Xbox’s flagship studios The Initiative was formed back in 2018, led by Darrell Gallagher to develop the first AAAA game. The studio later revealed its first project to be a reboot of Rare’s iconic duology, Perfect Dark. In recent news, however, a large number of developers seem to be leaving the studio, including key personnel such as Daniel Neuburger, the director of Perfect Dark and the Tomb Raider series, in February 2022.
Microsoft’s gaming division Xbox, which is also the parent company of The Initiative, is one of the biggest names in the current video game industry. Aside from top tier studios like 343 Industries, Playground Games, Ninja Theory, Obsidian Entertainment, Turn 10, Double Fine, The Coalition, and Rare, the brand also recently acquired two major publishers. The Bethesda Zenimax acquisition brought in major names like Bethesda Game Studios, ID Software, Machine Games, Arkane, and Tango Gameworks in 2021. The Activision Blizzard acquisition, set for completion in July 2023, is not only Micosoft’s biggest acquisition, but also brings in notable developers and massive IPs like Call of Duty, Warcraft, Overwatch, and Diablo under its banner.
But while Xbox is certainly growing at an amazing pace, with promises of top-tier video games, is there something lacking in their structure that is leading to the massive exodus at The Initiative?
Xbox’s The Initiative is bleeding developers whilst management remains confident in the future
During the Xbox One era, the brand had a reputation for uninspiring first-party offerings with a lack of focus diluted by gimmicks focusing on Live TV and Kinect. The brand wasn’t able to compete against Sony’s PlayStation, especially with their rival offering titles like Uncharted 4, God of War, Horizon Zero Dawn, and Marvel’s Spider-Man. In fact, the situation was so dire that, at one point, Microsoft considered shutting down its Xbox division. However, things took a turn for the better after Phil Spencer took charge.
Aside from the mid-generation refresh of Xbox One S and Xbox One X, that firmly established the brand name as the most accessible and the most powerful console, as well as the Game Pass subscription-based service, which is undoubtedly the best deal in the gaming industry. The brand has acquired and established many top-tier studios to become one of the largest publishers in the industry.
The Initiative, established in 2018 in Santa Monica, California, is arguably the brand’s flagship studio, with no title currently under their belt. With notable personalities like Darrell Gallagher and Daniel Neuburger, who revitalized the Tomb Raider franchise during their time at Crystal Dynamics, they led a team of former veteran developers from some of the most ambitious games of this generation (Red Dead Redemption II and God of War), making it undoubtedly one of the most talented groups at the time.
The studio revealed its first title to be Perfect Dark, a reboot of the iconic Rare franchise, poised to be a AAAA title. The Initiative later announced that Crystal Dynamics, the former studio of Gallagher and Neuburger, would even be assisting in development. However, over the last year, it seems that the company has been facing a massive exodus of employees, including Daniel Neuburger leaving the company in February 2022.
Darrell Gallagher recently spoke to VGC regarding the matter, and he said,
"It’s no small task to build a studio and reinvent a beloved franchise. In creating The Initiative, we set out to leverage co-development partnerships to achieve our ambitions, and we’re really excited about all the progress we’re seeing with our relationship with Crystal Dynamics. In this journey, it’s not uncommon for there to be staffing changes, especially during a time of global upheaval over the last two years, and there’s plenty more work in front of us to deliver a fantastic Perfect Dark experience to our players. We wish all our former colleagues the very best, and I’m confident in the team we have in place, the new talent joining, and we can’t wait to share more with the fans."
With The Initiative losing developers, what does it mean for Perfect Dark, the first AAAA title?
Rare’s Perfect Dark has always been a relatively niche franchise with a cult following. When The Initiative first announced that they would be developing a reboot of the title at the Game Awards 2020, the fan reception was undoubtedly positive. With a gritty futuristic look, the title is set to be a AAAA, and on par with Sony’s God of War and Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption II.
In September last year, The Initiative announced that Crystal Dynamics would be co-developing the title. While it did come as a surprise, it is not unusual in the gaming industry. Considering the small studio size of The Initiative, partnering with Crystal Dynamics means that the latter completes the majority of the work, whilst the creative aspect and general direction remains in the hands of The initiative. Whilst Crystal Dynamics has created amazing games like the Tomb Raider reboot, more recently, it has created Marvel's The Avengers, which left fans unsatisfied.
With a strong creative team, fans and the publisher are quite confident in Perfect Dark. However, with the majority of the creative team leaving the studio, Perfect Dark may not be as much of a slam dunk as expected. While there is no sign of the title facing any issues currently, it doesn’t take long to head down the path of disappointment.