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News Xbox chief: 'We discussed whether we should even do another console'

CyberPanda

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Xbox boss Phil Spencer on how Microsoft agonised over Project Scarlett, the rise of streaming and how new tech will shape game storytelling



At the end of every video game console generation, the industry reaches a crossroads in relation to its future. This year, however, that point feels more like a spaghetti junction. Sony and Microsoft have new machines coming out in 2020: the PS5, and the Xbox One follow-up known as Project Scarlett. Both companies have subscription-based services running on their current machines, and Microsoft is pitching its xCloud game streaming platform against the recently launched Google Stadia, both of which allow users to play console-quality games on a variety of devices without having to actually own a console.

So what is the future of gaming? Will it continue to feature increasingly powerful consoles and PCs that you have to replace every few years? Or will they be jettisoned in favour of streaming services that enable the games to be played on anything with a screen?

If anyone should know, it’s Phil Spencer, head of Xbox at Microsoft. Since his appointment in 2014, he has pushed a “gamer first” agenda, prioritising the experience and culture of games over business or technology speak. Now reporting directly to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Spencer shares many of the same concerns about diversity and accessibility as his boss. But one thing is clear – he really believes in this medium.

“I am biased, but video games are the best form of art out there,” he says. “It sounds flippant for me to say that as the head of Xbox, but I believe it. I believe in the unifying power of play. It’s the reason I’m in this job.”

After presenting a range of new blockbuster titles at the X019 fan event in London last week, the first game Spencer wants to talk about is Tell Me Why, a comparatively modest adventure from French studio Dontnod, which has a trans man as one of its two lead characters.

“It challenges us,” says Spencer. “Like, what does it mean for us to tell that story? We probably won’t get everything right, but I love taking that step. Gaming has a unique ability to bring people together. It’s a shared experience. We can save the world from the aliens together without being judged based on what we look like, how much money we have, where we come from, what political affiliation we have, what gender we are. I think that the game stories are going to start bringing that to life.”



‘What does it mean for us to tell that story’ … Phil Spencer on Tell Me Why, one of whose lead characters is a trans man. Photograph: Dontnod Entertainment

So where does he stand on the issue of the day – game streaming v game hardware? Given the development of console-free technology, was there always going to be a successor to Xbox One?

“When we created Project Scarlett, and it was years ago that we started, we had the discussion as a leadership team: should we do another console?” he says. “Forget about streaming for a second – do we think there is a design point that matters beyond what Xbox One is capable of today? When we designed Xbox One X, we said we wanted to bring in true 4k Gaming. Do we think there’s something to design for that’s beyond that? We do. And we found that with Project Scarlett.”

The forthcoming machine sounds impressive technically, with its custom AMD Zen 2 processor promising four times the power of Xbox One X, AMD Navi graphics processor, built-in SSD and support for 8k displays. But Spencer says it’s not just about improving the visuals.



“One of the things we’ve really focused on with Scarlett is how games feel,” he says. “It’s not just feel in terms of input, though that is a big focus, but also, how long does it take me to get into a game? CPU capability is a part of that. Current gen consoles are like arm wrestlers – they have one big arm, which is the GPU, and one little arm, which is the CPU. When those things are more balanced, it will allow us to provide a better game feel through frame rate consistency and lower input latency. But I also think that can transfer through to the emotional feel we get in game. As you remove some of the ‘noise’ that we have to block out when we’re playing a game, developers will be able to use that sense of immersion to drive ever thoughtful storytelling.”

For Spencer, storytelling sits at the heart of emerging technologies such as game streaming. When talking about xCloud – in a testing phase with an invite-only beta programme and no word yet on how people will pay to use it – Spencer wants to highlight how the service will benefit developers and the games they make. For the last five years, studios have faced exponentially greater development costs, without being able to grow their revenues from straightforward game purchases. Many have started to think of “games as a service”, adding downloadable content, season passes and microtransactions to their titles, which don’t work as well with single-player narrative games and are controversial with players.


Supporting games from Africa or India is a great opportunity for us to tell new stories.


Spencer believes the new era of subscription and streaming services could help solve all this, partly because there’s now a whole strata of companies with money to spend on gaining exclusive content for their services. “As development costs increase, publishers have to find ways to recoup that investment, because your misses cost you more and the hits then need to cover those losses, plus turn a profit,” he says. “I talked to many of my friends in the development industry and, with us and Apple and Epic and Google Stadia all signing deals to get content, they can almost cover the costs of the development before they launch. They can really focus on building the game. And with something such as Game Pass, once the game gets launched, millions and millions of people are going to get to play it.”

