Originally published at: Xbox Has No Formula, and That's a Good Thing - XboxEra
Hi-Fi Rush, the latest game from Xbox owned studio Tango Gameworks, quite literally came out of nowhere last week and sent rhythmic waves through the gaming industry. Announced and released on the same day, Hi-Fi Rush is a rhythm based character action game that reminds one of a Dreamcast era game with graphical nods to Jet Set Radio and Viewtiful Joe. The game has received widespread fan and critical acclaim so far, with many shocked with just how good a game no one knew about 24 hours before it launched turned out to be.
Outside of the praise and adulation for this games existence and overall quality, many were quick to point out how Hi-Fi Rush isn’t a game you’d typically expect from Xbox’s internal studios. While this game may have come as a surprise to some, it’s not a complete shock considering Xbox’s moves over the last few years.
Xbox has spent the last 4 years adding talent to their roster, quickly growing to 23 studios by acquiring talented teams from all over the globe. In doing so, they’ve made it clear that they are looking for an organization with expertise in a vast array of genres. Each studio Xbox has acquired or grown has its unique calling card, from the racing genre, to shooters, to RPGs, to real time strategy games, to deeply cinematic games, and more. We’ve seen this diversity already playout, even if many heavy hitting games have yet to release. From Microsoft Flight Sim, to Wasteland 3, to As Dusk Falls, to Gears Tactics, and so many more have made it clear to anyone paying attention the diversity within Xbox. These first party games rarely share similar DNA, or abide by the same formulaic templates, and that just adds to the unique feel you get with each new release.
The most recent example of course being Tango Gameworks, which saw one of its lead directors, John Johanas, go from leading development on the Evil Within 2 to creating his dream project in Hi-Fi Rush. Last years surprise critical hit Pentiment from Obsidian’s Josh Sawyer saw the respected industry veteran lead a night in the woods inspired adventure game set in 16th century Bavaria after spending most of his career creating industry leading western role playing games. These are just a few examples of creatives within Xbox taking risks, moving out of their comfort zones to create dream projects.
This willingness to take risks and provide a variety of experiences isn’t just found at the creative level, it’s key in Xbox’s plan to provide a wide array of experiences. Xbox Head Phil Spencer recently commented on games like Hi-Fi Rush and Pentiment, and where they fit within the overall Xbox first party portfolio. He said, ” I think about our teams and our creators and giving them a creative outlet to go do some things that maybe if they were just on their own…and sales was the only way of gauging success, 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.”
Business Model Necessities
The clear factor here being Game Pass, as Spencer suggests sales not being the only metric of justifying a games existence. We don’t know how successful games like Pentiment or Hi-Fi Rush would be without something like the subscription, but it feels safe to say that launching within the service gives these games a real chance to reach larger audiences. Especially when someone doesn’t need to exchange their hard earned money to try a game that is likely different than anything they’ve previously played.
And it’s not just in their first party that their commitment to diversity is shown. The indie games Xbox has chosen to highlight in the last half a decade have varied immensely in genre, style, and production quality. We’ve had titles with breathtaking visuals like Cuphead to a game that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a console two decades ago with Vampire Survivors. There’s no singular “type” of indie game that Xbox associates itself with, and this diversity helps Xbox players and game pass subscribers have a wide breadth of quality games to choose from.
The mix of innate want for diversity, from the unique and talented studios to the overall companies need for a diverse slate of games to attract as many customers as possible, should lead to the platform creating many more games that don’t “feel” like they came from Xbox.
We expect the notion of “this doesn’t feel like an Xbox game” will last until a tipping point is reached, where the lack of familiarity, template, and definition becomes the point rather than a statement of surprise. It will take time, a steadier cadence of release, and a larger portfolio of quality games, but we expect diversity and awe to be the rule, not the exception going forward.