A year ago, in response to Sony consistently delivering high-quality exclusives for PS4, Microsoft made a commitment to rejuvenating its first-party game development efforts and went on a shopping spree, acquiring a handful of respected studios to bolster its first-party game development talent under the Xbox Game Studios banner. Whether purposeful or not, almost half of the studios now belonging to Xbox Game Studios have had a hand in VR development.

Of the 14 studios that now comprise Xbox Game Studios, 42% have shipped a VR game or experience. Considering Microsoft’s outward disinterest in bringing VR to Xbox (despite announcing they would initially), it’s hard to imagine that this was done on purpose, but the concentration of studios in Xbox Game Studios that have VR experience is surprising, and could one day be a boon to Microsoft and Xbox. Here’s a quick look at each of the VR-experience studios under Xbox Game Studios and what they’ve done in VR:

Double Fine – Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin

Announced just last week, Double Fine was one of the most recent studio acquisitions for Xbox Game Studios. Founded in 2000 by legendary game designer Tim Schafer, this is a storied studio known for games like Psychonauts (2005), Brutal Legend (2009), and many more.

Double Fine released the VR puzzler Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin on PSVR in 2017, and brought the game to PC VR headsets in 2018. The studio hasn’t talked about future VR plans following Rhombus of Ruin.

Double Fine also publishes games, one of which was the VR title GNOG, which also hit PSVR in 2017 and eventually PC VR headsets in 2018.

343 Industries – Halo: Recruit

Founded in 2007 to take over the Halo franchise on Microsoft’s behalf from its progenitor studio, Bungie, 343 Industries is responsible for every Halo game since Halo Reach (2010), including the upcoming Halo Infinite which is due to launch with the next Xbox console.

In 2017, 343 Industries (in collaboration with immersive studio Endeavor One) gave the VR world its first official taste of Halo in VR with the release of Halo: Recruit, a brief demo apparently made to drum up interest in Microsoft’s Mixed Reality headsets which launched that year. While 343 Industries said at the time that it was “inspired and excited to do more [in VR],” that hasn’t materialized into anything yet.

Ninja Theory – Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice VR Edition

Founded in 2000, Ninja Theory is the studio behind titles like Heavenly Sword (2007), DmC: Devil May Cry (2013), and the lauded Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (2017).

The studio surprised the VR community when it announced a VR adaptation of Hellblade which would launch as Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice VR Edition in 2018. Though the game wasn’t built from the ground-up for VR, it was largely considered successful port and a unique way to experience the ‘in-your-head’ premise of the game.

Ninja Theory also worked on the recent and well received Star Wars: Vader Immortal – Ep. 1 (2019), and we expect the studio will be on board for Vader Immortal – Ep. 2 and Ep. 3 as well.

Mojang – Minecraft

Mojang isn’t a exactly a household name, but the game the studio developed certainly is—Minecraft (2011)Minecraft has turned into a global phenomenon, prompting Microsoft to buy the indie studio in 2014 for a whopping $2.5 billion.

A VR-capable version of Minecraft (supporting multiplayer with the non-VR version) interestingly launched first on Samsung’s Gear VR headset (which runs Oculus software) back in 2016, though the game still hasn’t been brought to the newer Oculus Go or Oculus Quest. The VR version of Minecraft also came to the Oculus Rift in 2016.

InXile – The Mage’s Tale

InXile is the studio behind the The Bard’s Tale (2004), Torment: Tides of Numenera (2017) and a handful of other titles. In 2017, InXile brought The Mage’s Tale to the Oculus Rift, a magic and fantasy VR RPG set in the same world as The Bard’s Tale. The studio brought the game to other PC VR headsets in 2018 and to PSVR in 2019. In recent years we haven’t heard future plans for VR content from the studio.

Compulsion Games – We Happy Few: Uncle Jack Live VR

Founded in 2009, Compulsion Games is best known for We Happy Few (2018). Alongside the release of the game, the studio also released We Happy Few: Uncle Jack Live VR, a free VR experience for PSVR that put players in the cheerful but dystopic setting of the main game.

– – — – –

Talented and successful studios are always exploring exciting new gaming technologies to stay ahead of the curve, so maybe it’s just coincidence that many of the studios now under the Xbox Game Studios banner happen to have built VR games. Or maybe Microsoft has viewed VR development experience as a plus during its studio shopping spree—to what end though? It’s hard to say right now because of how silent the company has been about VR on their console after backpedaling on VR capabilities for Xbox One X.