One interesting element of xCloud is that it opens up a massive new global market for Xbox games. Microsoft recently revealed that the service will launch in India in 2020, a market where console sales have always been low, but where there are 300m gamers, mostly playing on smartphones. Spencer also talks about the possibility of launching in Africa. “I was there in April, and we opened two African development centres,” he says. “There are 1.2 billion people on the continent and the average age is 19. For the games industry, it’s just a pure growth opportunity.” It’s also ripe for game creation, and Spencer visited studios in Kenya and Nigeria. He is keen for the next generation of narrative games to move beyond what he terms “a bunch of white guy stories”.

“It was interesting because they’re trying to figure what games they should build,” says Spencer. “What I was trying to tell them was, you don’t need to focus on where you are geographically, because your life experiences will come through in the games you build. You can build a story that is set on your continent, or you can just build a game through your own lens, your own life experience, and that will be different from what people would build in other parts of the world. I think that’s a great thing in games – they allow you to live someone else’s life. That is unique to our art form. [Supporting] games from Africa or India is a great opportunity for us to tell new stories with lead characters we’ve never seen in gaming before.”



The xCloud platform now offers over 50 titles for testers to stream, including the critically acclaimed Devil May Cry 5. Photograph: Games Press

It seems as if both xCloud and Game Pass – a subscription service that lets Xbox One owners download a large number of games for one monthly fee – will fulfil a range of roles in the future. Spencer hints that instantly playable demos of new and forthcoming games might be available directly from the Scarlett home menu, via xCloud servers. “We’re doing work to make it as seamless as possible to click on a game icon and be able to play,” he says. “The time it takes from discovery of a game to actually playing it is one of the challenges we have relative to, say, video or music, where you can be in a service and looking around and trial very quickly. That’s an area where xCloud can add a ton of capability – even if, in the end, you buy the game, we can give you a taster of what it is very quickly.”

Spencer hints that the Game Pass and xCloud services will align, allowing Game Pass subscribers to stream the games they have downloaded and play them on other devices. There is room, too, for other subscription services within the same package. “We’ll also look more and more at how we can help other subscriptions, as well as our customers, by maybe landing subscriptions inside Game Pass,” says Spencer. “You might have seen the promotion we did with Spotify [which provided Game Pass subscribers six-months of Spotify access for no extra charge]. I think you’ll see us do more of that.”

So, according to Spencer, it seems the near future will see a range of complimentary streaming and subscription services, but at the heart of it, there will still be a specialist console.

“The best way for you to play in your home – today, tomorrow, next year – is going to be on a local piece of hardware,” he says. “That doesn’t mean that there’s not a future in cloud. Right now, xCloud is in preview, because we don’t think we’ve figured out all the answers to what cloud gaming is about, and we don’t want to try to get people to buy into the unknown. But we’re a big company. We can support the unknown. We will evolve.”
 

DynamiteCop!

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I don't think he's saying that they questioned making another console but rather has there been a real reason to create a new one.

He went over this in 2017 saying that they're not on some checkbox schedule and that there needs to be a real reason to drive hardware forward rather than just looking at the calendar and saying "Well it's about that time to release another system".
 

Stuart360

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I don't think he's saying that they questioned making another console but rather has there been a real reason to create a new one.

He went over this in 2017 saying that they're not on some checkbox schedule and that there needs to be a real reason to drive hardware forward rather than just looking at the calendar and saying "Well it's about that time to release another system".
Yep if you actually read his full quotes, he's clearly saying 'did we need to make a new console now at this time, or can we just go on with XB1 and the OneX as the OneX already has 4k covered. What else is there to do with consoles right now'.
Of course people will spin it as Microsoft are deperate to get out of the console space (as they keep announcing new consoles lol).
 
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DynamiteCop!

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Yep if you actually read his full quotes, he's clearly saying 'did we need to make a new console now at this time, or can we just go on with XB1 and the OneX as the OneX already has 4k covered. What else is there to do with consoles right now'.
Of course people will spin it as Microsoft are deperate to get out of the console space (as they keep announcing new consoles lol).
Yeah this is quite clear not in only what he said in 2017 but here as well.
 

Psykodad

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Obsolete how?
What point is there in owning one?

