Studio acquisitions, tech talk and a diverse roster - Microsoft is preparing for its next chapter
Microsoft's E3 showcase was a surprisingly eclectic affair with the big M giving its audience a whirlwind almost two-hours.
Headlining the event was the company's massive investment in its first-party studios. Microsoft has agreed to buy five developers: Forza Horizon developer Playground - who will be working on that racing franchise as well as an open-world RPG - Ninja Theory of Hellblade fame, We Happy Few maker Compulsion as well as the studio behind State of Decay, Undead Labs. That's on top of a brand new Santa Monica-based outfit called The Initiative which is tasked with working on "new gaming experiences".
All of which represents a seismic shift in Microsoft's battle against Sony. The Big M has almost doubled its roster of first-party studios which is good news for consumers.
This news also comes as its original stars - Halo and Gears of War - bring in fewer and fewer consumers each and every time. And reports about Sea of Thieves' player figures don't paint a great picture for its developer Rare.
Speaking of its first-party line-up, Microsoft opened up with the revelation that a new Halo game was in the works. Nominally a showcase of 343's engine tech, the demo ended with the name Halo Infinite. Not much is known about it aside from its set on one of the titular rings and features series protagonist Master Chief. All of which is to say, it is a Halo game.
By contrast, one of Microsoft's closing announcements was about the future of the Gears of War franchise. Developer The Coalition has not one, not two but three new projects on the way. The headline goes to Gears 5, which is set to release in 2019 and is a traditional entry in the franchise. Gears Tactics puts a strategic XCOM-esque spin on the IP while the developer has also teamed up with toy firm Funk and its Pop Vinyl range for a mobile game.
Forza Horizon 4 also debuted, with Playgrounds racing franchise coming to the UK on October 2nd.
Microsoft also made a strong impression with its line-up of Japanese games. Devil May Cry 5 from Capcom debuted on its stage - likely to appease fans of the cancelled Scalebound, while Bandai Namco announced an anime brawler called Jump Force featuring Shonen Jump characters.
If that wasn't enough, Square Enix is bringing Kingdom Hearts into the Xbox ecosystem for the first time before Bandai Namco announced a Tales Of project.
This seems like Microsoft trying to curry favour with a fanbase that is typically associated with PlayStation - likely due to that company's strong, native presence in the region. Whether it'll pay off for Microsoft is another matter altogether, but the groundwork for an Eastern charm offensive is surely there.
There were a number of high-profile projects from Eastern Europe on Xbox's stage. CD Projekt RED's Cyberpunk 2077 finally debuted with a very flashy trailer that ended Microsoft's conference. Well, the Polish game maker literally appeared to hack into the AV equipment, but we're not going to get some light computer espionage get in the way of the hype.
There's no word on a release date just yet, but it's good to see the game in motion.
Dying Light 2 from fellow Polish game maker Techland also debuted on Microsoft's stage with a lengthy demo. No release date is set for that project just yet.
Meanwhile, Metro Exodus now has a new release date of February 22nd after a delay from publisher Deep Silver. Rumour has it that the creative director on that project had a stroke earlier in the year and that has impacted development - we hope they have a smooth recovery if the rumours are true.
We also got our first peek at Ubisoft's The Division 2 - definitely as part of a marketing arrangement. This game takes the franchise to Washington DC, with more details presumably coming tomorrow during the French publishing giant's press event.
The firm also took a while to talk up its R&D department to paint a picture of the games ecosystem that Microsoft is creating. The company boasts that soon console-quality streaming will be available to any device, as well as saying that a brand new Xbox is in the works. Surely this is in anticipation of Sony revealing its own hardware plans later in the show.
Not only that; the company is augmenting its Xbox Game Pass, with Microsoft employing machine learning to help games load faster on user's computers and consoles. The selection of games on PC still isn't incredible, but this is likely something that Microsoft is going to continue if it is committed to its Universal Windows Platform ecosystem.
This conference painted Microsoft as a company that might not have the hottest exclusives of this year, but one that is making a lot of third-party deals, trying to charm gamers who wouldn't necessarily play in the Xbox/Windows 10 ecosystem and is trying to invest in its platform so that when the market shifts, it is ready, be that new console cycles or the inevitably shift in business models to streaming.