Microsoft has long struggled with a perceived first-party problem. Head of Xbox Phil Spencer acknowledged as much in 2017, shortly before the company began announcing a series of major studio acquisitions, bringing the likes of Obsidian, Double Fine, and Ninja Theory, among others, under its Xbox Game Studios umbrella.
The company recently showed off a selection of fruits from this labor during its Xbox Series X showcase. First-party developers were in the spotlight, with big reveals from Obsidian and Playground in the forms of Avowed and Fable, respectively, and the first-ever Halo Infinite gameplay from 343 (which has now been delayed to 2021).
With its bolstered portfolio of studios, the first-party future of Xbox still looks promising. Today, however, we’re looking at the past and present output of Microsoft’s major video game franchises, tracking how long it’s been between original releases in the biggest Xbox series.
(This list measures the time between original, mainline releases only — if a spinoff or remake was released more recently it’s noted with an asterisk (*). Time elapsed figures are based on U.S. release dates and are recorded as of August 2020. The list doesn’t include series from newly acquired studios — Obsidian’s Pillars of Eternity, inXile’s Wasteland, etc.— since Microsoft had no part in the management of those franchises to date.)
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0-7 Years (Xbox One, PC)
Battletoads – <1 month
Latest: Battletoads (August 2020)
This month’s Battletoads is the first released by Microsoft since it obtained the IP in its 2002 acquisition of Rare. Before this month, the franchise had lain dormant for over 25 years, with the previous release, Battletoads Arcade (aka Super Battletoads), coming in 1994.
Microsoft Flight Simulator – <1 month
Latest: Microsoft Flight Simulator (August 2020)
The origins of Microsoft’s longest-running franchise date back forty years ago, when the original Flight Simulator was released on the Apple II home computer. Microsoft acquired the franchise shortly after and went on to release several iterations of the sim throughout the ‘80s, ‘90s, and early ‘00s.
2020’s Flight Simulator is out this month for PC, with a console release expected to follow. It’ll be the first original entry in the series since Flight Simulator X in 2006.
Ori – 5 months
Latest: Ori and the Will of the Wisps (March 2020)
Despite being Microsoft’s youngest franchise at five years old, Ori (alongside Forza Horizon) has been Xbox’s most celebrated IP this generation; the console versions of Blind Forest and Will of the Wisps hold an 88 and 90 on Metacritic, respectively.
In a Reddit AMA, Ori lead designer Chris McEntee said the first two games “told the story that [developer Moon Studios] wanted to tell,” though they “left the door cracked open a bit for a potential continuation.”
Gears of War – 11 months*
Latest: Gears 5 (Sept 2019)
*Since the release of Gears 5, Microsoft has released the excellent strategy spinoff Gears Tactics.
Considering its importance to the Xbox portfolio — Gears is likely Microsoft’s most recognizable franchise next to Halo, and the company bought the IP outright in 2014 — future entries are a given. However, whatever comes next will be made without Rod Fergusson, the former head of Microsoft’s Gears-focused studio The Coalition; Fergusson joined Blizzard earlier this year to oversee Diablo.
Crackdown – 1 year, 6 months
Latest: Crackdown 3 (February 2019)
Microsoft released Crackdown 3 in early 2019 after years of troubled development. The future of the cult-favorite franchise is likely in jeopardy after the series’ latest was released to little fanfare and poor critical reception (it holds a 60 on Metacritic; our review scored it a 5).
Forza – 1 year, 10 months*
Latest: Forza Horizon 4 (October 2018)
*Forza Street, a free-to-play mobile spinoff, was released more recently.
A rebooted Forza Motorsport is in development for Xbox Series X. An in-engine trailer was shown at Microsoft’s July showcase, though the racer is still in “early development” at Turn 10 Studios with no release window in place. The status of Playground’s Forza Horizon series, which has been gaining sales and critical acclaim with each new entry, is unknown, but it seems highly likely to continue.
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State of Decay – 2 years, 3 months
Latest: State of Decay 2 (May 2018)
Undead Labs’ work on State of Decay 2 didn’t stop with its release in 2018; in 2020 the studio released State of Decay 2: Juggernaut Edition, a massive overhaul that added a host of new content, graphical improvements, additional music, bug fixes, and quality-of-life updates.
The franchise will continue with State of Decay 3, which was recently announced for Xbox Series X.
Halo – 4 years, 10 months*
Latest: Halo 5: Guardians (October 2015)
*Halo Wars 2, the franchise’s second RTS spinoff, was released in 2017.
Microsoft’s flagship franchise has been synonymous with the Xbox brand since Combat Evolved launched alongside the original console in 2001. The series’ next mainline entry, Halo Infinite, was originally planned to launch alongside Xbox Series X this holiday, however, it has now been delayed to 2021.
