Okay Xbox fans, prepare yourselves for whirlwind tour around the world, as we take a look at the 23 First Party Studios that now form Xbox Game Studios at Microsoft.
We’ll do our best to talk about who they are, what they’ve released and what they rumoured to be working on next. So make yourself comfortable, and let’s begin.
Location: Redmond, Washington
The team built specifically to shepherd a new era of Halo post Bungie, 343 have been working on Halo for the better part of a decade. Following up on the series that previous developer Bungie made legendary, 343 has had some big shoes to fill.
Halo 4 and 5 had mixed receptions, and they have a lot of pressure to make their next game, Halo Infinite, a great game. Infinite was originally slated to launch with the Xbox Series X|S, but was delayed to 2021 for a myriad of reasons.
343 is a truly talented studio that are tasked with an almost impossible task; continue the legacy of one of gamings greatest franchises. The team at 343 have been working on Infinite and it’s new game engine, Slipspace for over 5 years. If Infinite is a success, it will be a huge achievement for 343 and could mean a decade of great Halo.
Location: Twycross, Leicestershire, England
Games: Sea of Thieves, Everwild
Rare has quickly become one of the best studios under Xbox. Rare seemed to be a bit of a tragedy during the 360 era. After leaving Nintendo and post Viva Pinata, they seemed to be stuck on uninspiring projects that didn’t make best use of their talents.
Now, after the runaway success that is Sea of Thieves and the upcoming excellent looking Everwild, Rare seem to have found their footing. Rare specializes in shared experiences. Sea of Thieves is an incredibly unique game where progress doesn’t really matter, and the goal is just to have a good time in a Pirate sandbox. We don’t know exactly what Everwild is just yet, but it’s possible that game will follow a similar formula, in that it will try to provide something truly unique that you can’t get anywhere else.
They’re not the same company as they were under Nintendo, and while the niche corner of the internet wants them to make Banjo again, they seem better suited doing what they’re doing now. Rare still has that charm that they’ve always had, it’s just now being used to make different types of games.
Location: Redmond, Washington
Games: Forza Motorsport
Turn 10 are all about Forza, and they have been tasked with making the consistently great Forza Motorsport series. Their games are all about track racing as compared to Playground Games’ Forza Horizon which is more open world.
Turn 10 have a stunning attention to detail and are dedicated to carefully recreating hundreds of high performance cars. To say that Forza Motorsport looks lifelike is an understatement. Every game they have made has taken full advantage of the hardware it is on, and the upcoming Forza Motorsport for Xbox Series X|S looks to be no different.
Turn 10 are probably a bit underrated as a studio because they only make “car games”. But they’ve proven to be one of the most talented and consistent studios under Xbox – and recent rumours suggest their team have been assisting other studios internally across Microsoft, including 343 and Playground Games, not only with Horizon, but with Fable too.
Location: Leamington Spa, England
Games: Forza Horizon, Fable
Playground Games is a rising star in the Xbox Games Studio umbrella. Known for their world class racing series Forza Horizon, they are now being tasked with rebooting the Fable series with a brand new RPG team. Forza Horizon has quickly become the best racing series on any platform, and the games always look simply stunning.
While the team working on Fable are a different team than the Horizon team, Playground’s standard for excellence makes it plausible that this team makes an excellent Fable game on their first try. If they can succeed with a brand new genre of game, Playground can make the case for the best and most versatile studio under Xbox.
Location: Cambridge, England
Games: Hellblade, Bleeding Edge, Project Mara
Ninja Theory was founded in 2004 and pride themselves on striving for high production values in everything they make. After working to release Kung Fu Chaos on the original Xbox in 2003, Ninja Theory went to make a lot of games; from Playstation exclusives like Heavenly Sword, the brilliant (and underrated) Enslaved: Odyssey to the West and even a stint at Devil May Cry.
In 2017, they released Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, which went on to win a lot of awards. In 2018, they were acquired by Microsoft and became an Xbox First Party Studio. They are currently working on HellBlade II: Senua’s Saga, as well as two other projects – Project Mara and Project Insight. One to watch.
Location: Stockholm, Sweden
Mojang is technically an Xbox Game Studio, but they act as a separate entity from all of Xbox. They are currently the only first party studio that releases games on non Microsoft platforms, and that is due to how large Minecraft is.