That's what Spencer is saying.
Your spinning of "what reason is there to release one" is the very same thing in Xbox' case.

Xbox consoles have no place anymore and MS is moving towards becoming a 3rd party publisher like EA and Activision.
People have been talking about how this might be happening throughout the entire gen, but have always been dismissed as being "Ponies".
Now you basically have it straight from the horse's mouth.

All the other stuff he's saying is PR.

Besides, xCloud is a bad bet, but MS is gifted at making all the wrong choices.
Should be obvious by now.
 

DynamiteCop!

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What point is there in owning one?

That's what Spencer is saying.
Your spinning of "what reason is there to release one" is the very same thing in Xbox' case.

Xbox consoles have no place anymore and MS is moving towards becoming a 3rd party publisher like EA and Activision.
People have been talking about how this might be happening throughout the entire gen, but have always been dismissed as being "Ponies".
Now you basically have it straight from the horse's mouth.

All the other stuff he's saying is PR.

Besides, xCloud is a bad bet, but MS is gifted at making all the wrong choices.
Should be obvious by now.
Fanboy drivel
 

nikolino840

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What point is there in owning one?

That's what Spencer is saying.
Your spinning of "what reason is there to release one" is the very same thing in Xbox' case.

Xbox consoles have no place anymore and MS is moving towards becoming a 3rd party publisher like EA and Activision.
People have been talking about how this might be happening throughout the entire gen, but have always been dismissed as being "Ponies".
Now you basically have it straight from the horse's mouth.

All the other stuff he's saying is PR.

Besides, xCloud is a bad bet, but MS is gifted at making all the wrong choices.
Should be obvious by now.

Again this... there's no clues...maybe in the 2030 After Scarlett gen
 

CeeJay

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What point is there in owning one?

That's what Spencer is saying.
Your spinning of "what reason is there to release one" is the very same thing in Xbox' case.

Xbox consoles have no place anymore and MS is moving towards becoming a 3rd party publisher like EA and Activision.
People have been talking about how this might be happening throughout the entire gen, but have always been dismissed as being "Ponies".
Now you basically have it straight from the horse's mouth.

All the other stuff he's saying is PR.

Besides, xCloud is a bad bet, but MS is gifted at making all the wrong choices.
Should be obvious by now.
You certainly got a lot of hate for Microsoft, i'll give you that,,,
 

DoctorEkkoUK

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I get the feeling they really want to make Gamepass the Netflix of games. To the point you open up gamepass, browse and then decide you want to play a game you click to open it and then an AI algorythym that has analysied which data gets used first by thousands of other users downloads files in order that you can get into the menu within the first few megabytes, and that you are playing the opening of the game in a few dozen seconds, the game downloading behind the scenes as you play. The AI knows which data you are going to need next so you wont even notice a download or installation process. It will be like just in time delivery for data. If they can really crack this then this will beat game streaming for the living room because it will get rid of input lag but still have the benefit of being able to jump straight in to a game with just a moderetly good connection. It will even save space and help those with data caps. Why download an entire game if you are only going to play the first level then get bored of it, with this system it will download what you will need next and no more. Of course it should have an option to download the full game if you chose much like you can download netflix shows for use offline.
 

DeepEnigma

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So in 25 years? Cool.


We'll all be dead and under water by then!
 

Dabaus

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Between this, and Phil going out there saying "Dont worry about sales and how much money xbox makes, worry about the games" it sounds to me like there are alot of unhappy Microsoft board members. Im sure Phil told Nadella a tale about how to integrate Xbox into the cloud through streaming and how its the future and Nadella bought into it. I think early next gen if the sales gap between PS5 and xbox next is another 2:1, like 20 million to 10, i think xbox closes shop and becomes a gamepass app you can download on anything.
 

mckmas8808

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Between this, and Phil going out there saying "Dont worry about sales and how much money xbox makes, worry about the games" it sounds to me like there are alot of unhappy Microsoft board members. Im sure Phil told Nadella a tale about how to integrate Xbox into the cloud through streaming and how its the future and Nadella bought into it. I think early next gen if the sales gap between PS5 and xbox next is another 2:1, like 20 million to 10, i think xbox closes shop and becomes a gamepass app you can download on anything.

100% agree here.
 
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StormCell

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What point is there in owning one?

That's what Spencer is saying.
Your spinning of "what reason is there to release one" is the very same thing in Xbox' case.

