Has Microsoft Exhausted its Supply of Xbox 360 Exclusives?

Has Microsoft Exhausted its Supply of Exclusives?

It’s a common insult thrown by those who are less than fond of Microsoft’s console: “The Xbox 360 doesn’t have any games!” While I would have vehemently disagreed with this sentiment after the release of Gears of War back in 2006, I’m not so sure any more. With the Halo “trilogy” being expanded by a new development team, the Gears of War franchise done and dusted for the foreseeable future, the Fable series rapidly deteriorating in quality, and interest in Forza paling in comparison to Gran Turismo, it seems that Microsoft has effectively dried up the proverbial well of must-have exclusive titles. What’s left for the next Xbox to make it a must-buy console on launch day?

Where did things go wrong? How did once-great franchises suddenly die out, and how did Microsoft let its successful IPs run their course without acquiring others in the meantime?

Although it’s quite likely that circumstances will change come this June’s E3, Microsoft’s lineup is looking remarkably lackluster for the holiday season, with Halo 4 being the only noteworthy exclusive on the horizon. What happened? The Xbox 360 once featured a wealth of quality exclusive titles, all of which sold exceptionally well despite being new IPs when they first launched. With few first-party studios to rely upon, Microsoft looks to be in a bit of a bind. Where did things go wrong? How did once-great franchises suddenly die out, and why did Microsoft let its successful IPs run their course without acquiring others in the meantime? Let’s break it down, beginning with the now-defunct or dying franchises.

1.) Fable


I love to point to Fable as a prime example of how NOT to expand your franchise over time. As much of a visionary as Peter Molyneux can be, the guy has absolutely no idea what his target demographic wants from his creations. The first Fable was an enjoyable, fluid, and unique RPG that delivered on at least half of the promises Molyneux gave us before launch, which still resulted in a damn fine game (to be fair, Peter practically promised us the moon with Fable 1). Fable 2 was an illogical expansion with some poor design decisions that trimmed legitimate gameplay mechanics and any semblance of difficulty from the title. Despite this, it sold quite well, and although I didn’t die a single time, I found it to be a gimped, but enjoyable experience. Fable 3, on the other hand, massacred the franchise. Lionhead Studios continued their ill-directed trend of making games unnecessarily easy, and completely alienated their core demographic with overly simplistic gameplay and numerous steps backward from a design perspective. Add in a few poorly conceived Fable knock-offs, and the franchise no longer carries any weight with core gamers.

Who’s to blame? While Microsoft certainly had a hand in developing and producing the Fable series, it’s likely that Lionhead was forced to follow Molyneux’s dream of ultimate accessibility at the expense of meaningful depth. This mentality was evident in nearly every facet of each Fable game after the first, and the team that once held great promise for the Western RPG became the laughing stock of the genre. Entrusting such a weighty responsibility to Peter Molyneux was Microsoft’s first mistake, and while sales may have reflected otherwise, the Fable series has become a joke.

2.) Project Gotham Racing

Project Gotham Racing

PGR3 was one of my all-time favorite racing games ever created, and when Bizarre Creations announced that it would become a subsidiary of Activision, Microsoft lost one of its best first-party developers. Geometry Wars practically sold the XBLA platform in its earliest days, and PGR3 was a perfect showcase of the Xbox 360′s power at launch. Microsoft seemed to care less and less about Bizarre’s ideas as time went on, as is made abundantly clear by the poor marketing and sales behind Project Gotham Racing 4. A mere 450,000 copies of PGR4 have been sold to date in the U.S., with just under 2 million units worldwide. While the game likely generated a small profit, the well of creativity had dried up for Bizarre. After being acquired by Activision, the studio left all rights to the PGR franchise behind and the studio released two half-baked titles, The Club and Blur, which performed abysmally and all but sealed the once-prosperous developer’s fate.

