Microsoft acquisition of Ninja Theory is part of Xbox reboot
Hellblade' firm 'to aim higher than we've ever dared to'
Microsoft Studios came up with a surprise announcement at E3 2018 in Los Angeles last week: It has acquired Cambridge games studio Ninja Theory.
The deal was one of five developments announced by Microsoft’s executive vice president of gaming, Phil Spencer, at the annual gaming extravaganza.
Perhaps smarting from criticism of its underperforming Xbox One catalogue, Microsoft announced the acquisition of four studios in a briefing attended by 6,000 people. Along with Ninja Theory, the firm has acquired Compulsion Games, Playground Games and Undead Labs.
In addition, Microsoft is creating a new start-up studio called Initiative, to be based in Santa Monica. These five initiatives will mean lots more first-party games launched on Xbox One in coming months and years.
The only downside is that all future Ninja Theory titles will be for Xbox One – something of a loss for PS4 fans.
A five-minute video announcing the move shows the 100-strong Ninja Theory team in the company’s offices and on the step of the Westbrook Centre, applauding.
It explains that the game developer’s story began with Kung Fu Chaos for the original Xbox in 2003, went on with Heavenly Sword for the PS3 in 2007, Enslaved on the PS3 and Xbox 360 in 2010, DmC: Devil May Cry for the PS3, Xbox 360 and PC in 2013, and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice for the PS4 and PC in 2017.
“We’ve always took pride in the fact that we’ve punched above our weight, delivered what we promised, and each of our games has been getting better and better,” said founder and chief creative ninja (director), Tameem Antoniades.
“Despite this,” he continued, “about four years ago we very nearly disappeared as a company. Dozens if not hundreds of developers like us were closing shop all around us, and we were told that there was no future for developers like us – too big to be indie, and too small to be truly AAA. We had to tell our team that we were facing annihilation, and so we had to find another way.
“We split our team of a hundred people into several smaller teams which worked mostly on work-for-hire projects.
“These projects helped to fund our own original game, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. Our goal was to find a space between indie and AAA, and to reclaim our creative independence. It took three years, a team of 20 people and a budget of $10million, including marketing, but we did it.
“Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice has sold way beyond our expectations... The game has won dozens of awards, including three game awards, and an incredible five Baftas, and our small act of creative rebellion is inspiring other developers to do the same – to find a middle ground, where high-end, creatively risky games can be successful once again.”
When Microsoft came calling, Antoniades asked for “full creative independence” and got it.
“They said: ‘You can have all of that and, if you want, our marketing teams, support teams, research and technology groups are at your disposal to supercharge your efforts to do more of what you want to do, and how you want to do it’.”
The only downside is no more PlayStation games.
“We recognise that this will disappoint many of you and that’s not something that we take lightly,” says commercial director Dominic Matthews in the video.
“You’ve supported us on our journey so far and we hope, whichever platform you’re on, you’ll be with us as we open this exciting new chapter in the Ninja Theory story.”
With no threat of annilihation clouding its thinking, Ninja Theory believes that its most productive and creative era is now within reach.
“I’m now convinced that this is an opportunity for us to jump years ahead, to aim higher than we’ve ever dared to, to really fly, without the threat of falling down that has held us back so much in the past,” says Antoniades.