SEE ALSO
Pressure Mounts for Xbox's Missing VR Strategy as PSVR Revenue Nears $2 Billion

Some think that Microsoft could introduce VR support to their next Xbox, ‘Project Scarlett’, as a mid-cycle add-on, similar to what Sony did with PSVR (and similar to what they’re likely to do with PSVR 2 on PS5). Others think that Microsoft was burnt too many times in their efforts to get Kinect to stick. Only time will tell.

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  • Ted Joseph

    Microsoft can get back on par with Sony if they develop a wireless VR with 150+ FOV, high res, with advanced controllers, etc. released on day one with the new Xbox next Xmas. If not, Sony will continue to dominate. I am having a blast with the recent PSVR games Blood and Truth, and Trover Saves the Universe. I actually haven’t turned on my Xbox since these games came out a few weeks ago. Get your SH*T together Microsoft!!!

    • asshat

      thanks cptn obvious!

    • Grey Lock

      Yeah, MS has me bummed out about their VR strategy – probably won’t be buying any more XBOXs, instead I’m focusing on PC VR and the Quest.

    • mirak

      They don’t need to realease a headset, they just need to make wmr headsets drivers for Xbox, and the windows game shouldn’t be hard to port.

      The wmr tracking Will already be better than psvr.
      Controllers are better.
      Graphics probably better too with odyssey.

      • Warscent

        1x with the odyssey or similar hmd would have steam rolled over the psvr had they made that move. They lost millions of potential buyers myself included. Several of my buddies moved to PlayStation because of that. Army and Navy MWR facilities are now buying bulk pspros now instead of xboxes.

  • VR4EVER

    *sigh*! It almost hurt reading all this …

  • ARK0047

    very interesting

  • MosBen

    I actually hadn’t heard about Double Fine. I replay Psychonauts every few years, and I literally finished a replay of Brutal Legend this last weekend. I always got the feeling that funding was tough for them, so hopefully this lets them keep making fun and funny games on a regular basis.

    As for Microsoft and VR, it seem unthinkable that Project Scarlet won’t have VR of some kind, right? I think that MS was caught flatfooted by the PSVR. Especially after Kinect didn’t catch on I feel like they were gun shy about releasing another expensive peripheral that might not justify the R&D and production costs. But now we’re either on the verge of 2nd generation VR, or arguably already there, and the hardware has matured quite a bit. The PS4 was able to do a reasonably decent job of presenting VR, and Scarlett is supposed to be significantly more powerful than the Xbox One X, which itself was significantly more powerful than the PS4. Inside-out tracking has improved significantly, making complicated setups unnecessary, and it’s possible that in a year or two completely wireless hardware will be more reliable and less expensive.

    Sony has already said that they’ll continue to include VR in their Playstation plans going into the next generation, and with several years of advance time it seems like MS has to have some kind of VR plan. Of course, I was pretty convinced that they were going to do something for the Xbox One X as well, so who knows.

    • Grey Lock

      I honestly don’t think they’ll do VR on console – seems like they have given up – my XBOX One X is likely also my last XBOX console as I move to using PCVR and the Quest.

      • MosBen

        I disagree, though obviously we’ll have to wait and see. I don’t think that it’s that MS has no interest in VR, I just think that they expected the PSVR to fizzle while VR development moved on in the Windows space. But the relative success of the PSVR and the additional development in VR hardware since the PSVR was released makes it seem awfully hard to believe that MS won’t have something on this front for Scarlett.

    • mirak

      Flatfooted about what ?
      They have headsets with better tracking than psvr.
      They have games already made for their own is, that should be really easy to port to Xbox.

      They have everything anyone can need.
      But I guess they don’t want third parties headsets on console and want to sell their own.

      If that’s what you meant then I agree.

      Or they really believe WMR headsets are garbage.

      • MosBen

        They don’t have any VR on their console, nor do they make VR hardware for Windows machines, and the primary outlets for VR software are in digital stores that they don’t run. Does MS have a foot in the VR space? Sure. Were they caught flat footed by the PSVR’s success leaving the Xbox with no VR options? It certainly seems like it.

        MS’ story on VR for the Xbox has been that they didn’t feel like the hardware was mature enough to provide a good experience, but the success of the PSVR certainly makes it seem like the hardware was good enough for a fairly significant number of consumers to buy into. It seems to me that MS didn’t have a VR plan for the Xbox One and then dismissed VR as a fad, or something that would be a niche interest on the Windows side for at least a few years.