Who’s to blame? Both Microsoft and Bizarre Creations were responsible for the death of the studio, as a deadly combination of poor marketing and reduced creativity caused one of Microsoft’s best first-party developers to gradually faze itself out. After being acquired by Activision and releasing an uncharacteristically poor title (likely as a result of pressure from the mega-publisher), the studio dissolved. It could be argued that Microsoft made the right decision in letting Bizarre go, given the turn of events that transcribed afterwards, but who knows what could have happened had the popular studio stayed with Microsoft Game Studios.

3.) Rare, In General


For a studio with such an impressive track record, one would imagine that Rare would have been an incredible acquisition for Microsoft. As it stands, the venerable developer has provided a very hit and miss set of services for the Xbox 360, and although the family-friendly side of things has been adequately filled by the studio, the hardcore community is crying out for sequels to the classic Rare games of yesteryear. Perfect Dark Zero launched to mixed reactions (I was a fan), and Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts sold poorly, despite being a pretty enjoyable and creative title, but the studio hasn’t touched older franchises since. Currently, Rare’s creative talents have been relegated to Kinect titles and Avatar clothing, which seems like an extraordinary waste of valuable assets. When gamers around the world are screaming for a sequel to Killer Instinct or a new, mature IP, it’s hard not to wonder what the hell Microsoft is thinking by putting Rare on casual duty.

Who’s to blame? Microsoft, for one. After Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts sold poorly, the company opted to restructure Rare to better fit its upcoming Kinect and casual line of games. While titles such as Viva Pinata and Kinect Sports have performed well, they aren’t so much selling points for their respective platforms as they are filling a gaping hole in the Xbox 360′s primarily shooter-dominated library. While this is all good and well, the added diversity has come at the expense of truly memorable Rare titles, which the studio is more than capable of developing when it doesn’t feel the pressure from Microsoft to create titles for all ages. For the next Xbox, Microsoft needs Rare to be working on a killer app that harkens back to the old Rare, and in a big way. Although Rare has, surprisingly, accepted its new duties with oddly placed pride, the developer needs to remember its roots, and that it built its reputation as a hardcore developer, not a casual one. We get it, you’re a multi-faceted developer, Rare, but seriously, it’s time to reminisce a bit and get back the old spark that turned you into such a hot commodity in the first place.

Now, not all of Microsoft’s franchises have gone astray, with the likes of Halo and Gears of War delivering timeless experiences as a matter of habit. Still, these titles have run their course over the entire generation of the Xbox 360, and with the exception of the new “Reclaimer Trilogy” for the Halo series, there isn’t much else in the way of exclusive content for Microsoft in the years to come. Where Epic Games goes from here is yet to be announced, the future of Kinect is uncertain, and how 343 Industries handles the Halo franchise is still to be determined. Things are looking a bit shaky for Microsoft, and although multiplatform titles tend to sell better on the Xbox platform, that trend may change in the next generation of consoles.

Where things go from here is completely up in the air, but one thing’s for sure: Microsoft needs to start building an all-star catalog of titles to push the next Xbox into as many homes as possible, or risk losing its strong foothold in the industry. With a few extra additions as well, Microsoft could be poised to take the world by storm come launch day. Let’s just hope we see some exclusive titles in the pipeline before then.

Related posts that may interest you:

  1. Microsoft France: No Xbox 720 Announcement in 2012
  2. Halo 4 Coming to Xbox 360, Suggests Xbox 720 Earliest in 2013
  3. Rumor: Microsoft to Discontinue Microsoft Points
  4. Microsoft Release My Xbox Live App for iOS
  5. 3 Things the Next Xbox Must Have

About Adriaan Noordzij

Student, dude, gamer. I aim to help people understand that video games are an evolving medium that deserves to be scrutinized as much as any other art form, and that we need to expect more from today’s game developers to encourage innovation in an industry riddled with safe bets and sequels.
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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002367454310 Jonathan Stoffregen

    i kinda wish MS would take some of sony,s exclusives cause man i dont even know how many exclusives we have plus not counting the third party exclusives either i wonder why devs hate being exclusive to MS?

