• Microsoft executive vice-president for gaming Phil Spencer said Microsoft is focused on providing players with choice and following an upgrade model similar to PCs, phones, and televisions
  • As Microsoft has added new studios into the fold over the past two years, Spencer believes it has given them the most diverse collection of first-party games in their history
  • Spencer also touted his belief in the subscription-based all-you-can play Game Pass service that will allow Microsoft and Xbox to experiment in ways they might not have been able to

Microsoft executive vice-president for gaming Phil Spencer is putting an emphasis on choice and diversity even as he prepares for the launch of the Xbox Series X this holiday season.

Yes, they are locked in a console war with the Sony PlayStation 5 even before either console is released, but Spencer wants to let gamers choose not just the Xbox Series X but also how they’ll play it.

In an interview with Polygon, Spencer said Microsoft is focused on providing players with choice, and following an upgrade model similar to PCs, phones, and televisions — upgrades console owners are comfortable with.

“I think the fundamental difference is that we’re trying to grow an Xbox ecosystem,” Spencer said. “We’re trying to build that around the player and give the player choice. If they choose to play on their television on a console, we want to have absolutely the best console experience. And I think we have that.”

With a global financial crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Spencer recognizes that not every family will be in a financial position to spend or want to spend hundreds of dollars on a new console this year.

“I think what you see is us challenging some of what I will say are the financial tropes or financial historicals of the console business,” Spencer said. “Because I don’t think everybody should have to go buy a new collection of games when they buy a new console. I just fundamentally don’t believe that.”

“I think you should have games that look great on that new console. But you shouldn’t have to go buy all-new games to go play on that console. I think if I make a purchase on Xbox One — I believed this even in the 360 days, even though we didn’t do it at the launch of Xbox One — it should continue to work as I move up in the hardware [cycle].”

With a major investment in game studios in recent years, Spencer is convinced that the result of the growth is “the most diverse collection of first-party games that we’ve ever had.”

Over the past two years, they have added Ninja Theory, Obsidian Entertainment, Undead Labs, inXile Entertainment, and others to its internal stable. Microsoft put up new studio The Initiative to create something still unannounced. Rare, 343 Industries, and Turn 10 Studios are also developing original and franchise games for Xbox and PC.

“I honestly think we’re in the best launch lineup position that we’ve ever been on Xbox,” Spencer said. “When I think about the strength and depth of the games that people are going to be able to play day one on Xbox Series X — not only because of [backward compatibility] — and the way that Game Pass really allows the total cost of ownership of our console, I think is a real strength.

Although most of the hype at launch will undoubtedly be about “Halo Infinite,” Xbox Game Studios head Matt Booty told Polygon that games from studios like Double Fine, Obsidian, and Compulsion Games will bring a diverse slate of ideas to Xbox’s first-party lineup.

Booty said Microsoft looked to three things when deciding which teams to acquire to bolster Xbox Game Studios: “People — people that we knew and we’ve worked with before; teams — teams that have stuck together, and have been through some good times and some adverse times; and then, ideas — in terms of a steady flow of new things that we could bring to our players.”

One important factor that will affect Xbox Game Studios’ lineup on Xbox Series X and other platforms is Game Pass, the subscription-based, all-you-can play service that boasts more than 10 million subscribers. Spencer said Game Pass was built on a plan to “give us a larger creative canvas to build on,” where not every game’s success is measured by how many units it sells.

“(Game Pass) really creates a different way for us to evaluate what games we go off and build, and allows us to do some things that frankly, we wouldn’t go do if we were just driven by the retail dynamics of the industry,” Spencer said.

That change in evaluation, combined with Xbox games being available on PC, as well as on phones and tablets through “Project xCloud,” offers Microsoft significantly more leeway going into a new generation of console.

Phil Spencer Xbox chief Phil Spencer has revealed that Microsoft’s video game unit is shifting its focus toward software. Photo: Reuters/Kevork Djansezian