        I’m not saying that they’ve lost VR to Sony in the console space, just that they were probably surprised that PSVR did as well as it has, which makes it, as I said, somewhat unthinkable that they’re going to release a new console that doesn’t have any kind of VR option.

    • DanDei

      Microsofts biggest tell for Scarlett having VR capabilities was in the E3 Preview presentation of the hardware and rendering capabilities. They mentioned the hardware was designed to deliver 120 fps. Now how many TVs out there can display 120 fps? A very small fraction. So unless you hook your Scarlett up to a PC monitor what kind of display could such a high framerate be good for?

      • MosBen

        Very interesting. It could be an attempt to future proof Scarlett so it could take advantage of the TVs that come out in a few years, but it could certainly be VR related as well.

  • Johnatan Blogins

    Considering a lot of xbox studios games come out on pc also, and the VR platform Microsoft has there (not great but…) It’s reasonable to assume those studios can deliver VR for Windows…

  • Michael Slesinski

    they are probably just doing the vince mcmahon thing and grabbing talent just to prevent the competition from having them. they have made 0 indications that the next xbox will support vr after all, and that would be a HUGE thing to brag about if they have any hopes of all of staying in the console market.

  • brandon9271

    I’m so used to being disappointed where VR is concerned that I almost don’t even care anymore..

    • care package

      I hear you there. I got bored with the flow of Indies built ‘around’ motion controls. I had a lot more fun with games patched to VR than the games made for it (Serious Sam, Doom 3, Alien Isolation, etc.). All the new headsets either coming out or have come out all have something I don’t like. I’ve pretty much divorced myself from VR and went back to AAAs. I don’t blame MS personally, but that’s just my opinion.

      • brandon9271

        VR has so much untapped potential. I’d be happy with more conversions like Skyrim VR but maybe it didn’t sell well enough. VR has a lot of shovelware and it’s a shame

        • care package

          It is a shame. I was convinced during Oculus DK2 days I’d eventually see AAA games come with a VR option as sort of a standard. I mean if they did it for Alien Isolation, then not even officially release it with VR support there must not be too much to it especially if you keep gamepad only support which I would have no problem with if that’s the only way I’m getting VR support. Didn’t end up that way at all, so really, VR just isn’t for me anymore.

          • brandon9271

            I think it’s all about numbers. There needs to be a bigger install base to get VR off and running the way it needs to be. AAA games are expensive and nobody is going to invest that kind of money in VR. You’d think at the very least we’d see more games like Skyrim VR because it’s relatively cheap to tack VR onto an existing game. I guess it didn’t sell well enough (because everybody already owns 4 different versions of Skyrim already.) Maybe mobile VR will sell like hotcakes and get the ball rolling. Then we’ll probably have the same problem we have with PC gaming and consoles. Devs will cater to the lowest common denominator and we’ll get shitty mobile games ported to PC VR.

          • care package

            Of course it’s about the numbers, I’ve always assumed since Alien Isolation there wasn’t that much to it if you implement VR during development. What do I know. I think were already seeing catering to the lowest common denominator. Oculus head already said they aren’t interested in funding games just for the Rift S. Needs to support both S and Quest.

      • namekuseijin

        most indies are short experience shoveware, but the best of them show VR-specific gameplay the ports can only dream about. Srsly don’t downplay them

        • care package

          Name a few pls. I’m surprised you didn’t already.

          • namekuseijin

            Raw Data, Apex Construct, Rec Room quests, Arizona Sunshine, etc. I’m surprised you don’t know them

          • care package

            I’ve been VR’ing since the DK2, ya….never heard of any one of those lol. Arizona Sunshine is really the only one that stands out in that list. For the most part I’m just plain sick of A or AA games built AROUND motion controls. Like I mentioned before, I’ve had more fun with AAA games where VR was patched in. It’s just not for me anymore.

          • namekuseijin

            you sound very ignorant for someone in it since DK2. Raw Data is by Survios, which is about as much of a VR pioneer as Oculus itself. the game may not have the punch and longevity of, say, Fallout 4, but it plays much better as a native VR title with VR interactions and enemy reactions those ports from flat games can only dream about. Same for the others. Open your mind

          • care package

            Speaking of ignorance it was a joke dude. Of course I’ve heard of those retard. My point was never about VR games being bad, so not a discussion about who likes what game. They just aren’t what I personally want anymore. Maybe in another few years.

