Game Studios includes Xbox Game Studios Publishing under its banner of 15 studios. As with World’s Edge’s oversight of Age of Empires, our best bet is that this centralised team aims to keep some sort of synergy between various Microsoft and Xbox branded projects in the works, whether that’s internal or external studios. They will be publishing Asobo’s work on Microsoft Flight Simulator and still look after the Microsoft-branded fleet of casual titles on mobile and PC, like Solitaire and Wordament.
There are some outliers that Xbox Game Studios publishing are looking after that aren’t covered by the other 14 studios. South Korean free-to-play shooter CrossfireX is being published by Xbox Game Studios in the West, with development of its campaign supported by Remedy Entertainment. Xbox Game Studios will also be publishing Moon Studios’ Ori and the Will of the Wisps, and the latest angsty adventure from Dontnod Entertainment, Tell Me Why.
That’s everything we know for now – we’ll keep this article updated as news develops.