Xbox Game Studios has lost the trust of players and media

Xbox Game Studios is in a difficult position and has a short amount of time to work themselves out of the situation.
Leading Video Game Companies Hold News Conferences To Open E3
Leading Video Game Companies Hold News Conferences To Open E3 / Kevork Djansezian/GettyImages

Xbox Gaming continues to have a rough time in headlines. For every “win” that seems to come the company’s way, there are losses that hit at the most inopportune times. This time, it’s the news that several studios were closed, heading into an Xbox Showcase that will be mired in controversy. Xbox has lost the trust of fans and the gaming community. And there’s little hope in it ever getting that trust back.

The unfortunate trend of layoffs and studio closures continues to hamper the gaming industry. Only five months into 2024, and the year has already surpassed the number of layoffs from 2023 (which was a record-breaking year). On Tuesday, Xbox Games closed Tango Gameworks, Arkane Austin, Alpha Dog Studios, and Roundhouse Games. It’s that news about Tango that has caused the most alarm.

Tango Gameworks is coming off the critically acclaimed Hi-Fi Rush. This was a surprise release in January 2023 that took the gaming space by storm. It would win several awards including Best Audio Design at the Game Awards 2023, Best Audio at GDC, and additional nominations. The game sits at a Metacritic score of 87 for Xbox, 90 for PC, and 88 on the recently ported PS5 version.

But critical success and commercial success are two different things. While Xbox Games leadership openly talks about the critical praise Hi-Fi Rush received, was that enough to deter the commercial concern that led to Tango Gameworks' closure? The answer is unfortunately “no.”

This situation, and several other rumors continues to put pressure on the strategy that Xbox Games has put in place. Questions about the viability of Game Pass, the future of Xbox first-party games being on the platform, price increases, Xbox going third-party, and more continue to come up from concerned gamers who fell in love with the platform decades ago. Xbox leadership is making the situation worse by not giving clear answers to what is going on and future plans.

Xbox President, Sarah Bond recently spoke with Dina Bass at Bloomberg Tech and the backlash from that interview is yet another pie in the face. Bond is being criticized for the non-answer she gave when discussing the news about recent studio closures and other related topics. Each of her “answers” pointed toward longevity, without addressing the issue of what does success looks like today. What do studios under the Xbox banner have to do today to make sure their products are meeting the benchmarks that will keep people in jobs and the doors open? Those are the questions that gamers and media members want to see answered, but the public relations nightmare continues.

The remaining six and a half months are crucial for Xbox Games. Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II is set for release on May 21. This is a game that is expected to receive praise for several aspects of its design, just like the original Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice did back in 2017. That game sold more than one million copies by 2018, but that is when it was multi-platform. With the release being an Xbox and PC first game, what type of projections are in place? Should the staff at Ninja Theory be concerned that winning awards for creating a masterpiece is no longer enough?

Then there’s a necessary conversation about Game Pass. In February, The Verge reported that the gaming service increased to 34 million subscribers. This was the first update on those figures in two years and represented a 36 percent increase in that time. The goal for the platform was 100 million subscribers by 2030 and that number seems nearly impossible with less than six years until that deadline. Overlay that goal with Xbox console sales not meeting targets and the concern is real.

What does this mean for the next Call of Duty? Microsoft purchased the gaming studio with the plan to bring one of the biggest titles in the industry into the fold, hopefully attracting those millions of players as well. If COD isn’t included, then Game Pass is done for. If the popular series is included, subscribers should expect a price increase to come soon after. Several of the other major streaming platforms continue to increase prices year-over-year. There’s nothing to stop Xbox from doing the same.

The entire video gaming industry is in a trying space. Exploding budgets, increased development time, hordes of “fans” demanding more or harassing developers, and thousands of staff laid off. It’s a space that Xbox attempted to present itself as a “good” force among all. Putting leadership out in front of fans, speaking openly, presenting themselves as gamers first. Unfortunately, all of that lost out to the unyielding bottom line. Those with the dollars to support the company have lost their faith in Xbox and it’s going to take several successes to get it back.