The Xbox product line-up received a major setback today, with Microsoft announcing its decision to cancel the entire range of XSN Sports titles for the console this year, citing quality issues with the games in the line-up.
The company now plans to focus on reviving the XSN range in 2005, effectively missing out a full year's worth of annual updates, with the only XSN game still on the schedules for this year being the externally developed RalliSport Challenge 2.
Although the Xbox also has third party sports titles from EA Sports and Sega's ESPN franchise in its line-up, the XSN Sports games were Microsoft's attempt to give the console a cutting-edge range of online sports titles on Xbox Live. Launched with a fanfare at E3 last year, the decision to hold back the entire range is a somewhat embarrassing - although brave - admission of quality problems for Microsoft.
"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," admitted XSN Sports studio manager Kevin Browne, speaking to US website IGN. "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."
Conspiracy theorists have of course been quick to point out that the launch of XSN Sports was at least partially motivated by Electronic Arts' decision not to support Xbox Live in its products, and that as such, the XSN titles would be a contentious point in Microsoft's ongoing negotiations with EA on this topic.
However, Browne was adamant that none of the XSN games have been cancelled permanently, and he told IGN that the decision to move the titles off this year's schedule was driven purely by quality issues, not by any politicking surrounding the EA issue. "We don't want to go out there and ask customers to spend money for something that we are not convinced is absolutely the best that we think we can make," he explained.
Browne also revealed that the studio was ending its relationship with one of the developers which had worked on previous XSN Sports titles, High Voltage Software, in favour of a developer "closer to home". High Voltage was one of the companies which created a video demonstration of next-generation software for Microsoft's XNA development platform announcement at GDC last week.