Microsoft has a ton of great IP under its belt, especially since beefing up Xbox Game Studios. With Obsidian they have The Outer Worlds and Pillars of Eternity, with Rare they have Killer Instinct, Perfect Dark, and Banjo Kazooie, with inXile they have Wasteland, and that's without thinking about the Halos, Forzas, Minecrafts, and Gears of the world.
What about some of its long-lost IP, though?
As Microsoft looks to the future, they're building up a huge range of new games, with stuff like Grounded and Everwild, while also keeping stuff like Halo ticking over. There are rumors of a Fable reboot as well, to go along with Age of Empires and Microsoft Flight Simulator as revived classics.
Beyond that though, it's reasonable to think that Microsoft may be looking at other IP in its back catalog for the revive and reboot treatment, and here's one, in particular, I'd love to see brought back. But ... it's complicated.
Addicted to big mechs
Recently I've become hopelessly addicted to the recent BattleTech game, released a couple of years ago by Harebrained Studios and Paradox. As a franchise, BattleTech is probably more famous among gamers for its MechWarrior and MechAssault titles, based on the tabletop strategy game with lore that dates back literal decades.
While playing BattleTech, I began getting sucked into a rabbit hole of novels, its utterly complex political landscape, and its small, but passionate community of minifig collectors and tabletop roleplayers.
My first introduction to the franchise was a brief experience with MechAssault on the original Xbox, although my memories of the game is hazy. I do remember how great it felt to play, though. I feel like games with heavy, hulking, tank-like mechs are few and far in between these days, although there are some great options out there.
BattleTech by Harebrained is a truly excellent, and complex game, and I can see myself sinking dozens of more hours into it in the coming weeks. Pirahna Games is also working on MechWarrior 5, now available on Xbox Game Pass. It definitely has problems (with the worst companion AI I've ever seen), but the core gameplay is satisfying and nostalgic and made me wonder why Microsoft hasn't explored the franchise a little more in recent years.
What happened to BattleTech?
Microsoft purchased the BattleTech IPS interactive rights when it acquired FASA Interactive Technologies back in 1999. Microsoft has the sole right to create and license games based on the expansive BattleTech lore, but we've barely seen them being used in the past 20 years. MechWarrior 4 launched all the way back in 2000, literally decades before we saw MechWarrior 5, and it's hard to get your hands on the games "legally" these days.
Microsoft said back in 1999 that MechWarrior 2 and its expansions had achieved $70 million dollars in sales back in the day, which makes it seem incredibly odd that we haven't seen more from the franchises since. Indeed, Mechwarrior is the second most requested classic game on GOG.com, with over 54000 votes. Xbox head Phil Spencer also commented in 2015 that Microsoft isn't working on a MechAssault or MechCommander game, but "they should be."
The true problem may lie with the legalese in the original FASA acquisition. Back in 1999, there were no huge scale internet-connected networks like we see today, certainly no cloud gaming platform to account for, and various other storefronts. Some of the legal issues may pertain to who actually, truly owns the rights to the lore and art found in the games, and what can be done with them on modern platforms. Although this is pure speculation.
A cursory glance at Wikipedia reveals a tangled web of legal complications over the physical aspects of the franchise, with different parts of the franchise being cut up and owned by several different companies. Catalyst Game Labs seems to hold most of the rights to the art and lore at this time, and it ultimately remains unknown the extent to which they would be willing to work more closely with Microsoft to consolidate this legendary franchise.
BattleTech and MechWarrior 5 for PC do not seem to have created any legal fuss, though, which could be a good sign for the franchise. Catalyst Game Labs even tweeted about MechWarrior 5 hitting PC. However, neither title seems to be coming to Xbox, which might be a sign of Microsoft's uncertainty over potential legal problems for publishing console versions of games under these licenses. It's hard to say.
What isn't hard to say is how awesome BattleTech is. A sprawling space opera comprising dozens of planetary systems, hulking and complex mechs, political intrigue across beautiful alien worlds, ripe with opportunities for massive multiplayer matches with the right studio and investment behind it. For now, BattleTech and MechWarrior 5 are doing a great job at filling the void, but I can't help but wonder what a big Microsoft-backed MechAssault title from a studio like The Coalition would look like on Xbox Series X and PC someday.
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