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
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.
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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.
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.