Rumour: Duke Nukem Xbox One exclusive for Microsoft E3 conference
You can’t kill the king, and in the most important E3 for the Xbox One yet, Duke Nukem could become the centre of attention.
The Xbox One is an excellent console. It has just over 38 million happy fans. But strip it back to just the numbers, and the picture isn’t as pretty as Microsoft would have hoped when it launched the console in 2013.
Its main competitor on store shelves and in content acquisition – Sony’s PlayStation 4 – has more than doubled the Xbox One’s estimated 38 million sales this generation. Meanwhile, Nintendo’s plucky Switch handheld-console hybrid is stomping in its direction, already at the 18 million sales mark in less than two years.
Even the most parochial of fans would have to admit some disappointment with Microsoft’s lack or urgency in building out its portfolio of first-party studios. It hasn’t been doing nearly enough to acquire and release a consistent stream of exclusives or diversify its tech in ways we’ve seen elsewhere, like VR and PlayLink.
It’s why 2018 is a big E3 for Microsoft; one in which it can make great strides in instilling new excitement amongst its loyal fans, retailers, investors and the industry at large. And with so many leaks prior to this year’s show, that anticipation can only come from a real surprise.
A new Duke Nukem for 2018?
Few announcements would be more surprising than the reveal of a new Duke Nukem game. No one would see it coming. And there are pointers towards this possibility.
I’ve had the good fortune to talk with Randy Pitchford on numerous occasions over the years. The CEO of Gearbox Software was stoked when his studio acquired the rights to Duke Nukem, but it wasn’t because he could finally oversee the release of the ill-fated Duke Nukem Forever.
Released in 2011 to very mixed reviews, Pitchford never saw Duke Nukem Forever as the Gearbox Duke game. He told me that the ongoing, 14-year saga of the game’s development needed closure before anything new could be released. Which is why Gearbox picked up the debris, puzzled it together into something playable – and it was playable, if clunky – and got Duke Nukem Forever out the door.
I distinctly remember talking to Pitchford about Duke Nukem after he showed me Aliens: Colonial Marines behind closed doors at E3 2012. He explained how it was his intention to - as soon as he could get Duke Nukem Forever done - turn his focus towards creating a true sequel. A proper, modern, triple-A blockbuster. He never told me a name, but the rumour was it would be a rebirth called Duke Begins. It could still
Since 2012 though, silence. Gearbox’s focus went to launching new IPs Battleborn (2016) and then We Happy Few (due Q3 2018).
But now, all of a sudden, there’s been movement.
The case for Duke Nukem and Xbox One
I turn your attention to this quote, from May, by Gearbox PR Manager Austin Malcolm: "E3 is just a few months away, and discussions on what to reveal, who to reveal it with and when we want to reveal it have already begun!”
Why does this suggest Duke Nukem? The king is back in the headlines and will be for the next year or two compliments of a new film in the works. Hugely popular wrestler John Cena will be wearing the crown, bringing the required weight to ensure the film’s development is closely followed.
Furthermore, we know that Borderlands 3 is not to be revealed at this year’s show, with publisher Take-2 revealing that a 2020 release is now expected. While tweets from Pitchford have suggested more Brothers in Arms is on the way; the obscure nature of these hints suggests it’s a smokescreen, as they avoid building too much hope among fans.
So the time is right for Duke Nukem, and Microsoft needs something big. A big third-party exclusive to rally behind. One with a history and an interest that will drive a tonne of talk – both negative and positive. It would help make Microsoft and the Xbox One the talk of the town – especially if it is an exclusive. Especially if John Cena walks out on stage, in character, to make the announcement.
There is no way Gearbox bought the Duke Nukem IP with the intention of letting it rot in the basement – Pitchford told me that himself. Releasing a game alongside the movie is a marketing two-for-one opportunity that cannot be ignored. And in deciding “who to announce it with,” Microsoft and the Xbox One are in the most need, and have the most capacity to help hype the title.
C’mon baby! I’m all out of gum.