Killer Instinct – 6 years, 9 months
Latest: Killer Instinct (November 2013)
Microsoft acquired the classic fighting franchise with its purchase of Rare in 2002. It’d release its first (and so far only) Killer Instinct as an Xbox One launch game in 2013. Additional fighters would be added for years after, culminating in 2016’s Killer Instinct: Definitive Edition.
Developer Iron Galaxy, which took over for Double Helix following its acquisition by Amazon, is not working on a new Killer Instinct, according to the studio’s Adam Heart.
Zoo Tycoon – 6 years, 9 months*
Latest: Zoo Tycoon (November 2013)
*An enhanced version of 2013’s Zoo Tycoon was released in 2017 as Zoo Tycoon: Ultimate Animal Collection. The new version added better graphics and new animals, including kangaroos and koalas.
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7-15 Years (Xbox 360, PC)
Fable – 9 years, 10 months*
Latest: Fable 3 (October 2010)
*The franchise’s latest is Fable Fortune, a free-to-play card-based spinoff released 2018 (and shut down earlier this year).
One of Microsoft’s most beloved franchises throughout the Xbox 360 generation, Fable went (almost) entirely ignored during the Xbox One’s lifecycle. (The multiplayer-only Fable Legends made it to closed beta before being cancelled in 2016.)
Fable will return on Xbox Series X, however, as Microsoft recently announced a series reboot is in development by a second team inside Forza Horizon studio Playground Games. Original Fable developer Lionhead Studios was shuttered shortly after the cancellation of Legends.
Blue Dragon – 10 years, 3 months*
Latest: Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow (May 2010)
*The most recent Blue Dragon games were released exclusively for Nintendo DS; it’s been 13 years since a Blue Dragon was released on Xbox.
Alongside Lost Odyssey, Blue Dragon was one of two early Xbox 360 JRPGs from Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi developed to help Xbox compete in Japan.
Despite holding the Blue Dragon trademark, Microsoft has only published one Blue Dragon game (the 2007 original) on Xbox. A sequel was planned but never came to be. In 2016, Xbox head Phil Spencer tweeted Blue Dragon 2 is not in the works, but “never say never.”
Minecraft – 11 years, 3 months*
Latest: Minecraft (May 2009)
*The latest spinoff, Minecraft: Dungeons, was released earlier this year.
Microsoft acquired Minecraft with its $2.5-billion USD purchase of Mojang in 2014. The franchise has since become ubiquitous, spawning spinoffs in every medium of media and establishing itself as the face of video games for an entire generation.
The game itself continues to receive significant updates 11 years later and has sold a staggering 200 million copies, according to Microsoft. Because it lives on as its own platform, a proper Minecraft 2 seems unlikely.
Banjo-Kazooie – 11 years, 9 months*
Latest: Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts (November 2008)
Microsoft has only put out one new Banjo game since it acquired the IP along with Rare in 2002, and there’s been no word on a new entry since 2008’s Nuts & Bolts.
A spiritual successor, Yooka-Laylee, was released in 2017 by Playtonic, a studio founded by a group of former Rare devs.
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Viva Piñata – 11 years, 11 months*
Latest: Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise (September 2008)
*A DS-exclusive, Viva Piñata, Pocket Paradise, was released a week after Trouble in Paradise; both Viva Piñata and Trouble in Paradise were re-released in 2015 as part of Rare Replay.
To the dismay of a still-passionate fanbase, Microsoft hasn’t revisited Viva Piñata in over a decade. With developer Rare maintaining Sea of Thieves and working on Everwild for Xbox Series X, it seems unlikely it’ll return to its whimsical simulation series anytime soon.
Microsoft last commented on the franchise’s future in 2018, when Spencer told Giant Bomb a new entry is not in the works.
Lost Odyssey – 12 years, 6 months
Latest: Lost Odyssey (February 2008)
While not exactly a franchise — only the one entry was released in 2008 — Lost Odyssey remains part of the conversation surrounding the Xbox portfolio, especially in regard to its lack of Japanese games. The cult classic JRPG is considered one of the genre’s best on Xbox 360, but outside of a trademark renewal in 2018, there’s been no word on a potential return to the franchise.
Project Gotham Racing – 12 years, 10 months
Latest: PGR 4 (October 2007)
PGR developer Bizarre Creations was purchased by Activision shortly before the release of PGR 4 in late 2007. The studio would go on to create a spiritual successor, Blur, in 2010, before shuttering shortly after its release.
Microsoft, meanwhile, released only one PGR game after Bizzare’s departure: PGR: Ferrari Edition, a racer exclusive to Microsoft’s Zune HD.
Fuzion Frenzy – 13 years, 7 months
Latest: Fuzion Frenzy 2 (January 2007)
The beloved party game came to the original Xbox as a launch title in 2001 and was among the first games from that generation to be made backwards compatible on Xbox One. A less memorable sequel was released for Xbox 360 in 2007, and the franchise has been inactive since.
