Game delays happen all the time and they are always disappointing. But this week’s announcement of delays for two Bethesda titles and Xbox exclusive consoles – starfield† from Bethesda Game Studios, and redfallfrom Arkane – has struck particularly hard.
The two games were given the 2022 date at last year’s Xbox showcase over the summer and represent the first real fruits of Microsoft’s $7.5 billion acquisition of Bethesda. They are the first Bethesda games since buyout not to be released on PlayStation and added to the Xbox Game Pass library on day one. starfieldin particular, was long anticipated, as it is the first major RPG from the makers of The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim and Fallout 4 in seven years.
Both have now been pushed to the first half of 2023. Crucially, this means Xbox won’t have significant releases from its in-house studios scheduled for 2022. Fans aren’t happy, of course; last year, Microsoft promised it would bring “at least one” first-party game to Game Pass every quarter.
Xbox head Phil Spencer took to Twitter to offer both support for the delay and some remorse. “These decisions are difficult for teams making the games and for our fans. While I fully support giving teams time to release these great games when they’re ready, we’re hearing the feedback,” He wrote† “Delivering quality and consistency is expected, we will continue to work to better meet those expectations.”
These decisions are difficult for the teams that make the games and for our fans. While I fully support giving teams time to release these great games when they’re ready, we’re hearing the feedback. As quality and consistency is expected, we will continue to work to better meet those expectations. https://t.co/mIfXGd3rui
— Phil Spencer (@XboxP3) May 12, 2022
But what are those expectations, and why is the conversation around them so fraught? A delay for a title as complex and ambitious as starfield is hardly unprecedented, and such announcements are usually met with a fair amount of resignation and “a delayed game may be good in the end, but a bad game is bad forever,” quotes Miyamoto. That was certainly the case with the recent and similar slowdown of what had been Nintendo’s flagship in 2022, A continuation on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild† At it was less starfield and redfall.
The problem here is that Xbox’s empty 2022 schedule is indicative of the long road Microsoft has to go to get Spencer’s years-long studio acquisition — which this year culminated in an astonishing $68.7 billion purchase of Activision Blizzard — convert it into actual software. In four years, Microsoft’s gaming arm has grown into a constellation of studios of unprecedented size and scope, and there are legitimate questions to be asked about the Xbox organization’s ability to manage this vast development pipeline.
The games — whether they’re from studios bought since 2018, or from more established parts of the Xbox empire — just aren’t coming out. Very little has been seen or said about Playground Games’ fable and Ninja Theories hellblade 2which were announced both years ago. Undead Labs’ State of dissolution 3, The coalition Perfect Dark† and Rare’s everwild are all reportedly floundering in development hell or extended reboots. Acquisitions inXile, Tango Gameworks and Double Fine have yet to move past the “still contractually required to release games on PlayStation” phase.
Even Turn 10 Studios, which could previously be relied on to release a new Forza Motorsport every two years, hasn’t released a game since 2017. (The series reboot is the only possibility for a late 2022 release for Xbox, but it’s by no means a given.)
While none of these incidents on their own is surprising or even alarming, together they don’t paint a healthy picture of project management within Xbox Game Studios. Concerns about this could explain why Xbox made the – in hindsight, ill-advised – decision to set a firm November 2022 date. starfield last year, despite widespread pandemic-related disruption to development schedules, the project’s ambition, and Bethesda Game Studios’ somewhat shaky record of buffing and fixing bugs in its games.
Jason Schreier of Bloomberg said that he had heard that this release date had made some starfield developers “extremely concerned” it could turn into the “next” cyberpunk”, referring to the failed, unfinished release of the CD Projekt game.
Last spring before E3, I spoke to some people at Starfield who were very concerned about fixing a 11/11/22 date based on the progress they’ve made so far. (“Next Cyberpunk” was the term that came up.) Good on Bethesda for delaying even after announcing that particular date. https://t.co/QdWff0zGIY
— Jason Schreier (@jasonschreier) May 12, 2022
That possibility has hopefully been avoided and the pressure on Bethesda’s staff has been eased by the delay – in which case it can only be a good thing. And it’s true that Microsoft has amassed so much talent and so many enviable qualities during the acquisition that it will inevitably be able to provide Xbox owners and Game Pass subscribers with a plethora of games in the long run.
But the delays to starfield and redfall shed a sharp light on Xbox’s ability to manage its sprawling development empire, whether or not they’re actually symptomatic of it. No wonder Spencer feels that when it comes to delivering “quality and consistency” his teams still have something to prove.