It is sometimes easy to forget just how big of a phenomenon Minecraft is. There are hundreds of millions of active users every month, and the game does not seem to be losing any momentum, if anything a bit of a resurgence in recent years. Mojang is also releasing spin-offs of the IP, including recently released dungeon crawler Minecraft Dungeons.
We don’t know if Mojang will ever make something that isn’t Minecraft related again following the underrated Cobalt, or ever officially release a “sequel” to Minecraft. But for now, Mojang will be busy overseeing one of the biggest games of all time.
Location: Vancouver, Canada
Games: Gears (of War)
Just like 343, this team was meant to make an iconic Xbox franchise. Xbox purchased the Gears of War franchise from Epic after Gears of War: Judgment and handed the series over to The Coalition. This team was originally going to work on their own original IP, but when the opportunity arose to work on Gears, the team rebranded from Black Tusk Studios to work on the legendary Xbox IP and The Coalition was born.
Under The Coalition there have been two mainline Gears games, an Xcom style spinoff in Gears Tactics (developed primarily by Splash Damage) and a mobile game in Gears Pop. Gears of War has been a staple in the Xbox exclusive rotation for years, and the latest game in the series Gears 5 was a strong entry. The series has felt a little stale in the past few years due to mostly unchanged mechanics, similar level design, and the same wall bouncing multiplayer that players have grown to love or hate.
It will be interesting to see if Gears ever sees an overhaul, but if it remains mostly the same, the formula is still solid enough that more sequels are welcome.
Location: San Francisco, California
Games: Psychonauts, Brutal Legend, Costume Quest
Double Fine have been a beloved studio for decades. Under the helm of legendary game designer Tim Schafer, they have released games like Psychonauts, Brutal Legend, Costume Quest, Day of the Tentacle, and more. They have always been a small indie studio at heart and with that has come budget issues and struggles to get games greenlit.
Under Xbox, those issues should be a thing of the past. Psychonauts 2, the next game from Double Fine, has seen multiple delays in order to make sure the game meets the standard Double Fine have set themselves. The studio has also stated that with the time and budget that Xbox allows them, they are able to add more to the game than they would have if they had remained independent. Hopefully Double Fine is able to consistently deliver their unique vision with the resources allotted to them under Xbox.
Location: Newport Beach, California & New Orleans, Louisiana
Games: The Bard’s Tale, Wasteland
InXile has an incredibly interesting history that goes back multiple years and studios. The studio was founded by Brian Fargo, formerly of Interplay, who worked on Fallout 1 and 2 before the rights to the series were acquired by Bethesda. Once Fargo left interplay to start InXile they have made many games, but are best known for the Wasteland series. Wasteland is very similar to the original Fallout style before it became an action RPG.
Wasteland is in many ways the spiritual successor to the isometric Fallout games that many people still adore. Their next game is rumoured to be a very ambitious RPG but no official details have been released. They are a very talented team and this has been confirmed following the critical reception to Wasteland 3, which released earlier this year. Definitely a studio to keep an eye on.
Location: Seattle, Washington
Games: State of Decay
An indie darling turned triple A. Undead Labs’s first game was State of Decay in 2013. This zombie survival title with management sim aspects was a big hit on Xbox Live Arcade and secured a sequel for the studio, with Microsoft and Undead Labs signing a multi-year deal for multiple games back in 2014.
In 2018, Undead Labs released State of Decay 2 for Xbox One and Windows 10. In that same year the studio was acquired by Microsoft. The third game in the series was announced in July 2020.
A key figure at the studio is Jeff Strain, who is one of the founders of ArenaNet, creators of Guild Wars, and was the lead programmer for World of Warcraft. He is the studio head of Undead Labs.
Location: Irvine, California
Games: The Outer Worlds, Avowed, Grounded, Fallout: New Vegas
One of the most consistent developers in the last decade, Obsidian have a distinct knack for making RPGs. When tasked with making a Fallout game in under 2 years, they turned around and made arguably the best game in the series with Fallout: New Vegas.
They have also created multiple entries in the Pillars of Eternity series, a surprisingly well made and deep South Park game, and recently made their own IP with The Outer Worlds and in a distinct departure from the usual genres to which they are associated, the charming survival game Grounded.
Obsidian have never truly had the budget or resources they need, but have always exceeded expectations. Now after being acquired by Microsoft, they’ll finally have everything they need to make even better games. Hopefully that starts with their recently announced fantasy RPG, Avowed.
