When it was announced in May of last year, Microsoft introduced the Xbox One as an 'all in one media box'. While the description was hit with a considerable amount of backlash from core gamers who felt that they were being abandoned, the prospect of a console that served up as many TV shows as it did games was an exciting one.
It was part of a long-planned strategy by Microsoft to not just make the Xbox One a dominant force in gaming but to make a real play for the space under our telly boxes too. Starting with the creation of Xbox Entertainment Studios in 2012, the company wanted to make their own, Xbox-exclusive programming.
Hiring CBS exec. Nancy Tellem (who was named as one of the world's most powerful women by Forbes) it seemed like Microsoft's entertainment plans had some serious potential. But, after just over two years in existence, Xbox Entertainment Studios is now being shut down.
In a statement, a Microsoft spokesperson confirmed its closure;
"Yes, we can confirm that Xbox Entertainment Studios has closed as part of the companywide restructuring announced by Microsoft last July. Nancy and Jordan were key members and visionaries for the XES team, and we thank them for their leadership and many contributions."
The plan to shutter the studio comes as part of Microsoft's larger job cuts. Being forced to cut employees or risk losing money (following the $7.2 billion purchase of Nokia's phone division) the total job losses will have totalled 18,000 (over 10% of Microsoft's workforce) by the end of 2015.
However, while we always knew that there would be some casualties in those job cuts, the fact that Xbox Entertainment Studios has been shut down completely is somewhat of a surprise. This is especially as plans for original Xbox TV shows were laid out as recently as April of this year.
As part of their efforts, Xbox Entertainment Studios released soccer documentary Every Street United around the time of the World Cup, meanwhile Atari: Game Over explored the excavation of a landfill site for some lost E.T game cartridges. A Halo TV show called Halo: Nightfall is even in the works from Ridley Scott and TV shows for Gears of War, Fable and other Xbox exclusives were reportedly being considered.
The future of all of these projects could be in jeopardy then. Halo: Nightfall already has a premiere date (November 11th) and so will likely emerge unscathed but as for the others? Things look considerably grim.
This is backed up by rumors that have been floating around since August that Tellem and Xbox Entertainment Studios were in talks with other studios such as Warner Bros. to develop the projects outside of Microsoft. Presumably in an effort to continue the shows even if XES was shut down, Tellem and co. were given until the end of the year to hand off and 'salvage' the projects. Clearly that hasn't gone to plan then and so unless deals were already in place, the other announced projects appear to have been given the axe.
So what does this mean for the Xbox division's non-gaming media plans? After investing an awful lot into Xbox Entertainment Studios and establishing it as a key part of their Xbox One strategy, Microsoft has essentially gutted a studio with potential (if those previously announced titles are anything to go by).
It's also true that some gamers were (and do continue to be) angry about the Xbox One's lack of game exclusives but does that mean that part of the Xbox One's draw had to be sacrificed in order for Microsoft to focus more on the gaming side of things? It certainly seems so but with Xbox Entertainment Studios only shutting up shop completely this week, it could be a while before we see the full effects of its closure.