The Curious Case of Scalebound and is Microsoft Really in Trouble?

Written by Jason Sipes on 1/17/17

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        It's no real surprise to anyone that has listened to Xbox Uncut that I'm really not the biggest fan of Scalebound.  It was an interesting game and even a passion project of Platinum Game's Hideki Kamiya but recent events are not as cut and dry as I believe some if not most in the community assume.  Before we continue on the topic of recent events we should go back to the beginning and look at where this all publicly began.

        E3 2014 marked the first E3 under the leadership of Phil Spencer, the current executive in charge of Xbox, one thing we aren't sure of is whether or not Phil Spencer or Don Mattrick started the talks for the ownership of the Scalebound IP or it's development but Phil Spencer was definitely taking ownership of it's announcement and continued development.  At the conference Microsoft showed a CG trailer for Scalebound, a game that had only just started development but was already being announced to the Xbox community.

        There are a few things that should be noted about the above embedded trailer.  For one, it's definitely not the usual Japanese developed title and was clearly targeting western audiences, especially American audiences.  Drew, the main character, wore beats-like headphones, blue jeans and could control a dragon closer to western myths than eastern versions.  One very important thing to notice in this trailer is that they teased 4-player co-op at the very end when Drew engages a large boss enemy on his dragon with three other characters and dragons around him.

        At Gamescom 2016 we were shown gameplay of the title, including the open-world environment it takes place in.  We were also shown how the player and dragon would work together in order to fight enemies and the player would use his own dragon armor, swords and bow to attack enemies as the dragon tanks them.  The gameplay footage itself was noted for the clear performance issues it was having, not too surprising as the game had only been announced one year earlier but it didn't instill a huge amount of confidence.

        Another thing to note is that at Gamescom 2016 we were teased once again with 4-player co-op against large bosses, this is something that will become relevant later in this article.  I'm not going to mention any social media speculation with Kamiya, Xbox or the gaming community as we want to take as logical of a look at this topic as possible.  It's hard to completely verify the information reported by sources on social media and take them as clear fact.

        The third and final major public outing for Scalebound happened at E3 2016 where Microsoft showed a gameplay demo of a large boss battle on stage.  Unfortunately the demo is widely regarded as just being a boring presentation, much like the similar Final Fantasy XV gameplay demo at the same conference.  I personally don't think this gameplay demo properly reflected how fun the game is but it is interesting that this is what they chose to show for a title that had now been in development for two or more years.  It should also be noted that Scalebound was not available for public demos at E3 2016.

        Before the above E3 demo Scalebound, in early 2016, had already been delayed to 2017.  Nearly a full year after the delay Microsoft officially confirmed that Scalebound had been cancelled.  This of course was met with outrage in the gaming community that far out-weighed any of the combined hype that Scalebound had ever created.

        We can now address the elephant in the room, exactly why was Scalebound cancelled and was it due to the negligence and poor management of Microsoft?  I want to preface this discussion by saying that Microsoft might seem like the big bad wolf here but they also had the most to lose in this decision.  Microsoft now owns an IP that has never been used, owns assets for a title that will never be released and is out the development costs and advertising costs without any product to show for it.  I'm not telling you to feel bad for Microsoft, they made the decision they thought was correct for the Xbox community and in the end that was their decision to make.

        I'm not going to debate what Phil Spencer has said on twitter about the ultimate decision being better for the Xbox community as we do not know the entire internal situation about the game and why they chose to make the decisions that were chosen.  We can use a bit of common sense to figure out a few things on our own and have an objective look at the situation.  One important thing to note is that Microsoft does not own Platinum Games, they only owned the IP that Platinum Games was developing, Platinum Games is acting as a 2nd party in this relationship.  So what powers does Microsoft have in this relationship to manage the product?  The biggest power they have to influence the development of the title is to set deadlines and control the flow of budget into the project.

From what we hear, Scalebound, an ambitious game directed by iconic Twitter blocker and Bayonetta director Hideki Kamiya, had been in development hell for a long time. Microsoft first announced the game nearly three years ago, during the Xbox press conference at E3 2014. It rose to the top of dozens of “Most Anticipated Games” lists but was delayed several times.

We hadn’t heard or seen anything of Scalebound in recent months, and it was curiously missing from an Xbox Wire post last week that talked about the future of Xbox One. Microsoft has also removed the official Scalebound page from the Xbox website.
— Kotaku

        Before being officially cancelled we heard rumors earlier on the same morning from Kotaku that the game had been delayed several times, publicly once but this must be referring to internal delays of the game.  Apparently the title had been in development hell for a long time, although considering the game was only about two years old publicly we aren't sure what they are considering a long time.

