Team Talk: Those Xbox layoffs and the closure of Mighty Doom

We return to a once forgotten feature to chat about recent layoffs, what they mean for mobile and more

Team Talk: Those Xbox layoffs and the closure of Mighty Doom
  • With the major Xbox layoffs everything from console to PC and mobile have been hit
  • We've seen Alpha Dog, Arkane Austin and Tango Gameworks all close their doors
  • These cuts come hot off the heels of 1900 employees being axed at the start of 2024

With the recent wave of layoffs hitting Xbox, the gaming division of Microsoft, we've seen many fan-favourite games like Hi-Fi Rush and Mighty Doom being axed alongside their studios. It was shocking across the board for many following the situation, whether that be casual gamers or business observers. Here at Pocket Gamer Towers, it was also a hot topic of conversation, about the reasons and what it meant for Microsoft's big push into mobile.

Here's what transpired in a chat between writers Iwan Morris and Connor Derrick about the layoffs, and their conclusions after having some time to think...

The big Xbox Layoffs

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Xbox President Sarah Bond at Bloomberg Live, discussing the future of Xbox Gaming across all platforms

(The conversation started by discussing the move to bring an Xbox Storefront to mobile)


Connor Derrick
I'm back and forth, especially with the (at least in the spheres I run around in) disappointment in Xbox as a whole with their recent news. I don't really see casual users swapping off the App Store since it's been such a mainstay for so many years and I also don't really see why any hardcore like Wild Rift or MOBA players would either tbh. Unless they have some really good exclusives that give it a reason to stand out I see it being a sorta Epic Games Store vs Steam situation.


Iwan Morris
A better question for me is why they think a storefront that specifically wants to deal with a narrower selection is going to work. Because they'd need to offer big discounts to get people interested, and if they don't have stuff like Game Pass, or games that aren't otherwise on mobile (itself a hassle) what's going to be the main selling point? I get the sense they see it as a silver bullet.

Connor Derrick
Yeah, I think that’s the big thing, they seem kinda aimless right now, sort of floundering. We’ll see how it shakes out but I’m not extremely confident in most of their choices right now.


Iwan Morris
Just seems like tech people waffling about games, but the thing is stuff like Candy Crush only has more competition by the day, and Minecraft is not what they seem to want to sell to people (a one-time buy, constant updates and so forth.)

Thinking on it, I think that's the thing, they want a golden goose and don't want to take the chance on new franchises that might become their next money-spinner. They're buying the names and franchises, not the talent.

Connor Derrick
With their recently announced push to live service, I have to wonder if an exclusive mobile-friendly live service game is somewhere down the line.

Heavily agree with that last bit, Iwan, they seem more concerned with securing IPs (that mostly seem to rot like Phantom Dust or Perfect Dark) than actually following through and getting a good team on it. Just odd choices all around in an already volatile ecosystem.


Iwan Morris
It never really occurred to me but yeah, that's the thing if you have a good team, they'll make good games. Otherwise, you're just puppetting a franchise and hoping it'll still sell.

And yes, stuff like CoD does, but look at Battlefield (albeit that's EA but the same thing) where they kept shuffling teams and produced a real stinker, or succession of them depending on who you ask. And even CoD is now up against games like Fortnite which don't rely on a yearly release schedule or anything

Connor Derrick
It’s a bit distant of a comparison but that’s exactly why I’m so positive the Silent Hill remake will bomb. Some properties are lightning in a bottle perfect teams and attaching the name of that property to a new team and new environment almost never works. It’s all just banking on nostalgia or loyalty for sales.

Connor Derrick
And that only gets you so far.



Iwan: So, to sum up what I've concluded, beyond mobile I think that the issue here is two-fold. Because either these layoffs are so unnecessary that even a layperson can see it, or the business is so complex and byzantine in nature that we can’t possibly gauge the decisions being made behind the scenes.

Either way, it’s not a good sign, I think the former is what most people default to. But if the latter is true it begs the question of how people got there. I mean when we heard about studio breakups in the past there were usually clear signs even a person without a business degree could understand.

Studios closed if they went bankrupt, or even in the case of evil overlords like EA they at least had the issue where they were put onto projects that either failed or only appealed to a small niche. Yet now with Hi-Fi Rush and Mighty Doom, it seems as if you can make a great game in a definite genre and still be put aside.

A screenshot from Hi-Fi Rush.

And I think Mighty Doom is a key thing here, because alright, Hi-Fi Rush is a 3D platform rhythm game. I get that not everyone will gel with it, and the suits are worried about that. But what about Mighty Doom? Top-down, stylish shooter, big-name brand, simple and accessible. So why close it down? Especially if getting into mobile is the big move here.

Fact is, Candy Crush has more competition than ever, and the golden goose never lays eggs forever. I mean one of my favourite series is Total War, and Creative Assembly has to continuously come up with new games to expand into different eras of warfare to keep their players engaged.

And with Mighty Doom, just like Hi-Fi Rush you had a ready-made game to hit a specific niche, promote your big IP and appeal to both fans and casual players alike. Even in the most despicable burning-down-the-restaurant-for-insurance manner possible, why not at least put another studio there to keep it on life-support?

It all smacks of the thing that even proper business analysts have observed. This is because these corporations seemed to think gaming’s massive peak during Covid was some sort of new normal when it very clearly wasn’t. Common sense dictates that when circumstances change, this seismic growth would drop sharply.

I think both business people and reporters got starry-eyed over the massive numbers. And maybe we’re guilty of that too. But there’s an element of ‘well surely they’re prepared for this’. And I think that’s the same thing here, but now people are really questioning if the people running these shows know exactly what they’re selling.

The mini-Doom Slayer from Mighty Doom stood over a horde of demons. Connor: Absolutely agree on pretty much everything there, and while I will keep it focused on the games aspect, I am seeing this in nearly every sphere lately. Specifically to riff off the idea that these decisions being made behind closed doors could have some merit if we actually knew what was going on back there; it really does seem impossible to empathise with these choices lately.

From Xbox cutting down these companies who seem to be producing products that they’re specifically asking for to these Silicon Valley types utilising AI in nefarious ways, it almost feels like everyone’s sort of cashing in their chips if that makes sense. I think games have debatably become the biggest victim of this, but markets in almost every industry I can think of have sort of all of the sudden seen layoffs after layoffs despite making generally well-received products.

Hi-Fi Rush is the real kicker for me in this context specifically, as Tango Gameworks were clearly talented and it wasn’t like their games were extremely cult-classic or anything like that. Sure, none of them did Halo numbers, but I mean, Hi-Fu Rush won a BAFTA and audio design award at The Game Awards. With accolades like that still seemingly being for nought, it’s hard for me to believe that the suits up top at Xbox are making the correct decisions.

Like you said, if winning awards won’t keep you afloat, and being attached to popular IPs like Mighty Doom won't either, what’s left to do? It’s getting really difficult to tell exactly what products these companies even want to sell to us, let alone how we’re supposed to express our liking of them if awards don’t matter, and sales don’t either unless they’re in the billions apparently.

All that being said, I think the real fear permeating throughout the industry of game dev now is that regardless of how good or how beloved your games are or become unless you’re self-published, there’s a looming spectre above your head at any given moment that could put you out of a job.

And even if you aren’t a developer, this should still worry us as people who play these games! It’s frightening to think that true pieces of art could be withheld from us because these executives want to feed us more live-service forever games instead of tight, compact, award-winning games like Hi-Fi Rush.