Microsoft has been in the gaming sphere for over 20 years now, ever since the launch of the original Xbox back in 2001. Since the Xbox’s release, the list of Microsoft game developers has only continued to grow; some were acquired, some founded, but they all exclusively focus on the Xbox ecosystem. Now the number of Microsoft game developers includes a whopping 23 different studios (not including the currently pending Activision Blizzard acquisition), with more possibly on the way. Some started in-house for the biggest Xbox-exclusive franchises, while others would be acquired over the past two decades.
Of course, a lot of that is based on the moves Microsoft has made as of late, such as the growing push for Xbox Game Pass, for example. So here is a handy list of every active development studio that Microsoft has formed or acquired as of 2022.
Xbox Game Studios Publishing
Technically less of a game developer and more of a publisher, the Xbox Game Studios Publishing (formerly Microsoft Game Studios) was the dedicated game division that spun out of the Microsoft’s internal Games Group, which included acquired companies and titles such as FASA Interactive, known for the MechWarrior franchise, and Aces Game Studio, which worked on Microsoft Flight Simulator. Publishing deals with Ensemble Studios and Digital Anvil would turn into early acquisitions as well, along with the big get at the time of the Xbox release in 2001, Bungie, which was known for of course Halo. All of these studios would be internal developers for a long time for Microsoft, with only Bungie really separating from the fold in 2007 to go independent, until their own acquisition by Sony in 2022.
Turn 10 Studios
One of the first studios internally founded after the Xbox was announced, Turn 10 Studios has one claim to fame: The Forza franchise. In total, they are responsible for all seven of the Forza Motorsport games, with the latest, Forza Motorsport 7 being released in 2017. A new entry in the series, simply titled Forza Motorsport, was announced in summer 2020. The only games Turn 10 doesn’t handle are the Forza Horizon titles, which are instead handled by the British developer Playground Games.
One of the most shocking acquisitions that ever graced the schoolyards of many a young millennial, the acquisition of the venerable Rare was seen as a major purchase from Microsoft. Looking to be acquired in the early 2000s due to rising production costs, Rare founders Tim and Eric Stamper actually noted their surprise that Nintendo didn’t purchase them, leading to a bidding war between Microsoft and Activision. For Microsoft, major titles have included the Viva Piñata franchise and, most recently, Sea of Thieves.
After Bungie separated from Microsoft to become an independent developer again, Microsoft retained the rights to Halo but had no way of really continuing the franchise. Enter 343 Industries. Named after the 343 Guilty Spark, the AI character in Halo, the dev team was internally created by Microsoft to take over the Halo mantle. They worked on DLC for Halo: Reach with Bungie before Bungie officially left the franchise. Their first full-fledged game was 2011’s Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Edition. Since then, 343 Industries has worked on everything from Halo 4, to Halo Wars, to the recently released Halo Infinite.
The Coalition has had multiple names and hats for Microsoft. Originally known as Zipline Studios, the dev team was responsible for Relic Rescue, a Facebook game. Later, the team was renamed Microsoft Game Studios Vancouver and worked on Microsoft Flight and a canceled Kinect game, Project Columbia. After the staff was laid off, Black Tusk Studios was formed, which then was to focus on a new franchise, before the Gears of War series was purchased from Epic Games. In 2014, Black Tusk would then work on Gears of War titles, and would finally be renamed in 2015 to The Coalition. The Coalition still focuses on Gears of War to this day.
The first major acquisition since Rare in 2002, Mojang, of course, was best known for the cultural phenomenon Minecraft. It is well known that Markus Persson, the controversial founder of Mojang and developer of Minecraft, wanted to sell the franchise in 2014, citing exhaustion. Multiple publishers, from EA to Activision, expressed interest, but it would be Microsoft who would pick up the studio, buying out Persson for $2.5 billion in September 2014. Since the acquisition, Mojang has continued their work on Minecraft, along with new titles such as Callers Bane (formerly Scrolls) and Minecraft Dungeons, one of the latest Minecraft spinoffs.
A major studio created by Microsoft, based in Santa Monica, California. It is currently headed by Darrell Gallagher of Crystal Dynamics fame. Along with tons of veteran developers from BioWare, Rockstar, Respawn Entertainment, and Naughty Dog, The Initiative has been described to work on "quadruple-A" games, and though no titles have been released yet, the developers are confirmed to be working on a new Perfect Dark game, taking the reins from Rare.
Compulsion Games was a studio founded in 2009 by ex-Arkane Studios developer Guillaume Provost. Known for two games, Contrast and We Happy Few, Compulsion was acquired in 2018 shortly after the difficult launch of We Happy Few, being the first of several acquisitions in 2018. The studio is currently sitting with a staff of 80 and is working on an unknown project at this time: a narrative-based third-person game.
