Microsoft steps on yet another rake by ghosting the year's last big game reveal event.
It's a bad sign when there were more Muppets at The Game Awards than Xbox world premieres. As someone who's been playing and covering Xbox for 20 years, I’m not sure I’ve ever been more baffled by the console-maker’s decision-making. I tweeted my frustration as soon as the industry's glitziest event of the year came to its awkward end, and if the hundreds of responses to that tweet told me anything, it's that this was no hot take. How could it be? Microsoft literally showed nothing for the year to come, despite promising us a huge 2023 at last summer's Xbox Showcase.
In June last year I foolishly declared the years-long exclusives drought over ahead of Microsoft’s fantastic Fall 2021. In hindsight, that period has been an exception rather than the new rule. Xbox fans suffered through an exceptionally dry year (shout-out to Obsidian’s fantastic, if niche, Pentiment, though!) had to watch PlayStation exclusives delight PS5 owners all night long, from Forspoken to Final Fantasy XVI to Death Stranding 2.
Then, to add one more kick in the groin, Xbox players watched Sony-backed developers wear out a path to The Game Awards stage to accept award after award for the fantastic exclusive games they shipped throughout 2022.
The Xbox leadership team didn't wake up the day of the show in a cold sweat exclaiming, “Oh no, we forgot about The Game Awards!” like they were Kevin McCallister's mom in Home Alone. “
Even Xbox superfans like Kobrille expressed their disappointment. There was simply no defending Microsoft, and I'm left scratching my head. Clearly the company has a strategy. The Xbox leadership team didn't wake up the day of the show in a cold sweat exclaiming, “Oh no, we forgot about The Game Awards!” like they were Kevin McCallister's mom in Home Alone. The single, predominant theory bandied about online in the wake of Microsoft’s “presence” at the show was that it was intentionally laying low under the watchful eye of the FTC, who sued Microsoft on the day of The Game Awards in order to try and block the attempted $69 billion acquisition of Activision-Blizzard-King. I don't buy it. The FTC wouldn't care if Microsoft showed off release date trailers (with firm ship dates for big games being something Xbox desperately needs right now) for Redfall, Starfield, or Forza Motorsport. These games are all from studios they've owned or acquired without so much as a twitch of concern from any country's regulatory body. Or, you know, announced a new project from The Coalition, id Software, or Compulsion Games. A first trailer from Todd Howard and MachineGames's Indiana Jones project would've been delightful.
But let's say Microsoft's strategy really was to try and look as feeble as possible in the face of its competition as it seeks to appease the FTC and CMA. In that case…mission accomplished. Congratulations, I guess? Team Green looked every bit the third-place console-maker it is despite having acquired literally dozens of new studios to produce exclusive games for them over the past five years. Where the hell are the games? If they’re being saved for Microsoft’s own events, how is that bringing new people into the tent? That’s just preaching to the choir. The Game Awards allows you to reach an audience who isn’t already listening to you – and that’s precisely who Microsoft needs to get the attention of.
Where the hell are the games? “
If we take a look back at the Phil Spencer Era of Xbox, which is finishing up its ninth year at this point, I honestly think he deserves an A+ almost across the board. The Xbox One S and X were fantastic, the Series X is as powerful as it is silent and reliable, and the Series S has proven to be a masterstroke in a chip-shorted supply chain. The backwards compatibility initiative has been a resounding success, as has the industry-changing Xbox Game Pass program, which has been great for gamers. Microsoft has also made significant positive changes to its culture under Spencer’s watch, too, as Microsoft recently recognized the largest game developers' union yet. But from the perspective of the major exclusives Xbox has shipped in those nine years, Spencer gets a D at best, and he's dangerously close to flunking at this point.
As 2022 draws to a close, allow me to draw you a meme with words: Xbox players are Charlie Brown, Microsoft is Lucy, and the promise of big exclusives is the football. Yes, the pandemic affected timelines. Yes, Russia's invasion of Ukraine has directly impacted multiple Xbox exclusives. And yes, shipping games too early would be the wrong move. But the fact remains that Xbox now proudly counts TWENTY-THREE studios in its first-party portfolio. That this year is ending with exactly zero AAA efforts coming out of Xbox Game Studios was tough enough to stomach for Xbox players, but for Xbox to show up to The Game Awards empty-handed as millions of gamers looked on is simply unforgivable. Microsoft is close to being out of goodwill with its audience. Any hope the company has of winning back the mindshare it lost amidst the rash of mistakes during the Xbox One era is rapidly slipping through its fingers, with no one to blame but itself.
Ryan McCaffrey is IGN's executive editor of previews and host of both IGN's weekly Xbox show, Podcast Unlocked, as well as our monthly(-ish) interview show, IGN Unfiltered. He's a North Jersey guy, so it's “Taylor ham,” not “pork roll.” Debate it with him on Twitter at @DMC_Ryan.