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As Xbox shutters studios, old documentary clips that highlight problems with how Microsoft handles its developers are resurfacing

Following a week with plenty of foot-in-mouth c-suite moments at Xbox, some older ones are returning to the fore.

Matt Booty in front of an Xbox.
Image credit: VG247/Xbox

Following last week’s big news that Microsoft was shutting down several studios under its umbrella and all of the interesting things its executives have said since that point, folks have dusted off old documentary clips that they reckon illustrate some of the issues with how Xbox handles the studios it buys.

As a refresher, MS recently made headlines due to the pretty shocking decision to shut down a bunch of Xbox studios, including Hi-Fi Rush maker Tango Gameworks and Redfall developer Arkane Austin. Especially given just how good the first of those is, it’s a move that’s unsurprisingly left a lot of folks pretty miffed.

Enter a clip from Double Fine PsychOdyssey, the making-of documentary series that follows Double Fine’s efforts to make Psychonauts 2, and includes some interesting sections about the aftermath of Microsoft’s acquisition of the studio in 2019. The main section that’s caught people’s eye sees Xbox’s Matt Booty, who’s caught a lot of flak for some of his statements around this latest batch of cuts.

In the clip, Booty’s attempting to reassure the Double Fine team that things won’t be changing much following the acquisition - via the kind of awkward meeting you might well be familiar with - but his comments aren’t worded in particularly reassuring fashion. The one that’s garnering the most attention is Booty saying “If you really want to go and run a start-up, quit and go run a start-up”, during an exchange about Double Fine devs being able to develop ideas that could become their own indie side-projects without the studio being able to swoop in and take ownership of them as or when it decides to.

The exec does quickly walk back that statement a bit, emphasising: “I’m not trying to chase anybody away, that’s not trying to be harsh language”, but it’s definitely not the ideal way to articulate something like this to developers under the Xbox banner. It's worth noting that this sort of creative control over workers is common in massive companies like Microsoft, and you'd find similar restrictions among across various industries.

While it sucks from a creative perspective, the reasoning behind MS’s position on the issue is understandable from a business point of view. You don’t want to risk missing out on the next big thing if devs at your studios are making it, yet the way Booty outlined that stands out as a prime example of Xbox offering little comfort via its messaging around these decisions, much like the debacle last week.

An event that already likely upset or angered some folks is responded to in a way that doesn't really help to address or alleviate people's concerns - see both Booty's comments in this clip and Sarah Bond's recent response to being asked about the studio closures. Or - as you see with some of the discussion later in the clip about MS and Double Fine still having to talk through the former being able to go back and call dibs on devs’ ideas - things being explained in a manner which might make it seem like those things haven’t been fully thought through, something that’s almost guaranteed to make the company look even worse.

It feels weird that people are having to lecture the likes of Xbox for arguably not being good enough at the PR around decisions we might disagree with, but yeah, here we are. What do you make of this clip and how Xbox has handled the fallout from last week? Let us know below.

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