Scalebound was last seen in public back at Gamescom 2016 in August. Since then, the relationship between Microsoft and Osaka-based developer Platinum Games dramatically soured.

Work on the game took a serious knock last autumn, Eurogamer sources say, when several senior members of the development team were forced to take a month away from the pressure of the project’s heavy workload.

These project members then returned, but Scalebound was now behind schedule. With continuing issues surrounding the game’s engine and overdue deadlines, the decision was made that the project could no longer continue.
— Eurogamer

        After Kotaku, we then saw a report from Eurogamer with a few more details on the matter.  I'm going to guess that the long time statement from Kotaku had most likely started around mid-2016 as Eurogamer reported as being the beginning of a soured relationship between Microsoft and Platinum Games.  One major thing to note from this report is the extremely odd move by Platinum Games to forcefully remove senior members of the development team from the project in late 2016 for an entire month.  It's noted that when the project members returned the game was behind schedule, now while I can't verify what I'm about to say I think we can assume that this help cause the ultimate snowball effect of overdue deadlines and the final cancellation.

        So why would Platinum Games do such a thing?  I personally have no crystal ball or internal sources but what we can do is look at publicly available information to figure out why they would make such decisions on a project like Scalebound.  The first notable thing is the fact that Platinum Games has a total employee count of 193 employees as of 2016, this is sourced from their Wikipedia page.  We also know that publicly they were involved in up to nine projects between the announcement of Scalebound and the cancellation.  While it's entirely truthful and fair to say that some of these projects are smaller titles and they also only contributed towards a few of these projects.  The problem I personally see here is that a studio of 193 employees was working on a AAA game such as Scalebound while spread out their studio between multiple projects and games.  While I said before I cannot confirm it I'm confident in saying that the senior developers forced off of Scalebound were distributed to these other projects that they felt were more confident in launching over Scalebound.

        I personally had a hard time laying all the blame on Microsoft for the decision to cancel Scalebound here.  While I agree that it's a terrible thing to announce a game so early, hype it along and then eventually cancel it the same year it was delayed to launch in, I can't agree that Platinum Games is some kind of innocent victim here.  Unfortunately, instead of taking a more level headed view of the situation and restraining themselves from leaking hearsay a few notable people in the gaming community have come out as sources for information that has spread since Scalebound's cancellation.  You had people claiming that the project ultimately failed as Microsoft was forcing in online play, even though the very first announcement trailer for the game included a teaser for 4-player co-op.  You also had a person claiming that the stress of the project forced Kamiya to seek mental health, a claim Kamiya denied later on Twitter.

        Now, is Microsoft really in trouble?  Is this a trend of what's to come?  I personally don't believe so and I'll tell you why.  Phil Spencer has come out and made it clear that he wants to refrain from announcing games too early.  One of the many issues with Scalebound is that the project was announced way too early and other projects that shared it's ultimate fate such as Fable Legends and Phantom Dust were also announced way too early.  This past E3 Microsoft came out pretty honest in this commitment by not announcing a single title beyond a 2017 release date.  There are other questions of whether Microsoft lacks the commitment to see-through risks and we will continue to see in time but I personally think a company shouldn't go out of their way to just waste money on what was ultimately unpopular and likely to be negatively received projects.

        While people like to hound Microsoft for cancellations I would like to remind people that Microsoft have seen through plenty of risks too, including:

  • Quantum Break

  • Sunset Overdrive

  • Project Spark

  • Ori and the Blind Forest

  • Forza Horizon

  • Killer Instinct

  • Halo Wars

  • RYSE: Son of Rome

        And more.

        I'm not going to make any final kind of conclusions of fault here, though my opinion on the matter is clear fault here is not black and white, but I will leave you with the statements from Platinum Games and Kamiya on the cancellation of Scalebound and I hope you have left this article with a better understanding of the situation than before.  Please comment below if you'd like to comment on this article or the topic of the article.

Regarding the Cancellation of Scalebound

2017.01.11

We’re sorry to say that on January 9, 2017, Microsoft Studios announced the cancellation of Scalebound. We are very disappointed things ended up this way, especially since we know many of our fans were looking forward to this game as much as we were.

Going forward, we will strive to continue delivering high-quality games to you, starting with NieR:Automata in March, and including products like GRANBLUE FANTASY Project Re:Link and LOST ORDER in the future.

We will keep working hard to meet your expectations and we look forward to your continued support!

President and CEO

Kenichi Sato
— Platinum Games