In 2021, Microsoft's gaming division published games like Forza Horizon 5, Halo Infinite, Age of Empires 4, and Psychonauts 2. It was declared Metacritic's publisher of the year (opens in new tab) thanks to its games receiving an average metascore of 87.4, helped also to the Xbox Series X port of Microsoft Flight Simulator releasing that year. While in 2022 Microsoft backed some well-received smaller games—Grounded, Pentiment, and As Dusk Falls—its biggest releases, Starfield and Redfall, were delayed into this year.
Xbox stans weren't happy about this, though I think maybe we could do with less rushed videogame releases and maybe less videogames overall. During a recent interview with IGN (opens in new tab) following the Xbox/Bethesda Developer Direct livestream, Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer agreed with the fans, saying, "The commitment we have to our customers to continue to deliver great games is something that I take seriously, the teams take seriously, and 2022 was too light on games."
Spencer took the blame for this, adding, "our commitment to our fans is that we need to have a steady release of great games that people can play on our platform, and we didn't do enough of that in 2022, there's no doubt. And fundamentally, that's on me. I'm the head of the business."
As well as Starfield and Redfall, Microsoft-published games confirmed for release in 2023 include Minecraft Legends and the eighth Forza Motorsport, which is just called Forza Motorsport. "I know there were some questions on the date on Forza Motorsport," Spencer said, "because we just revealed the year. Everybody should know just the quality that Turn 10 puts into Motorsport, if you look historically, is going to be there in this game. That's the thing that, first and foremost, is most important, and we will come out with a date, no doubt when we're a little bit closer. But we just wanted to reaffirm to people that this is a 2023 game."
Microsoft also won some goodwill with the unexpected release of Hi-Fi Rush, a rhythm action game that goes surprisingly hard. Being shadow-dropped during the livestream was developer Tango Gameworks' own idea, Spencer said. "They'd been playing the game, felt good about their launch date and some of the early signals on quality, and said, 'Hey, it would just be fun. It would just be fun to be able to launch this during the Developer Direct and say, 'Play it now.'' So we rolled with that. We're always learning, always listening, and it seems like the community's responding well, which I think is a good signal."
Spencer emphasized that smaller, riskier games like Hi-Fi Rush and Obsidian's excellent monastic mystery Pentiment were made possible by being available on the subscription service Game Pass. "[If] sales was the only way of gauging success," he said, "they might not get to go do those games. So I like when we can create opportunity for teams to do some unique things that are maybe outside of what they've normally done, then really find either new customers for the studios or find just people that really enjoy the work that they're doing.
"I think one of the benefits of Game Pass, not to turn into an ad for it, is that the risk as a gamer that you think you're taking if you buy a game that maybe is outside of the things that you normally play...it's pretty easy to click now to download and you click now to play, and then you can decide through your own choice, 'Is this something I want to invest my time in?'"
Spencer also discussed Microsoft's $68.7 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard, which was first announced in January of 2022. The European Union Commission subsequently began an investigation into the acquisition and, more recently, Microsoft laid off 10,000 employees worldwide, casting doubt on its ability to expand.
"When we announced a year ago," Spencer said of the acquisition, "we talked about an 18-month timeframe. We're 12 months into that. I think we continue to stay focused on getting the deal closed." He also said that he knows more about how regulatory boards work than he did when the announcement was made, and, "my confidence remains high. We're actively working with the regulatory boards around the world that need to approve for this, and it's been a learning experience for me. A lot of time spent, a lot of travel, a lot of conversations, but they're conversations where I get to talk about our industry and the work that we do and why we do it. I think the more regulators are informed about what gaming is, how the business runs, who the players are, and what our aspiration is as Team Xbox is just a good thing for the industry itself."