In an apparent concession to the strength of EA Sports muscle, Microsoft has permanently benched much of its internal sports-game studio. In news first released to the local Seattle press, Microsoft has confirmed that 76 employees previously attached to the NFL Fever, NHL Rivals, and Inside Drive teams are to be terminated.
The reduction in staff brings the head count on the pan-Xbox team to around 1,000, off from a high of 1,200. In March, Microsoft put its XSN sports lineup of games on hiatus, stating it was sitting out the usual fall release schedule. Then in May, a partnership with Electronic Arts was announced that saw a number of high-profile EA Sports titles optimized for Xbox Live. That deal has spawned more than a dozen EA sports titles now slated for Xbox Live gamers, including the best-selling NCAA Football 2005 and Madden NFL 2005 games.
In a statement, the company said, "As the Xbox business has grown, a vibrant ecosystem of third-party developers has emerged. These developers are filling the title pipeline with an abundance of great games across many genres The emergence of this healthy developer ecosystem also means that Microsoft Game Studios can evolve its mission."
The company said further that it will now "focus on creating epic, platform-defining games like Fable, Forza Motorsport, and Halo 2."
Today's move has no impact on Microsoft Game Studio's Salt Lake City location, the studio behind the Amped and Links franchises. Those two series, along with Top Spin, were not included in the March development freeze.