Microsoft axes first-party sports line-up

Microsoft has backed out of the highly competitive US sports genre, cutting its NFL Fever, NHL Rivals and Inside Drive teams and laying off 76 staff in the process.

Microsoft Game Studios has axed its internal sports game development team, laying off 76 employees in the process, and has ceased development of its American football, ice hockey and basketball franchises.

That means no more NFL Fever, NHL Rivals or Inside Drive titles for Xbox owners, although the firm's more successful and critically acclaimed Links (golf) and Amped (snowboarding) titles and development teams have apparently survived the cull.

The future of the Xbox sports team has been in doubt since early this year when Microsoft announced that it would not be releasing any sports titles this coming autumn - citing quality concerns and promising to return to market with more rounded product at a later date.

The platform holder then signed a long anticipated deal with Electronic Arts this May that saw the world's number one publisher and king of the US sports genre bring its entire line-up to Xbox Live after a period of debate between the two companies.

Speaking to this website during E3, Electronic Arts' chief executive Larry Probst denied that there was any connection between the two events. "Frankly, I don't think those things are related," he said. "I think they came to that decision on their own."

"I can tell you that at no time during our discussions did the subject of quid pro quo come up where they would say, 'we'll give up our sports business if you do this' - we never had those discussions," he added.

However, the presence of a large number of Xbox Live-enabled EA Sports titles on Microsoft's release schedule could well have influenced this latest decision, which leaves the Redmond-based platform holder relying almost completely on EA's output in the key US sports game market.

Microsoft released the following statement this weekend commenting on the decision to cut back the Xbox sports team: "As the Xbox business has grown, a vibrant ecosystem of third-party developers has emerged. These developers are filling the title pipeline with an abundance of great games across many genres. The emergence of this healthy developer ecosystem also means that Microsoft Game Studios can evolve its mission."

The company also added that it would now "focus on creating epic, platform-defining games like Fable, Forza Motorsport, and Halo 2."

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