Yesterday afternoon, Microsoft aired its latest episode of Inside Xbox, a monthly livestream in which the company updates players on new stuff in the world of Xbox. Like most episodes of Inside Xbox, it was long, precisely staged, and light on interesting news. If new Nintendo Directs have become exciting, mini-E3 press conferences, new episodes of Inside Xbox feel more like the ads that run before a movie.
In theory, it’s nice for Xbox fans to get regular updates from the people behind the platform, and Inside Xbox is by no means Microsoft’s only way of sharing Xbox news firsthand. The company has twitter feeds and a news site, podcasts, developer video series and other regular short-form showcases for getting out its message.
The Inside Xbox series, however, has been presented by Microsoft since last year as a premiere, almost-monthly showcase. The video episodes have the length to suggest it, clocking in at well over an hour. The content, however, has been oddly lacking, with small news bits diluted by lots of host chatter and an unusual amount of time spent on granular topics it’s hard to imagine Xbox fans tuned in for.
Take last night’s three minutes spent on the announcement that the name of Microsoft’s internal studios is changing from Microsoft Studios to Xbox Game Studios, a shift in part to make it extra clear going forward that Microsoft’s studios make games for Xbox.
Or take the 10 minutes spent announcing a touring Halo fan experience that will let attendees play laser tag and geek out at life-size replicas of their favorite Halo stuff, among other activities. It was reminiscent of Inside Xbox episode 3 last May when the big news was a Halo light gun game coming to Dave and Busters. Last night’s Halo segment culminated with this exchange between one of the show’s hosts and Kiki Wolfkill, the head of transmedia at Halo studio 343 Industries.
Inside Xbox host Kate Yeager: “I’d be remiss as a Halo fan if I didn’t ask, even if you can’t say anything, even if you say no, I want to know if there’s anything you can tell us about the new Showtime Halo project.”
343 Industries’ Kiki Wolfkill: “Yeah. Nothing new to officially share. I mean, we are knee deep in it. It’s really exciting for us. These things take so much time and we’re really in the knitty-gritty and it’s so much fun.”
Presumably the point was to let people know that there still may be Halo series on Showtime after its initial director departed in December, but these are hardly thrilling updates, especially when you consider a new Halo TV show was first announced back in 2013.
Some news trickled in. We learned D’Vorah will be in Mortal Kombat 11, and Jotaro and DIO from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure will be coming to Jump Force. Plus Shadow of the Tomb Raider, not even a year old yet, will be arriving on Game Pass on February 7 followed by a bunch of other games.
There was also an announcement of an announcement. At the end of his segment on Sea of Thieves, executive producer at Rare, Joe Neate, revealed that on March 20 the studio will announce details of a big future update coming to the game. The disclosure of that news about upcoming news, and that friends of Sea of Thieves players would be able to try the game for free for a week, took approximately 12 minutes.
The extent of the whole show, including cinematic trailers for Crackdown 3 and Metro Exodus, would easily have fit within a brief 15-20 minute video instead of the roughly 80 minute marathon Inside Xbox episodes tend to be.
After the show the Xbox Twitter account asked fans what their favorite part was. “The moment when you guys announced new exclusives. oh wait..” wrote one person. Others were less cynical. “For me it was all the Game Pass news plus the Metro story preview was pretty awesome,” wrote someone else.
I watched the episode through Twitch where the chat was less than kind for the most part, and the audience dropped from 10,000 to under 5,000 by the end of the show. YouTube numbers were similar.
The most recent episode marked the nearly one year anniversary of the show’s return since its Xbox 360-themed predecessor ended in 2012. Microsoft said at the time it hoped to make the show a monthly event, but since last fall episodes have been sporadic. The formula is usually the same: nuggets of light news scattered between interviews between Xbox personalities and video game developers where everyone seems to already know what the answers are but acts like they’re just shooting the shit in a friend’s basement.
In theory, incorporating interviews with developers is a great way to try and get the people who makes games in front of the people who play them. It’s just that in practice any potentially interesting answers tend to be stifled by the format, which more closely resembles the excited chit chat of a red carpet event than two human beings having a relaxed and interesting conversation about a new game.
There have been a few exceptions, most notably when Hello Games’ Sean Murray went on the show last May to announce No Man’s Sky: Next, a massive update adding multiplayer and other long-sought-after features to the game. His exchange was fascinating in part because he was passionate and didn’t sound scripted, like when he said “[Next] is like the potential that everyone’s always seen in No Man’s Sky,” acknowledging the two years of work that had been required to make it the game everyone had expected at launch. It also benefited from him having new information about what was essentially the game’s 2.0 launch.
During the segment involving the name change to Microsoft’s game development studios, Xbox executive Matt Booty was asked by longtime Xbox hypeman Larry Hryb when players would get a glimpse of what the company’s new studios have been working on. If only, Booty had said “now.” Instead, he said: “We’ll be excited to share some news about what we’re up to coming up in the next few months and at E3.” It’s nice to know that Microsoft has more Xbox news coming, but for Inside Xbox to really work, and to make it worth everyone’s viewing time, the show needs to make more of Xbox’s biggest news worth announcing right there on Inside Xbox. Maybe next time?