Xbox consoles have no place anymore and MS is moving towards becoming a 3rd party publisher like EA and Activision.
People have been talking about how this might be happening throughout the entire gen, but have always been dismissed as being "Ponies".
Now you basically have it straight from the horse's mouth.

All the other stuff he's saying is PR.

Besides, xCloud is a bad bet, but MS is gifted at making all the wrong choices.
Should be obvious by now.

Well, you're not entirely wrong. I don't feel like I'm missing out on much by not owning an Xbox One. I'd like to have one, but it's not like I'm missing out on a lot of exclusives for the One.

It's entirely up to Microsoft whether they want to invest the proper amount of money to have a console. What they did with Xbox and Xbox 360 pushed the industry. Having proper platform exclusives costs $$$. I want to see them push the envelope again on sports genres and RPGs, and not so much just shooters.
 

NickFire

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If Scarlet sells much better the future may change, but right now all signs point to MS eventually expanding its offerings to more of its competitor's platform. Kind of shocked they would confirm they discussed this with all the rumors that have been going around.
 

iconmaster

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the first game Spencer wants to talk about is Tell Me Why, a comparatively modest adventure from French studio Dontnod, which has a trans man as one of its two lead characters.

Well, I was leaning toward "should"...
 

Nickolaidas

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MS pulling a Sega would be amazing for me. I keep playing on my PlayStation, and if Halo/Gears/Ori/*whatever MS comes up with in this gen* are able for purchase in a Sony system, I would be a happy camper.

Although … Sony (almost) becoming a monopoly in console gaming may end up doing more harm than good, long term.

Dammit, I'm conflicted.
 
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Vawn

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Eventually, Xbox will go a full week without completely contradicting themselves.

This week it is, "we weren't sure if we should have another console" and "we've already planned to release many more generstion of home consoles".
 

Nickolaidas

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Eventually, Xbox will go a full week without completely contradicting themselves.

This week it is, "we weren't sure if we should have another console" and "we've already planned to release many more generstion of home consoles".

I love console generstions.
 

Stuart360

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Eventually, Xbox will go a full week without completely contradicting themselves.

This week it is, "we weren't sure if we should have another console" and "we've already planned to release many more generstion of home consoles".
Because he's clearly talking about whether now was the time to do Scarlett, as they already did the OneX, or should they wait, not whteher they should actually make another console ever. Of course certain people will see what they want to see.
All this thread shows is how many people only read thread titles before commenting.
 

DynamiteCop!

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Because he's clearly talking about whether now was the time to do Scarlett, as they already did the OneX, or should they wait, not whteher they should actually make another console ever. Of course certain people will see what they want to see.
All this thread shows is how many people only read thread titles before commenting.
Well people are dumb, so.
 

EDMIX

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I'm not surprised that was in question.

MS has been going 3rd party for some time and I think at some point clearly it has to be questioned. The likely talked about putting games on PC, Apple, Playstation and Nintendo. They probably where seeing if the numbers would make sense as its clear they want to be the Netflix of gaming and they've already expressed this desire to put content on all devices. I think clearly they will make a system, but down the line you might end up seeing all their content on PS and Nintendo anyway.
 

NickFire

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Because he's clearly talking about whether now was the time to do Scarlett, as they already did the OneX, or should they wait, not whteher they should actually make another console ever. Of course certain people will see what they want to see.
All this thread shows is how many people only read thread titles before commenting.
I read the statements as capable of being interpreted (reasonably) in both ways. But I don't put stock into your interpretation as the right way to look at them. That interpretation presumes MS would really stay in the console business, but give PS5 a long head start. That is not really believable to me. For MS the question was do we stay in the business or leave it (talking just console manufacturing here). There was never a question of whether Xbox One was selling so well that they should give PS5 a long head start. No, never, no way in my opinion.
 

DynamiteCop!

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I read the statements as capable of being interpreted (reasonably) in both ways. But I don't put stock into your interpretation as the right way to look at them. That interpretation presumes MS would really stay in the console business, but give PS5 a long head start. That is not really believable to me. For MS the question was do we stay in the business or leave it (talking just console manufacturing here). There was never a question of whether Xbox One was selling so well that they should give PS5 a long head start. No, never, no way in my opinion.
It can't be determined any other way because the context was already set two years ago.

It's not shilling, what he said is abundantly clear. The only person spinning here is you trying to make Xbox appear dead and as destitute as possible.

