Microsoft Gaming exec reportedly said Xbox needs "smaller games" after it closed Hi-Fi Rush developer Tango Gameworks

Hi-Fi Rush
(Image credit: Tango Gameworks)
Recent updates

This article has been updated with additional context about Hi-Fi Rush's development.

What you need to know

  • A day after Microsoft closed three Xbox studios — including Hi-Fi Rush developer Tango Gameworks — a Microsoft Gaming executive has reportedly said it needs more small games.
  • Specifically, a report from The Verge indicates that Microsoft Gaming president of game content and studios Matt Booty said "we need smaller games that give us prestige and awards" in a town hall held on Wednesday.
  • Hi-Fi Rush, a rhythm action game released in 2023 in a surprise shadow drop, was a bold departure for the horror-focused Tango Gameworks. It garnered over three million players since release and took home several awards across the industry, and Xbox itself called it "a break out hit for us and our players in all key measurements and expectations."
  • All of this is precisely why Microsoft's closure of Tango Gameworks yesterday was so shocking, and also why Booty's comments in the town hall have left many equally confused and baffled.

Just a single day after it came to light that Microsoft closed three game studios — including Hi-Fi Rush developer Tango Gameworks — its president of game content and studios, Matt Booty, has reportedly said Xbox Game Studios needs more smaller games.

The report comes from The Verge, which notes that according to "internal remarks," Booty told staff "we need smaller games that give us prestige and awards" during a town hall meeting held on Wednesday. That statement was surprising for many employees present, given that Tango Gameworks' Hi-Fi Rush arguably fits that description well.

Released in a shadow drop a little over a year after Tango launched Ghostwire: Tokyo in 2022, Hi-Fi Rush was a bold departure from the studio's usual horror-focused games. Its addicting rhythm-based hack 'n' slash combat, energetic rock soundtrack, and colorful, vibrant world went on to attract over 3 million players, though, and the game ended up taking home several awards from The Game Awards, the Game Developers Choice Awards, and the BAFTA Awards.

Microsoft's vice president of Xbox games marketing Aaron Greenberg even publicly stated that "Hi-Fi Rush was a break out hit for us and our players in all key measurements and expectations" when rumors of poor sales spread last April, which made Microsoft's decision to kill the studio behind it yesterday all the more shocking. Booty's comments today in the wake of that choice have left many similarly dumbfounded, and Tango Gameworks' creative director John Johanas feels the same way:

John Johanas, Hi-Fi Rush's creative director at Tango Gameworks, reacting to Booty's town hall comments. (Image credit: Windows Central)

Analysis: What are we doing here?

Frankly, I can't think of something more bizarre and tone deaf to say the day after shuttering the studio that made one of the most well-received Xbox games in recent years. If Microsoft needs small award-winning games, than why would it first turn down a Hi-Fi Rush sequel, then close the team that made it entirely?

In Booty's email to staff announcing the cuts yesterday, he noted a "reprioritization of titles and resources" was necessary. A report from Bloomberg also revealed he said ZeniMax leadership was stretched too thin, and that the closures were intended to help move resources into other projects. However, Microsoft has ripped past earnings expectations with a $21.9 billion net income, and has become the world's most valuable company in 2024. 

Somehow, I get the feeling there was a solution here that didn't involve taking three studios behind the shed and laying off developers. And this is after roughly 2,000 Microsoft Gaming employees were cut in January. What are we doing here, Microsoft?

It's worth noting that what's considered a "smaller game" is subjective. In a large interview with several Tango Gameworks developers shared by Xbox in October, it was revealed that Hi-Fi Rush was in development for a long time, and that while the team working on it for much of that time was small, there was eventually a "final sprint to pull people in to get it finished." Audio director Shuichi Kobori also noted that he "would never call it a small project," though did say "you might have a different view" if you compared it to games with higher budgets. As the screenshotted reaction above shows, though, game director John Johanas was bothered by Booty's comments; if nothing else, what he said is unbelievably tactless.

Ultimately, in my view, Booty can say whatever he wants, but actions speak louder — and to me, Microsoft's actions yesterday suggest it isn't a safe place for developers to create the small, prestigious games that Booty says Xbox needs.

Brendan Lowry

Brendan Lowry is a Windows Central writer and Oakland University graduate with a burning passion for video games, of which he's been an avid fan since childhood. You'll find him doing reviews, editorials, and general coverage on everything Xbox and PC. Follow him on Twitter.

  • fdruid
    Dunno, this outrage is all armchair quarterback-like to me. Clearly it wasn't all as rosy as these articles paint it. They must have seen something that wasn't working well in those studios. And ultimately they are the ones who have the numbers.

    Hifi Rush taking too many years to make, and despite people liking it, not making a lot of money is an indicator of something being wrong.

    Redfall was a blunder of the own studio, 100% them. They made the wrong choice trying to make a studio go into a kind of game that wasn't their thing. They probably rushed it too. The game wasn't bad but people didn't like it, and mainly it wasn't the super hit MS was hoping for.

    And on your closing line, well, even MS has limits to what they can allow one of their studios to make freely if it's a flop. It all boils down to ideology in the end. This is capitalism and MS are out to make money with the huge investments they made.

    Would a 100% indie Hifi Rush or Redfall have sold more or not sink their respective studios anyway? Maybe, and maybe they wouldn't have even existed if not under Microsoft's wing.

    My whole point is that these pearl-clutching takes of "MS bad, kills studios on a whim with their bloody iron fist" can be a bit shallow and a knee-jerk reaction to what is obviously bad news. As a reader I would certainly be interested in knowing more precise information, but nobody outside those actually working there will know it, and I'm fine with that.