In incredible news breaking overnight in the US, Microsoft's Xbox division has decided to can the entire XSN Sports range for the console, with only a re-branded RalliSport Challenge 2 now slated for release.
The XSN brand, which was to be an intrinsic part of the wider MSN home acceptance push, made up a massive part of Microsoft's 2003 E3 conference and was heralded as a significant advancement in what gamers should expect from fully integrated online sports games. This backdown will be a hugely embarrassing blow to Microsoft.
The scale of the climbdown is staggering to say the least. The news means that the next incarnations of NFL Fever, NBA Inside Drive, NHL Rivals, Top Spin, Amped and Links will no longer see a release with the 2005 appendage.
The news follows all games in the series being outstripped at retail towards the end of last year by offerings from EA Sports and Sega, despite critical acclaim for games such as Links 2004.
Speaking to IGN, Microsoft's Kevin Browne, XSN Sports Studio Manager said, "I think the dominant piece of feedback that we heard on several of the titles was: 'XSN Sports is so cool, I just wish we had better games to play with that service.' And we're taking that to heart. We actually did think we had good games last year, but the market and the direct feedback that we have shows us that we fall short in a couple of areas to our competition, and we think it's the best thing we can do, to take this year off, and to close that quality gap that we have in respect to the EA Sports and ESPN sports titles."
The immediate reaction of the Xbox community was to figure that the XSN range, which will next be deployed with a 2006 tag, will hit Xbox 2 as a comprehensive sports range. However, this seems not to be the case. "What we're talking about is this: we're developing for the Xbox and we're not going to ship a set of games because there are areas that we definitely need to work on, from graphics to control," continued Browne. "There are areas that we definitely need to take advantage of in terms of the console's architecture. We haven't done a serious re-architecturing of the games since we initially launched on the platform, and as you know, when watching games that have been built subsequent to the initial shipment of the console, there's a heck of a lot more that you can do when you have time, and we're, right now, affording ourselves that time to truly take advantage of what the Xbox can do."
Browne pledged that the existing XSN service would remain in place for those already using the groundbreaking service. He also stated that only one developer, High Voltage Software, the creator of the well-liked NBA Inside Drive, would be changed at this point, with all other relationships remaining in place.
Expect further fallout from this story over the coming weeks and months, with a full explanation from this year’s E3.