It's an extrapolation of this. People are being stupid (as usual) and reading what they want to see from this.
 

Stuart360

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I read the statements as capable of being interpreted (reasonably) in both ways. But I don't put stock into your interpretation as the right way to look at them. That interpretation presumes MS would really stay in the console business, but give PS5 a long head start. That is not really believable to me. For MS the question was do we stay in the business or leave it (talking just console manufacturing here). There was never a question of whether Xbox One was selling so well that they should give PS5 a long head start. No, never, no way in my opinion.
“When we created Project Scarlett, and it was years ago that we started, we had the discussion as a leadership team: should we do another console?” he says. “Forget about streaming for a second – do we think there is a design point that matters beyond what Xbox One is capable of today? When we designed Xbox One X, we said we wanted to bring in true 4k Gaming. Do we think there’s something to design for that’s beyond that? We do. And we found that with Project Scarlett.”

I'm sorry but its clear what he's saying. 'is now the time to make a new console, or wait and go with what we have'.
 

DynamiteCop!

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“When we created Project Scarlett, and it was years ago that we started, we had the discussion as a leadership team: should we do another console?” he says. “Forget about streaming for a second – do we think there is a design point that matters beyond what Xbox One is capable of today? When we designed Xbox One X, we said we wanted to bring in true 4k Gaming. Do we think there’s something to design for that’s beyond that? We do. And we found that with Project Scarlett.”

I'm sorry but its clear what he's saying. 'is now the time to make a new console, or wait and go with what we have'.
There's no confusing this unless you interject with delusion, it's abundantly clear what he's saying.
 

NickFire

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“When we created Project Scarlett, and it was years ago that we started, we had the discussion as a leadership team: should we do another console?” he says. “Forget about streaming for a second – do we think there is a design point that matters beyond what Xbox One is capable of today? When we designed Xbox One X, we said we wanted to bring in true 4k Gaming. Do we think there’s something to design for that’s beyond that? We do. And we found that with Project Scarlett.”

I'm sorry but its clear what he's saying. 'is now the time to make a new console, or wait and go with what we have'.
I'm not sorry. MS was never considering releasing Scarlet years later than PS5. No matter how much you might want to believe that, it just does not hold water. Sony eviscerated MS on console sales this gen, and MS's most competitive gen was when they had a year head start. The loser in the console sales war is never going to question whether they should give the market leader the exact same advantage that MS used to stay competitive.
 
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Stuart360

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I'm not sorry. MS was never considering releasing Scarlet years later than PS5. No matter how much you might want to believe that, it just does not hold water. Sony eviscerated MS on console sales this gen, and MS's most competitive gen was when they had a year head start. The loser in the console sales war is never going to question whether they should give the market leader the exact same advantage that MS used to stay competitive.
It doesnt matter whether you believe him or not, we are talking soley about what he actually said. Plus like Phil said himself, these conversations were years ago, when no one would of known if/wehn a PS5 was being made or coming out.
 
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JLB

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What point is there in owning one?

That's what Spencer is saying.
Your spinning of "what reason is there to release one" is the very same thing in Xbox' case.

Xbox consoles have no place anymore and MS is moving towards becoming a 3rd party publisher like EA and Activision.
People have been talking about how this might be happening throughout the entire gen, but have always been dismissed as being "Ponies".
Now you basically have it straight from the horse's mouth.

All the other stuff he's saying is PR.

Besides, xCloud is a bad bet, but MS is gifted at making all the wrong choices.
Should be obvious by now.

lol that you actually believe this.
 

Enjay

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Feb 18, 2009
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What point is there in owning one?

That's what Spencer is saying.
Your spinning of "what reason is there to release one" is the very same thing in Xbox' case.

Xbox consoles have no place anymore and MS is moving towards becoming a 3rd party publisher like EA and Activision.
People have been talking about how this might be happening throughout the entire gen, but have always been dismissed as being "Ponies".
Now you basically have it straight from the horse's mouth.

All the other stuff he's saying is PR.

Besides, xCloud is a bad bet, but MS is gifted at making all the wrong choices.
Should be obvious by now.
Shilling for Dreams has got your head fucked up. Bad. Give that game a break dude lol.
 

Psykodad

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Shilling for Dreams has got your head fucked up. Bad. Give that game a break dude lol.
I'm shilling?
Apart from barely posting about Dreams the past months, most of it were complaints. Lol
 
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