Hi-Fi Rush Was The Hit Xbox Needed, And It Still Wasn’t Enough For Them

Hi-Fi Rush Was The Hit Xbox Needed, And It Still Wasn’t Enough For Them

Today, May 7, Xbox announced it’s shutting down three studios and merging another. This includes Redfall developer Arkane Austin and Mobile Doom studio Alpha Dog Games, while Roundhouse Games is being absorbed into Elder Scrolls Online developer ZeniMax Online Studios. But perhaps most shocking of all is the closure of Tango Gameworks, the team behind The Evil Within series and, most recently, the rhythm action game Hi-Fi Rush.

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On top of being one of Xbox’s most celebrated games of probably the last decade, Hi-Fi Rush was a remarkable pivot for Tango Gameworks, which made its name in the horror genre. It seemed like a genuine success story and a promising showcase for the studio under Microsoft’s first-party umbrella. Now, it’s been rewarded with a swift kick out the door and its developers are being forced to polish their resumes in an incredibly volatile job market.

Hi-Fi Rush was a delightful surprise on a few fronts. It was announced and then shadow-dropped all on the same day at the start of 2023, and it started out as a Game Pass offering, meaning millions of subscribers were able to play it immediately. Even if you weren’t a card-carrying Game Pass member, seeing Xbox invest in a new IP that wasn’t derivative of the studio’s old work was exciting. Hi-Fi Rush offered some hope that Xbox’s years of acquisitions, building a first-party stable to rival its competitors, could result in something original, electric, and memorable. Tango Gameworks’ pivot was based in the rhythm genre, but accommodated the rhythmically challenged. Its cast was colorful and won the hearts of many, alongside a soundtrack that was full of bangers, both original and licensed. Overall, I don’t have a ton of complaints about Hi-Fi Rush.

This kind of smaller-scale offering screams “passion project,” and seeing Microsoft let the team put out something like Hi-Fi Rush was heartening after years of anxiety about the video game industry’s continued consolidation. For a while, it seemed like it paid off. When the 2023 Game Awards came around, Hi-Fi Rush was nominated for five awards and took home the win for Best Audio Design. Then, it was one of the games Microsoft decided to bring to PlayStation 5 as part of its multi-platform push, and there are rumors that a Switch launch is imminent. Xbox Games Marketing Vice President Aaron Greenberg was on the record saying that Tango Gameworks reached “all key measurements and expectations” Xbox had for it. He literally said the company “couldn’t be happier” with how it all went down. Well, clearly, they could have been a little bit happier.

The shame of it all is that, even on top of how tragic this is for Tango Gameworks, it says a lot about Xbox’s own priorities after it devoured swaths of the industry like a gaping maw. Xbox doesn’t have a lot of beloved IP that it didn’t buy. The brand has become synonymous with paying for cultural cache without actually producing it and coasting on Game Pass and nostalgic memories of Halo. So, seeing something well-loved like Hi-Fi Rushbringing home trophies from award shows, and, according to Xbox’s own leadership, be financially successful, then be rewarded with a studio closure, is a succinct encapsulation of how well and truly fucked all of this is.

Chai swings his guitar.

Image: Tango Gameworks

There’s a foolish, ignorant notion that supply and demand are the sole forces that run a capitalistic world. This belief is based on the idea that the things we get are what people want. People will pay money for these things; thus the market demands these are the products, ideas, and practices we should continue to produce. Anything else is not needed and can die out. Well, Hi-Fi Rush checked off that box, so what is the excuse this time? Xbox wants to focus on “high-impact” games, which sounds like making back your money, winning awards, and being loved isn’t enough.

We want all the money in the goddamn world, and a game that can be completed in a weekend doesn’t do that. Hi-Fi Rush was a bright spot in an industry that is eating itself alive. Now, it’s a warning that Xbox is just like every other company in this hellscape: pretending to want better for everyone in the short term, but unwilling to commit in the long term. Miss me with any of your claims that the brand cares about games. Thousands of people are out of jobs, and we’re gearing up for more live-service sludge.

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