Jan 11th, 2017

This week the big story in gaming is that Platinum Games’ upcoming RPG Scalebound has been canceled by Microsoft. There are a lot of rumors flying around about why the game was canceled and the state the game was in order to warrant cancellation, but I don’t want to delve into that with this article.

Instead, I want to focus on the history that Microsoft has behind doing this to their third-party developers who are working on exclusives for them. Sometimes, it ends up being stand-up studios that are severely impacted by these decisions.

  • 2012: Microsoft hires Obsidian Entertainment to work on an Xbox One exclusive called Stormlands. Microsoft later cancels the project with very little notification to the developers, leaving them in a very bad state. Once source describes “Obsidian CEO Feargus Urquhart called a company meeting shortly afterwards and, choking up, announced that they’d be laying off 30 employees.” Obsidian took to Kickstarter with the project and turned Stormlands into Tyranny.
  • 2015: Indie developer Darkside Games is working on a Phantom Dust reboot for the Xbox One. Microsoft has given them a budget of $5 million, but the developers know that won’t cut it. After a terse meeting where the three top employees begged for a larger budget, Microsoft canned the project. The E3 trailer that was showcased at 2014 wasn’t even done by Darkside Games, but another studio Microsoft outsourced to do the work. As a result, Darkside Games goes out of business.
  • 2016: This is probably the most high-profile closure on the list. Lionhead Studios wanted to make Fable 4, but Microsoft wanted to capitalize on the popularity of MOBAs and online arena games. Instead, they made Lionhead create Fable Legends. When the game didn’t test well at two different E3 events and costs started running through the rough, Microsoft canceled the project and tried to sell Lionhead. When no one was interested without the Fable IP, Lionhead Studios was shut down.
  • 2017: Microsoft is back at it again with Scalebound. Rumors are flying about this one, but what we know so far is that Microsoft likely set milestones for the game that Platinum Games wasn’t comfortable with. Hideki Kamiya has been wanting to create Scalebound since 2006 and the first E3 trailer doesn’t indicate a four player co-op game. The last one does.

These four different instances of games being canceled seems to hint that Microsoft expects too much for too little from its third-party developers, while also asking them to create projects beyond the initial scope of the developer’s original vision. I’m not surprised by these cancellations and frankly, I’m surprised to see Sunset Overdrive and Insomniac Games managed to skate by.