Microsoft has announced an agreement to acquire Texas-based development studio Digital Anvil. Under the terms of the agreement, Microsoft will own the rights to some Digital Anvil games, including the upcoming space-combat simulation game FreeLancer and an unannounced Xbox game, which has been in development for nearly two years. Digital Anvil founder and CEO Chris Roberts will leave the company to pursue other creative endeavors, although he will work with Microsoft through the completion of FreeLancer.
Microsoft and Digital Anvil have been in talks about a possible acquisition since the E3 trade show in May, 2000. Roberts admits that he was a bit too ambitious when he founded Digital Anvil in 1997, and stated that his company "wanted to develop not only hugely ambitious games, but too many hugely ambitious games." This acquisition will let the development team at Digital Anvil focus solely on its two games, FreeLancer and the unannounced Xbox game. Roberts assured us that FreeLancer wouldn't undergo any major design changes whatsoever, as its design, interface, and artwork is finished, and the only thing left to do is to generate content and flesh out its storyline.
This acquisition does leave the status of the driving combat game Loose Cannon in jeopardy, however. According to Roberts, Microsoft did not pick up the game as part of the acquisition, and it is currently being shopped around to various publishers. Conquest: Frontier Wars, another Digital Anvil game, is completely done and like Loose Cannon, is also being shown to publishers interested in taking on the responsibility of releasing it. Roberts said that he expects a demo of Conquest to be released sometime next week, and hopes the game will ship within the coming months.
Chris Roberts will continue to work closely with the development teams and Microsoft and Digital Anvil to ensure that FreeLancer achieves the goals he originally had envisioned for it. Roberts made it clear that he is leaving Digital Anvil of his own free will; he stated that he had no desire to be part of a large organization, and cited his similar decision to leave Electronic Arts nearly five years ago. Roberts will most likely continue to pursue game development in some form, although he's expressed his interest to work in film and exploit broadband technology to us recently.
Digital Anvil is the latest in a series of game company acquisitions for Microsoft. Other companies recently acquired by the software giant include Bungie Software, the creator of the upcoming action game Halo; FASA Interactive Technologies, the creator of the MechWarrior series; and Access Software, which developed the Links golf series.
For more information about FreeLancer, take a look at our preview. The game is currently scheduled for release in late 2001.