A veteran studio founded by Brian Fargo, inXile is best known for a variety of small and big games, mostly focusing on RPGs. Titles like A Bard’s Tale (2004) and Wasteland 2 are among the multiple smaller games developed before their acquisition by Microsoft in 2018, where they and Obsidian Entertainment were purchased at the same time. Their first major releases after acquisition were Wasteland 3 and Frostpoint VR: Proving Grounds.
Ninja Theory has a long history of making high-profile action games, including the critically underrated Enslaved: Odyssey to the West and DmC: Devil May Cry. After the release of the acclaimed Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice, Ninja Theory would be one of several high-profile acquisitions in 2018. While releases since then, such as the multiplayer-only Bleeding Edge, failed to catch on, they are best known for pouring more research and development into The Insight Project, an initiative to look into mental health and well being, in an effort to help people control negative emotions. Their next project is Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II.
The venerable Obsidian Entertainment is best known for games like Fallout: New Vegas, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2, and leading the isometric RPG revival with Pillars of Eternity. After self-publishing for years, Microsoft picked them up with InXile Entertainment in 2018. Since then, they have published The Outer Worlds and Grounded, and are currently working on the hotly anticipated Avowed and Outer Worlds 2.
Playground Games is best known for the Forza Horizon titles, often working closely with Turn 10 Studios. It was only in 2018 when Playground Games would be acquired by Microsoft directly, in the flurry of acquisitions in 2018. Their latest game is Forza Horizon 5, and Playground Games is currently developing their first non-racing game: a revival of the Fable series, which still awaits a release date.
The Seattle-based Undead Labs was founded by former studio head Jeff Strain, who wanted to make new zombie games on the market. The result was the Microsoft-published State of Decay, a solid survival game that became an unexpected hit in 2013. In 2018, Undead Labs was gearing up marketing for State of Decay 2 when the team was officially acquired by Microsoft. They still support State of Decay 2, while now focusing on the previously announced State of Decay 3.
Double Fine Productions
Tim Schafer’s Double Fine Productions has been a critical and cult darling for over two decades. Titles like the ever-loved Psychonauts, Brutal Legend, Costume Quest, and Broken Age are just some of the quirky games, big and small, the team has worked on. Double Fine had a long-standing relationship with Microsoft, going as far back as their Kinect-exclusive Sesame Street game Once Upon a Monster in 2007, likely making their acquisition in 2019 a smoother transition. It subsequently saw the long-awaited release of Psychonauts 2 in 2021.
The latest studio created out of Microsoft, World’s Edge is currently overseeing the revival of the Age of Empires strategy game series. They were one of two developers to work on the recently released Age of Empires IV, which received solid reviews and the Best Sim/Strategy award at The Game Awards 2021. Currently, World’s Edge is working on updates to Age of Empires IV, but it has no other confirmed projects in the works.
ZeniMax Media/Bethesda Softworks
A massive acquisition in 2021, ZeniMax Media alone had eight different development studios under them at the time of acquisition:
- Alpha Dog Games
- Arkane Studios
- Bethesda Game Studios
- id Software
- Roundhouse Games
- Tango Gameworks
- Zenimax Online Studios
The biggest developer among the bunch is arguably Bethesda Game Studios, best known for the later incarnations of Fallout and, of course, The Elder Scrolls franchise. Some of the other game series now under Microsoft with ZeniMax include The Evil Within, Wolfenstein, Doom, and Dishonored, with plenty of new projects, such as Bethesda’s upcoming Starfield, set to release soon.
It should be noted that the status of a lot of their titles is now in flux as well for multi-platform releases, as ZeniMax Media was a multi-platform company before the acquisition. Some games, such as Tango Gameworks' Ghostwire: Tokyo and Arkane's Deathloop, are being honored as PlayStation 5 exclusives. Meanwhile, the aforementioned Starfield is confirmed to be Xbox Series S and X exclusive, despite Bethesda's history as a multiplatform studio. Note that these games are or will be available for Microsoft Windows, so PC players can still access them.
Though it is not official yet, in early 2022, Microsoft announced their intent to purchase Activision Blizzard for an estimated $68.7 billion sale. If the purchase is approved, Activision, Blizzard, and King will become major developers under Microsoft's wing, including multiple smaller studios responsible for franchises such as Call of Duty, Tony Hawk, Warcraft, and more. The merger would also make Microsoft the third largest game company in the world, behind Japan’s Sony and China’s Tencent.
And there you have it, all of the currently owned studios by Microsoft. Of course, we didn’t talk about everyone, as there are plenty of lost studios along the way that we can mention, but as of 2022, these are the development teams currently making games for the Microsoft Windows and the Xbox Series S and X.