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Microsoft: First-Party, Next Generation

by Jeff Marchiafava on May 17, 2013 at 10:30 AM

In preparation of the next Xbox's big unveiling, we take a look at Microsoft's stable of first-party developers and what each studio is likely working on.

While Microsoft hasn't released a lot of internally developed games this generation, the company has been quietly opening new studios over the past few years, including Microsoft Studios Victoria, Kids and Lifestyle Entertainment, Connected Experiences, and Soho Productions. The focus of many of these developers remains unclear; they might be creating games for the next Xbox console, mobile and Windows 8 games, or Kinect-based software such as the interactive television programming that Microsoft's new Los Angeles-based studio is working on.

While we're expecting at least a few next-gen surprises from Microsoft's new wave of studios, the company's established first-party developers are a little more predictable. Below we've outlined the history of each studio, the games they're known for, and what they're likely working on now.

Company: 343 Industries
Known For: Halo 4
Last Game: Halo 4
343 Industries had the unenviable task of continuing Microsoft's flagship series after Bungie moved on to Destiny, but last year's release of Halo 4 proved the series is in good hands. Considering 343 Industries was created specifically to work on Halo, it's safe to assume the studio is working on a new game related to the IP. 343 has stated that Halo 4 is the first game in a new Halo trilogy. However, executive producer Kiki Wolfkill has also expressed interest in expanding the IP to other genres. Even if that's the case, we expect 343 will kick off Microsoft's next console with a traditional sequel.

Company: Lionhead Studios
Known For: Fable, Black & White, The Movies
Last Game: Fable: The Journey
Lionhead has gone through a number of changes this generation, with co-founder Peter Molyneux leaving to form 22 Cans and former Cryptic CEO John Needham stepping in as the new head of the studio. Back in 2011, Lionhead was rumored to be working on Fable IV, in addition to the Kinect-based spinoff, Fable: The Journey, which ultimately released to poor reviews. Despite its recent on-rails detour, Fable remains one of Microsoft's strongest franchises; launching its next console with a new installment of the series seems like a smart bet, though Lionhead may have a completely new IP up its sleeve as well.

Company: Turn 10 Studios
Known For: Forza Motorsport
Last Game: Forza Horizon
This generation, Turn 10's Forza series overtook Project Gotham Racing as Microsoft's principal racing franchise. Forza Horizon took the series in a slightly new direction, with an open-world format that was well-received, though not quite as beloved as Forza Motorsport 4. In any case, racing games tend to make good launch titles, aptly showing off the visual advancements new hardware provides. We expect Turn 10 is hard at work creating the next installment of the series.

Company: Rare Ltd.
Known For: Donkey Kong Country, Killer Instinct, GoldenEye 007, Banjo-Kazooie, Perfect Dark, Viva Piñata
Last Game: Kinect Sports: Season Two
Despite its accomplished history of creating blockbuster franchises for Nintendo, Rare has created few standout series for Microsoft after being purchased by the company in 2002. Kameo: Elements of Power, Perfect Dark Zero, and Viva Piñata were met with generally positive reviews, but in recent years the developer has been focused on Kinect titles. While we'd love to see a next-gen sequel to Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, we're guessing a new Kinect Sports installment the likelier scenario.

Coming Up Next: Microsoft's first-party developers that specialize in downloadable and Kinect titles, plus a new studio that's focused on triple-A game development...

Company: Twisted Pixel Games
Known For: The Maw, 'Splosion Man, Comic Jumper, The Gunstringer
Last Game: The Gunstringer
Twisted Pixel provided the 360 with a string of creative indie titles (most notably Splosion Man and the equally fun Ms. Splosion Man), before eventually being purchased by Microsoft in 2011. Its last release, The Gunstringer, provided an entertaining shooting gallery for Kinect owners, which remains one of our favorite titles for the peripheral. Twisted Pixel is currently working on LocoCycle, which is scheduled to release on Xbox 360 this year. What's next for the developer after that is anybody's guess, but based on its history, a quirky action game is probably a good bet.

Company: BigPark
Known For: Kinect Joy Ride, Kinect Sports: Season Two
Last Game: Joy Ride Turbo
Acquired by Microsoft in 2009, BigPark has mostly focused on Kinect titles, including the mediocre Kinect Joy Ride, and Kinect Sports: Season Two, which the studio co-developed with Rare. However, it's most recent game, Joy Ride Turbo, ditched the Kinect controls for a more traditional kart racing experience. Rumors suggest the next iteration of Kinect is going to play a big role in the next Xbox, so we're guessing BigPark will once again focus on motion-sensing gaming for its next title. It's also worth noting that Kinect Joy Ride was originally going to be a free-to-play game; if Microsoft embraces a wider variety of monetization schemes for its next console, BigPark may try traveling down that road once again.

Company: Good Science Studio
Known For: Kinect Adventures, Kinect Fun Labs
Last Game: Kinect Fun Labs
Another internal developer focusing on Kinect, Good Science Studio was responsible for Kinect Adventures, which proved to be a solid launch title for the new peripheral. More recently, Good Science Studio has been devoted to Kinect Fun Labs, which serves as a hub for interesting and often free experiments that use the hardware in unique ways. This makes the developer an ideal candidate for coming up with some interesting prototypes for the rumored enhancements of the next Kinect. Perhaps a Kinect Adventures 2 is in the cards?

Company: Press Play
Known For: Max & the Magic Marker, Tentacles: Enter the Dolphin
Last Game: Tentacles: Enter The Dolphin
Press Play has focused on mobile games in the past, but that didn't stop Microsoft from purchasing the indie studio in 2012. Press Play is currently working on Max: The Curse of Brotherhood, a sequel to the creative but frustrating Max & The Magic Marker. Thanks to the purchase, The Curse of Brotherhood will be an XBLA exclusive when it releases later this year, after which we expect Press Play will transition to a new downloadable project for the next Xbox.

Company: Black Tusk Studios
Known For: N/A
Last Game: N/A
Formerly known as Microsoft Studios Vancouver, Black Tusk Studios was formed in 2010. Last year, Black Tusk studio manager Mike Crump announced the developer is working on a triple-A title that he hopes will be "the next Halo." The announcement fell in line with earlier reports that the company was creating a core, triple-A shooter –however, that project also focused on Kinect support. Whether or not that's still the case remains to be seen, but we expect this new IP to play an important role in the next Xbox's portfolio. 

Company: Lift London
Known For: N/A
Last Game: N/A
Microsoft's London-based studio was created by Microsoft corporate vice president Phil Harrison in 2012 and renamed to Lift London earlier this year. Former Rare studio director Lee Schuneman heads the new developer, which according to Eurogamer, will focus on cloud-based games that span television, mobile, and tablets. Lift London hasn't announced any projects yet, and while tablet gaming sounds like the studio's biggest priority, we can't imagine a scenario where Microsoft's next home console isn't part of the cloud it aims to create games for.

Which projects do you hope Microsoft's first-party studios are working on? Share your picks in the comments below.