Will Xbox’s Developer Direct make a splash?

After a quiet 2022, Xbox kicks off 2023 with a “Developer_Direct” livestream. With deep dives on hyped Xbox titles like Forza Motorsport and Redfall, the event should be a slam dunk. However, based on Microsoft’s hit and miss PR record, I’m worried.

On the one hand, their recent E3 shows are well produced, with solid trailers, minimal padding, and genuine surprises. However, Microsoft press events outside of E3 are almost always forgettable. Their ID@Xbox showcases run too long and leave hosting duties to unprepared Twitch “influencers.” Other one-offs like Inside Xbox and the Xbox Games Showcase Extended are so watered down and rigid in their presentation that even die hard fans skip them.

Xbox marketing also feels asleep at the wheel for large stretches of the year, packing almost all their big announcements in the E3 week presser and the occasional trailer or two during the December Game Awards show. And even though Game Pass is one of Xbox’s top selling points, new releases on the service rarely get the promotion they deserve. Most are sent out with a “fire and forget” approach. Each game is one small part of a bimonthly announcement of five or more unrelated releases crammed together in a single News Wire post.

Done well, a Developer Direct several times a year would address virtually all my hang ups with Xbox’s marketing strategy. The events would help even out Xbox’s schedule while building anticipation for upcoming Xbox games, big and small. But success requires a few critical elements.

The Developer Direct should, first and foremost, reveal firm release dates for every game showcased, at least specific to the month. Even if the gameplay isn’t noteworthy, Xbox fans have been waiting for big first party games for a long time. Dates add credibility.

The live stream also has to give the developers some time to talk, with enough of a leash to make them more approachable than corporate PR mouthpieces. Developer personalities will set the event apart from the “all trailer” atmosphere of Xbox’s E3 and Game Awards presence. They also play into Microsoft’s more approachable “house style” that would make a Developer Direct feel distinct from a Nintendo Direct or Sony State of Play. A blandly pleasant MC voiceover may keep the Sony and Nintendo directs briskly paced but ultimately becomes background noise; Xbox can chart a different path.

However, a little commentary goes a long way. The audience is showing up first and foremost for gameplay, so it’s crucial to treat talking heads as an appetizer to the action, not the main course. Except for Forza and Elder Scrolls, the games are new IPs. Most watchers only have context on the games from earlier teaser trailers. There’s no substitute for seeing the game in motion.

Finally, while it’s off the official agenda, I hope Microsoft spreads the wealth with a few minutes covering smaller titles launching soon on Game Pass. Granted, most will tune in for the heavy hitters, but an indie developer providing an intro and some gameplay narration can help small games shine in a way a corporate blog post blurb never would.

Developer Direct could be the start of Xbox marketing pulling their message together, a fun event we’ll look forward to every few months. Alternatively, it’s a colossal nothing burger that will be a distant memory long before E3. We’ll find out in 48 hours.