Perfect Dark – 14 years, 9 months*
Latest: Perfect Dark Zero (November 2005)
*A remake of the original Perfect Dark was released on XBLA in 2010; both Perfect Dark and Perfect Dark Zero are included in 2015’s Rare Replay.
Though it’s been over a dozen years since the last Perfect Dark, interest in the franchise has been renewed by recent rumors and speculation surrounding Microsoft’s “AAAA” studio The Initiative. The developer is rumored to be working on a Perfect Dark reboot, though without any official information, the series’ potential return remains highly speculative.
Age of Empires – 14 years, 10 months*
Latest: Age of Empires 3 (October 2005)
*A remake of Age of Empires 2 was released in November 2019.
The next Age of Empires is currently in development at Relic; a remastered version of Age of Empires 3 is also in the works at Tantalus Media. Both projects are being overseen by Microsoft’s newly established Age of Empires studio, World’s Edge.
15+ Years (Xbox, PC)
Conker – 15 years, 2 months*
Latest: Conker: Live & Reloaded (June 2005)
*Conker’s Big Reunion, a new Conker story housed inside of Project Spark, was released in 2015; Conker’s Bad Fur Day was included in 2015’s Rare Replay.
Conker’s ill-fated comeback in Project Spark was planned as a 10-episode story, but only one episode was ever released, as Microsoft ceased all DLC development for Project Spark five months after episode one debuted.
Phantom Dust – 15 years, 5 months*
Latest: Phantom Dust (March 2005)
*A remake of Phantom Dust was released for Xbox One and PC in 2017.
Phantom Dust was originally released as a Japan exclusive in 2004, before it was brought stateside by Majesco six months later. Microsoft had big plans for a reboot early in the Xbox One generation, but those plans were ultimately scrapped in favor of a visually upgraded re-release of the original.
MechAssault – 15 years, 8 months*
Latest: MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf (December 2004)
*A DS-exclusive spinoff, Phantom War, was released in 2006; MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries, which exists within the same BattleTech universe, was most recently released in 2019.
We may one day see a new MechAssault, if Phil Spencer’s desire for a new entry is to come true. Speaking to IGN earlier this year on Podcast Unlocked, Spencer was asked which dormant IP from the Xbox portfolio he’d personally like to see brought back. “Mech,” he answered without hesitation. “Mech from a rights standpoint’s a little bit messy … but when I think about MechAssault … it’s just really deep, really rich stories and characters to go play in, and I think it’d be really cool at some point if we could do something with Mech.”
MechAssault was put on hold after the 2004 sequel didn’t sell well enough, according to producer Mitch Gitelman.
Blinx – 15 years, 9 months
Latest release: Blinx 2: Masters of Time and Space (November 2004)
Microsoft’s anthropomorphic time-traveling cat was last seen in 2004’s Blinx sequel, Masters of Time and Space. The mascot character was designed by Sonic the Hedgehog creator Naoto Ohshima to bolster the Xbox’s standing in Japan, but it failed to make a dent in a genre dominated by icons such as Mario and Crash Bandicoot.
Microsoft officially abandoned the Blinx trademark in 2015, according to VideoGamer.
Voodoo Vince – 16 years, 9 months*
Latest: Voodoo Vince (November 2003)
*A remastered version of Voodoo Vince was released for Xbox One and PC in 2017.
Voodoo Vince may not have reached the heights of the era’s other platformers, but it did find a champion in one of gaming’s most influential executives: Xbox boss Phil Spencer has called Voodoo Vince his all-time favorite game, as it was the first game he played through together with his two daughters.
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Crimson Skies – 16 years, 10 months
Latest: Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge (October 2003)
As of 2017, Microsoft wasn’t working on a new Crimson Skies, according to Spencer, though he acknowledged the setting is “very cool” and Microsoft could “definitely do more with it.”
That same year, series creator Jordan Weisman, who also created the aforementioned MechAssault, told PCGamesN he’s “been in discussion with [Microsoft] for a long time” to work on Crimson Skies in some capacity. However, nothing has materialized in the three years since.
Midtown Madness – 17 years, 2 months*
Latest: Midtown Madness 3 (June 2003)
*A Motocross spinoff released for XBLA in 2013
Following two PC exclusive releases, Microsoft brought Midtown Madness to console in 2003 with the series’ third entry. Aside from a motocross spinoff in 2013, the franchise has gone ignored for the better part of two decades. Microsoft hasn’t commented on the series’ future, but it’s hard to imagine the company will release a first-party racing game outside of its Forza franchise.
What do you think of Microsoft’s first-party output? What series on this list surprised you most? Let us know in the comments, and be sure to vote in the poll below!
You can also check out our analysis of Nintendo’s first-party output. Stay tuned in the coming weeks as we round out this series of features with an exploration of Sony’s first-party franchises.
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Jordan is a freelance writer for IGN.
Source: IGN Video Games All