When you haven’t heard the information already, Xbox lastly closed its Activision Blizzard acquisition deal to the tune of $69 billion. With this transfer, Activision CEO Bobby Kotick is getting ousted in the beginning of the yr, all whereas getting a golden parachute of $400 million. Effectively, at the very least the silver lining in all this company nonsense is Xbox has a slew of iconic franchises and characters in its secure, proper? …Proper?
I don’t need to spend too lengthy entering into the inherent grossness that’s the online game trade’s continued consolidation, however after watching the trailer, advert, or no matter you need to name this nearly two-minute video Xbox released when the news broke, it’s on the forefront of my thoughts. Microsoft is framing its acquisition of Activision Blizzard as a sort of homecoming for characters like Crash Bandicoot, the Overwatch heroes, and Mr. Name of Responsibility, when in actuality it was a shrewd enterprise resolution to benefit from a gap to purchase an organization that was in shambles attributable to a very public office harassment lawsuit. The fanfare isn’t actually stunning, as Microsoft made a similarly grand gesture when it acquired Bethesda.
The entire dressing up and making a present of cash shifting is its personal downside, and it frankly makes my pores and skin crawl. However this trailer additionally places all these acquisitions Microsoft has made up to now decade subsequent to one another, and in doing so makes it fairly obvious that, regardless of shopping for lots of studios, Microsoft’s roster of characters nonetheless isn’t even near reaching the identical stage of recognition as these of its contemporaries.
Why can’t Xbox’s heroes examine?
Microsoft has been enjoying catch-up for the reason that Xbox One’s stumbles put the system in second place behind Sony’s PlayStation 4. Xbox’s technique within the following years has been to accumulate smaller studios like Double Superb and Ninja Principle, after which trade behemoths like Bethesda and Activision Blizzard. Years later, it lastly appears like Xbox is getting video games out of those studios’ devkits and onto retailer cabinets and digital marketplaces. 2023 has been particularly fruitful for Xbox and Home windows, with Bethesda accounting for a few of the most notable video games of this yr like Starfield and Hello-Fi Rush. 2024 has a number of standouts coming as nicely, with Obsidian’s Avowed and Ninja Principle’s Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II set to return to Xbox Collection X/S and PC subsequent yr.
Besides, this consolidation advert with all these video games collectively, it actually appears like Xbox Recreation Studios’ characters lack the distinctive pop that makes for an fascinating ecosystem. Chunks of this trailer showcase generic stand-ins for gameplay loops individuals know and love, however which lack a face and title you’d instantly acknowledge. This isn’t a knock on these video games’ high quality, extra on how, as a result of Xbox has been spending the final decade getting its shit collectively, it doesn’t really feel like we’ve gotten almost as a lot time to know most of those characters as Nintendo or Sony’s stables.
To be truthful, Microsoft does have a number of gaming icons up its sleeve. My emotions on the Halo sequence apart, Grasp Chief is extra recognizable than swaths of the Tremendous Smash Bros. roster. Steve from Minecraft is so massive he acquired added to (and banned from) Nintendo’s recreation. Crash Bandicoot being an Xbox character now is among the wildest items of irony of all, given he was as soon as the defacto PlayStation mascot within the ‘90s. And struggle me, haters, the Overwatch heroes are beloved, even when the sport itself is in disarray. However broadly, even when Xbox is lastly catching up on first-party IP, the corporate nonetheless has lots of work to do on the cultural cachet of its heroes.
As a crossover IP mashup, Tremendous Smash Bros. is one thing few firms may even aspire to. Sony even tried with 2012’s PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, which had lots of well-known characters like Kratos and Nathan Drake, however was notably hamstrung by firms wanting to make use of it to promote upcoming video games as an alternative of paying tribute to their historical past, to not point out others being unwilling to play ball. Quick-forward eight years, and Sony launched Astro’s Playroom as a packaged recreation with the PS5. It wasn’t a platform fighter, however it did lovingly pay tribute to PlayStation historical past going again many years and illustrates the legacy of its heroes from Spyro to Ellie.
Reshaping the faces of the Xbox model
I watch Microsoft’s celebratory video and marvel what an Xbox equal tribute even appears like. The Xbox model of in the present day is unrecognizable from what it was when it started, as solely a few characters have had the endurance to be a part of Microsoft’s plan in 2023. Grasp Chief and Marcus Fenix are well-loved, however they will’t carry a model on their beefy shoulders alone. This video reminds us that Microsoft has the cash to throw round to try to make a strong first-party ecosystem, I simply marvel if it has the plan in place to make Xbox heroes as memorable and culturally vital after all of the checks have been cashed.
The reality is, Xbox has entry to a good few fashionable legacy characters that it has solely paid homage to in passing. The acquisition of Uncommon in 2002 gave Microsoft beloved platformers like Banjo-Kazooie and Conker which have virtually completely been acknowledged in promotional crossovers. A compilation package deal like Uncommon Replay exhibits Microsoft is conscious of the legacy a few of its characters have with long-time followers, and the 2020 Battletoads recreation was a enjoyable homage to an previous favourite. However these are passing investments in legacy video games reasonably than doubling all the way down to hold the franchises important.
Positive, not each “legacy” IP that’s laid dormant for thus lengthy will get pleasure from the identical mass attraction it as soon as did, however these examples do converse to an underlying subject: Xbox’s nurturing of its personal IP has been spotty, at finest. I would like that to vary, as a result of a part of what makes it fascinating to look at a console ecosystem develop is seeing what characters are nonetheless round many years after their journeys started. Maybe within the close to future we’ll acquire a greater imaginative and prescient of what the faces of the Xbox model are, as a result of it looks as if Microsoft continues to be figuring that out, too.