Location: Montreal, Canada
Games: Contrast, We Happy Few
Compulsion Games was founded in 2009 by Guillaume Provost, who is the studio head and creative director at Compulsion. The studio worked on projects for external partners in the earlier days of the studio. In 2013 the studio released Contrast, a singleplayer adventure game for the Playstation 4.
The studio came to Microsoft’s attention with We Happy Few. This is a survival & adventure game set in a 60’s dystopian England. While the game didn’t fully deliver on everything it set out to do, it was clear there was a lot of creativity and vision at Compulsion. Currently the studio is rumoured to be working on a third person adventure game, described to be a bit ‘weird’. Compulsion Games was acquired by Microsoft in 2018, the same year We Happy Few released.
Location: Redmond, Washington
Games: Age of Empires
Founded in 2019, World’s Edge is the premier strategy game studio for Microsoft. It’s overseeing the Age of Empires franchise and can be seen as a spiritual successor of the legendary Ensemble Studios.
Currently they work with third party studios for the development of games. They are collaborating with Tantalus Games and Forgotten Empires on the definitive editions of the original trilogy. Their biggest game in production is Age of Empires IV, in collaboration with well known strategy game studio Relic Entertainment.
Key figures are studio head Shannon Loftis (former head of publishing) and Creative Director Adam Isgreen.
Location: Santa Monica, California
Games: Rumored – A game set in the Perfect Dark universe
The Initiative is Xbox’s new ‘built from scratch’ studio. Headed by Darrell Gallagher, this team of incredibly talented developers was revealed back in 2018, and what they are working on is still very much a mystery.
There have been longstanding and sourced rumors that they are working on a Perfect Dark game, but word is that it is not really a Perfect Dark game in the way we might think. We should see what they are working on very soon.
The talent brought on board is undeniable, featuring developers who previously worked at Rockstar, Naughty Dog, Sony Santa Monica, Crystal Dynamics, Respawn and more. They’re a star studded cast, all we need to see is what they’ve been cooking up.
Location: Lyon, France & Austin, Texas
Games: Deathloop (PS5 Timed Exclusive), Dishonored, Prey, Wolfenstein: Youngblood
Arkane Studios was brought into the Bethesda umbrella in 2010 and have since been making critically acclaimed immersive sims like Dishonored and Prey.
Arkane are near masters at making immersive simulation based games where the player controls the narrative. Their games mix incredibly atmospheric settings and stories with interactive gameplay and reactive sandboxes.
Arkane are one of the best studios in the world and are quietly one of the best studios for Xbox Games Studios already. While they may not have the renown of a studio like Bethesda Games Studios, they have arguably been making better games this decade than anyone under the Bethesda umbrella. Make sure to keep an eye on them.
Location: Rockville, Maryland – Montreal, Quebec – Austin, Texas – Dallas, Texas
Games: Fallout, Starfield, The Elder Scrolls
Bethesda Game Studios (BGS) are the studio that started the entire Bethesda Publishing umbrella. They are a legendary developer led by Todd Howard, responsible for games like The Elder Scrolls and Fallout and the upcoming highly anticipated game Starfield.
Many people think only of Bethesda Game Studios when they think of Bethesda and it may be for good reason.
Their games are some of the most recognizable in gaming history and they have had a meteoric rise from the days of Arena all the way to Skyrim and through to their new IP, Starfield.
While some of their recent releases like Fallout 76 have seen a somewhat lukewarm reception, there is still a lot of anticipation whenever the next mainline Bethesda game is set to release.
Location: Richardson, Texas
Games: Doom, Quake, Rage, Wolftenstein
Often considered the grandfathers of the FPS (first person shooter) genre, having first invented the genre with Wolfenstein 3D in 1992 and perfecting the formula in 1993 with the legendary Doom, the company continued to develop spectacular and innovative graphics engines to fuel their visions for the genre.
The new century brought them mixed fortunes in trying to revitalize their iconic IPs like Doom and Quake, and their first new IP in several years, RAGE, failed to make a lasting impression despite being a very solid post-apocalyptic shooter. Not to mention seeing one of their original founding members, John Carmack – leaving to work on VR.
And then, when nobody really believed the Texas-based studio could quite find their mojo back, came 2016’s Doom reboot, combining the classic pace and map designs with welcome innovations and a coherent mixture of newer elements of the shooter genre, a formula they managed to improve upon with this year’s Doom Eternal, which was recently added to Game Pass.
