Phil Spencer Apologizes As Bethesda Delays Raises Xbox Pipeline Questions

Game delays happen all the time and they are always disappointing. But this week’s announcement of two Bethesda title delays and Xbox console exclusives – star field, from Bethesda Game Studios, and red fallfrom Arkane — hit particularly hard.

Both games were given 2022 dates during last summer’s Xbox showcase and represent the first real fruits of Microsoft’s $7.5 billion acquisition of Bethesda. These will be the first Bethesda games since the takeover not to release on PlayStation and to be added on day one to the Xbox Game Pass library. star fieldin particular, was highly anticipated, being the first major RPG from the creators of The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim and Fallout 4 in seven years.

Both have now been pushed back to the first half of 2023. Crucially, that leaves Xbox without any significant releases from its internal studios scheduled for 2022. Fans are, understandably, not happy; Last year, Microsoft promised to bring “at least one” proprietary game each quarter to Game Pass.

Xbox chief Phil Spencer took to Twitter to offer support for the delay as well as some contritional help. “These decisions are difficult for the teams that make the games and our fans. While I fully support giving teams time to release these great games when they’re ready, we hear the feedback,” he wrote. “Quality and consistency are expected, we will continue to work to better meet these expectations.”

But what are these expectations, and why is the conversation around them so strained? A delay for a title as complex and ambitious as star field is hardly unprecedented, and such announcements are usually met with a fair proportion of resignation and “a delayed game may eventually be good, but a bad game is forever bad” quotes Miyamoto. This was certainly the case with the recent and similar delay of what had been Nintendo’s flagship 2022 title, a sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. This was less the case with star field and Redfall.

The problem here is that Xbox’s empty 2022 calendar is indicative of just how far Microsoft has to go to turn Spencer’s years-long studio acquisition spree – which culminated this year in a stunning 68.7 buy. billions of dollars from Activision Blizzard – in actual software. In the space of four years, Microsoft’s games arm has grown into a constellation of studios of unprecedented size and scale, and there are legitimate questions to be asked about the ability of the Xbox organization to manage this huge development pipeline.

The games — whether from studios acquired since 2018 or more established parts of the Xbox empire — simply aren’t coming out. Very little has been seen or said about Playground Games. Fable and ninja theory Infernal Blade 2both of which were announced years ago. Undead Laboratories state of decay 3, Coalition perfect dark, and rare always wild would all be wading through development hell or deep reboots. The acquisitions inXile, Tango Gameworks and Double Fine have not yet passed the “still contractually required to release games on PlayStation” phase.

Rare’s Everwild, first announced in 2019.
Image: rare/Microsoft

Even Turn 10 Studios, which previously could be relied on to crank out a new Forza Motorsport every other year like clockwork, hasn’t released a game since 2017. (Its reboot of the series is the only possibility for a late release. 2022 for Xbox, but that’s by no means a given.)

While neither of these incidents is surprising or even necessarily worrisome in isolation, together they don’t paint a healthy picture of project management within Xbox Game Studios. Anxiety over this could explain why Xbox made the – in hindsight, reckless – decision to set a firm date of November 2022. star field last year, despite widespread pandemic-related disruptions to development schedules, the project’s ambition and Bethesda Game Studios’ slightly shaky track record of polishing and bug-fixing its games.

Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier mentioned that he had heard that this release date had made star field developers “extremely worried” that it could become the “next cyberpunkreferring to the botched and unfinished release of the CD Projekt game.

This eventuality has hopefully been avoided and the strain on Bethesda staff alleviated by the delay – in which case that can only be a good thing. And it’s true that Microsoft has amassed so much talent and so many enviable properties during its acquisition spree that it will inevitably be able to present Xbox owners and Game Pass subscribers with an abundance of long-term games.

But the delays of star field and red fall shed a harsh light on Xbox’s ability to manage its sprawling development empire, whether or not they are symptomatic of it. No wonder Spencer feels that when it comes to delivering “quality and consistency,” his teams still have something to prove.

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