  • Kyokushin

    Microsoft is missing the opportunity… again.
    1. smartphones – they had goo windows mobile, they lost with Apple and google
    2. tablets – they have tablet xp on early 2000, they lost with Apple and google
    3. they have best communicator – MSN, they lost with Skype, they bought skype they lost with Facebook Messenger
    4. They had hotmail, they lost with google
    5. they had skydrive, they lost with google
    6. they had spaces, they lost with facebook
    7. finally they made very good mobile phones and OS, windows 10/nokia’s and they lost again… AGAIN
    8. VR, now they have the BEST headsets, odyssey+ and reverb… and they will loose because management not connected Windows Mixed Reality stuff to Xbox.

    I am thinking sometimes how that company is functioning. They invented and developed many excellent things, but finally they lost because someone else improved that and connected with other services.

    • crim3

      Good summary. Probably they get so much money with Windows that anything else is just a pastime.

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    • Jonathan Winters III

      Complacency and greed I think are the achilles heels of Microsoft.

    • care package

      They control the business software end, Windows 10 is quite successful, and they’re about to make a killing on gamepass, if they aren’t already doing that. Before Satya Nadella they were bombing hard on everything (except business) yes, including Windows 8.

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    • namekuseijin

      WMR headsets with only 2 cameras are horrible at controller tracking for games. may be good enough for business design solutions…

      • Kyokushin

        I disagree – its perfect for gaming. Its compact, its easy and it works well.

        • namekuseijin

          if you only play Beat Saber, Job Sim and other basic games, yes. try to throw things or pull the cord of a bow in games like Rec Room or Skyrim and you’ll see the limitations of the 2-cam setup

    • JakeDunnegan

      You ignored a few wins.

      1. The Xbox1 lags behind the PS4, but in the previous generation, they owned with the 360 for most of the life of those that generation.
      2. Onedrive is WAY better than googledrive. It’s also more prevalent on PCs, and given Google’s habit of dropping various products (Google+ anyone?) who knows when they decide to drop googledrive. (I already have. It’s SOOO slow compared to onedrive.)
      3. They OWN the “note” space. Onenote is a fabulous product across any device (including Apple).
      4. They own the Office space (and you can get some of that for free now, as well.
      5. They are competing with Amazon pretty effectively with Azure (and other hosting facilities – Google is getting to that game very late) and
      6. They also have online streaming gaming that will be going head to head with Google that has never had any successful gaming to speak of.

      Having said that (and playing Devil’s advocate) – Microsoft was started by essentially copying ideas from other folks (like CP/M OS in the early days, or when Windows came along, they ripped off Apple who had ripped off Xerox for the ideas).

      Innovation is rarely all that new. Usually, it’s some group or idea doing something BETTER than another group – or, in the case of big corporations vs little ones, just out litigating them or buying them outright.

  • I don’t think that it was a move made on purpose… it’s like you said: all smart studios are at least experimenting with VR

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  • ShiftyInc

    If Microsoft is going to support VR for their consoles, they won’t be making their own headset. Instead they will drop the news that all current headsets will work on the xbox and have users decide for themselfs what they want to get. They are already working close with Oculus, Valve and all WMR companies. so would be an easy next step for them to do. Plus the Scarlett is clearly ready for VR.

  • GordoSan

    My take is they have been vocally waiting for new technology and specifically, wireless technology.

    Something interesting just happened, by the name of Xbox Console Streaming. The technology is unique, in that it supposedly will use the same underlying technology as Project XCloud. This means that it saves bandwidth (and input lag) by using the brains of the local display device to lighten the streaming load. When I think of a VR headset with built-in processing, it’s hard not to think of the Quest! I mean, maybe Microsoft could make their own WMR Quest wannabe, but why not just partner with Oculus? This could be a great year-2 surprise for the headset at the next E3, IMO. It would also give Microsoft a leg up on playing hardware catchup with Sony. Imagine how it could actually benefit Oculus! All of the sudden, the processing power is unchained, with the help of an Xbox One X on a local network. When Scarlett comes out, it even benefits more. Newer Quest revisions will come out in the future, which will have even better resolution and better features.

    This way, Microsoft doesn’t even have to get involved with VR hardware, which they seem kind of lacking of ambition on anyway. Quest or not, I say streaming to local processing via newly announced Xbox Game Streaming was practically meant for this task! …”But, but VR is latency sensitive!” Yeah, but haven’t reports of xCloud so far, been extremely positive, with talk of no perceptible lag? Now put that on a local network!