What’s next for this legendary studio under Microsoft’s banner then? More Doom? Quake getting a similar treatment? Or will they come up with a new IP? All we can assume is that you’ll be shooting things – a lot.
Location: Uppsala, Sweden
Founded by former members of Starbreeze Studios, MachineGames quickly rose to be one of Bethesda Softworks’ greatest studios by essentially doing one thing, but doing that one well. That is, their spin on id Software’s legendary Wolfenstein shooters.
Throughout two numbered chapters and various single player and co-operative spin-offs alike, this reimagining of the franchise brought us into a dystopian timeline where nazi Germany won the war, and essentially conquered the entire world, with a small but lethal army of resistance trying to tear the reich down.
Despite being fun to play, these games never quite had the bombastic gameplay of id Software’s classics, but they more than made up for it with surprisingly deep and provocative narrative, excellent setpieces and memorable characters, making taking on the nazi regime a really satisfying experience.
After a total of 5 releases in the Wolfenstein IP, could MachineGames be ready for something new? Or could they still have bold ideas for continuing the franchise?
Location: Madison, Wisconsin
Roundhouse Studios is a bit of an oddity. They have been best known as Human Head Studios, well known for the original Prey and the critically panned game The Quiet Man. They also were tasked with making the now infamous and cancelled game Prey 2 (no, not that Prey), a title that seemed to have been mismanaged by the studio and Bethesda as a whole.
Human Head was closed in 2019 and out of the ashes of that studio came Roundhouse studios. We don’t know what Roundhouse is working on as of now, but they have an interesting history so it is exciting to imagine what they can develop next.
Location: Shibaura, Tokyo, Japan
Games: The Evil Within, Ghostwire: Tokyo (PS5 Timed Exclusive)
Tango Gameworks is Xbox’s first Japanese studio and are best known for The Evil Within series and their upcoming PS5 timed exclusive Ghostwire: Tokyo.
The Evil Within is a truly fantastic horror series created by Shinji Mikami, who directed the first entry of the Resident Evil series. There is a lot of pedigree here and having him currently as a visionary for an Xbox owned team is exciting. Ghostwire: Tokyo also looks fantastic, mixing first person action gameplay with a paranormal Tokyo.
The games Tango make may be a bit niche as they are firmly in the horror genre, but they are definitely a great team and should continue to put out unique and interesting games.
Location: Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
Games: Wraithborne, MonstroCity: Rampage
Alpha Dog is a mobile-first studio who have made some interesting games in this space. They focus on Action RPG and Strategy games which fit perfectly on a platform that fits in your pocket. With Xbox investing heavily in the mobile space with xCloud, it will be incredibly interesting to see if they end up dabbling with game streaming or stick with what they are currently doing.
Location: Hunt Valley, Maryland
Games: The Elder Scrolls Online
Zenimax Online is best known for The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO), a surprisingly great MMO that spans multiple platforms. They also helped with Fallout 76 and are now working on an unknown new IP that will likely be an online focused title.
You can probably tell from their name that this studio focuses on online, games as a service type games. As mentioned earlier, ESO is a truly great MMO that expands upon The Elder Scrolls series. Their next game will be entirely original and it is exciting to imagine what they will create given their wealth of experience making ESO.
Location: Redmond, Washington
Games: Published – Ori, Microsoft Flight Simulator, Sunset Overdrive, Tell Me Why, and more
Xbox Game Studios Publishing has created some of the best games for Xbox this entire generation. They are focused on working with non Xbox owned studios to make games for the Xbox platform. Some highlights include Ori, Microsoft Flight Simulator, Sunset Overdrive and Tell Me Why
XGS Publishing have done a great job finding studios to make content for the Xbox platform and coming into next generation they will be important to bringing even more great games to Xbox.
It’s curious that we’ve seen little from this publishing team in the run-up to launch of the Xbox Series X|S, so we’re super keen to see what’s coming, and who Microsoft might be collaborating with next.
So that’s it – as of right now, that’s everything we know about Xbox Game Studios as it stands today. As we’ve seen, and indeed, as Satya Nadella recently implied in an interview – they’re not done growing.
It’s hard to really visualise the difference in output at this point, mainly because video games take a long time to make, but the reality is truly staggering, and incredibly exciting.
Content is king, as they say, and for the first time in a long time, we have the Xbox platform firing on all cylinders as we head in to a new generation for gaming. We can’t wait to play.