    • Abhishek Indoria

      One word : Restrictive. Microsoft is a hell more restrictive on licenses and other resources than any other company in the world, except maybe, just maybe, Apple.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002367454310 Jonathan Stoffregen

         oh that explains it

    • Rick

      Oh look, it’s the nolife Sony SDF spokesperson that spams every site on the internet, AGAIN!

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002367454310 Jonathan Stoffregen

        …….da fuck i do too you? seriously did i bash MS? did i fuck your mom?

        • Derpaherp

          Bro… I think you fucked Ricks’ mom?

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002367454310 Jonathan Stoffregen

             this explains why he is mad!

  • Guest

    sad but true

  • Jdrm03

    My honest belief is that Microsoft was not prepared for the 360 to last this long.  I honestly don’t think they expected Kinect to be a success and were planning on launching Project Durango this year after Kinect bombed in it’s first year. 

    It’s honestly the only thing that makes sense as to why they are severely lacking exclusives. They did not plan to have to need exclusives all the way until 2013….

  • z3ll

    i think where sony have got it right is, with each console there are new heroes to champion it – while allowing old heroes to appear too.
    Xbox (for me) has relied too heavily on just halo, gears, and fable. and i worry as all they seem to have in the bag is another halo…

  • http://www.facebook.com/Badassbab Babz Rahman

    Forza pales in comparison to GT? In sales maybe but not according to Meta.

    • Guest

      Forza has always been ahead of Grand Turdismal, which is nothing but an overhyped game that doesn’t deliver (the Sony mantra).

  • No

    M$ has never had a good product to their game. I’d rather Sega come back.

    • Guest

      Not before Sony bites the dust, which will be soon enough looking at their financial numbers.

      • Truthbringer

         Seriously? They’re ranked 17th on the global fortune 500 list with a net worth of 45.6 BILLION. Stop trolling false information.

  • Dyremose

    the lack of exclusives has certainly had an impact on which platform i buy games for.. i used to buy all 3rd party titles for my 360, but because of their lazyness i have become very infuriated with them and i now only support sony in terms of 3rd party titles. i know this is the case for many and i only see that number increasing untill they ditch theirkinect showelvare focus.. also.. ads on the UI?  that is really pissing me off. you pay for gold (i dont anymore thankfully) and you still monetize the service even more by doing this… psn is free and has no ads.. so just.. sod off microsoft you greedy excuse of a company.

    • Guest

      Have fun playing the inferior ports on the inferior networked machine then!

      • Derpaherp

        And you know what’s funny, he probably is. A lot more than you do with the Xbox 360. We have a great catalog, and so does the Xbox 360. I just hope that everyone enjoys whatever they have to the fullest.

        • Truthbringer

           Stop smoking so much pot you wussy. Everybody with a brain knows where the games are.  You probably have one of the “coexist” stickers on the back of your Geo Metro.

      • bobgy

         i have a 360 and a ps3 i have not played 1 game ever on my 360 that doesnt have bad pop-in and texture streaming problems i have on the other hand played ps3 games that run like E3 demos and psn and xbl run the exact same speed

        so u r a fanboy that spreads misinformation that is all

  • Gayboy

    ouch MS butthurt in these comments, ill be enjoying the two superior consoles PS3 and even the Wii

  • John Draisey

    BLUR is an amazing game, and I refuse to sell it. My friends who have played it love it…but I’m the reason they play it. Activision did zero marketing/hype for this title, which really is kart combat at its finest. Activision has billions of dollars to play with, and should have kept the studio alive for a sequel.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=731708027 facebook-731708027

    Ps3 fanboy page? Loved fable 3, halo 4 is a going to be epic, don’t recall many Rare games I play it, played over 100 games on the xbox with no problems. Plus aren’t exclusives over-rated?  If I had my own way I’d stop them completly.