Microsoft's Phil Spencer Talks Xbox One: Cross-Platform, Indies, Subscriptions and Much More
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 04:29pm 08/10/13 | Comments
AusGamers caught up with Microsoft's Phil Spencer to discuss their next-gen entry: Xbox One. Read on for what he had to say...
AusGamers: So I wanted to talk about one of the big factors, which is the indie stuff, because obviously it’s no big secret that since the announcement of Xbox One you guys have had somewhat of an uphill battle; you’ve made some strategic decisions that I think have been for the best, but let’s not get bogged down in all of that, what I want to know is why you held off this long to talk about the indie initiatives on Xbox One -- was it a case of seeing what else was out there and what was happening or were you spending time learning what it is that indies need and want?
Phil Spencer: It’s a good question. I’d say working with smaller developers has always been critical on our platform, and obviously sitting inside of Microsoft, a company that spends so much energy with developers -- not just game developers -- but developers across the board, it’s kind of in our DNA that we’re going to reach out and talk to independent game developers about what they want to see on the platform, and we wanted to make sure we heard their input before we set our strategy and started talking about it publicly.
So we’ve been talking to literally hundreds of developers, which makes me surprised that it hasn’t leaked more than it has, and so thanks to them. But we’ve been talking to hundreds of developers about what we want to put in place and what we heard was Discoverability was a big deal, we got a lot of feedback on that, frankly, around what we did on 360 and the independent developer program and they really looked at X and A and they really wanted these games to be front and centre right next to every game -- a great game is a great game. They wanted full access to the platform, not just a development toolset that gave them some limited access… so we just wanted t make sure we had the right story and we were telling the story through the lens of the people that were really going to impact. First: that’s the development community, and then obviously in the end that’s gamers getting great games.
So we wanted to make sure we had all the right information and all the right data and, you know, it was great to have them validate our message on-stage with their quotes.
AusGamers: Do you feel that the industry at the moment is… I mean indie development has been experiencing a massive boom over the past two years, and that seems to be on the back of big name publishers that maybe create Triple-A products, but are also renowned for creating headaches for a lot of developers, and so self-publishing seems to be on the rise as a result of that and many other factors. Do you feel that the industry is actually two separate models at the moment -- that indie is actually separate to Triple-A? And if so, do you feel that they can co-exist and that that is the goal with Xbox One?
Phil: Yeah, I think… it’s a good question, I could go on [for] a long time about it. At one level, you want to have all the great games that people can make, and I think we’re creating a home any independent developer should be able to bring any great game to, and have our gamers play. That’s kind of a fundamental belief that we have.
The whole development community, I don’t really see it splintering -- I think what you have, is you have a certain number of developers who are actually able to self-fund the work that they want to do [and] they’re either able to self-fund because they’ve had tremendous success doing something else and now they want to go and develop their own thing on their own time, funding it by themselves, or you find developers who are looking for funding help and a partnership who want to develop something in cohesion with a publisher -- I think both of those models will continue to exist, I mean there are some huge franchises out there today where the cost of competing and creating a competitive title costs a ton of money; some smaller developers are going to have trouble doing that themselves. I think [we’re] going to end up with a spectrum of games that can be self-funded, you know, because they’re smaller the developer has the capability to do that -- you have things like Kickstarter that help fund a certain number of games where a developer might not be able to it on their own.
At the end we’re all trying to do the same thing, which is create great games that people know and love and buy into. One thing I think is important about games today is they’re more service-based than they’ve ever been. So, so many games now start small and they actually get bigger over time -- that’s the way they’re architected -- and one of the things [Microsoft] is doing is unlocking the Cloud capability on Xbox One, and for the indie developer [they] can actually start using server-based technology and not worry about the upfront cost because we [Microsoft] are going to build out this whole server system, and [developer] costs only scale as they develop. But I think it’s a great model for them.
AusGamers: With Games For Windows Live shuttering and Windows 8 being a kind of ubiquitous OS for Microsoft products, is there any chance we’ll start seeing cross-platform play between Xbox One and PC now that the architecture is so similar and with, as you mentioned, the expanded Cloud capabilities server-side?
Phil: I’m not allowed to leak things [smiles]. But I think what you’re talking about makes a lot of sense. Now you have differences in Windows gaming and console gaming around control and input... in fact if you go back to Shadow Run on Xbox 360 -- something I worked on -- we had PC players playing against Xbox 360 customers. We didn’t have tremendous success with that, but we learnt a lot from it. And then earlier this year we released Skulls of the Shogun, which was a game we launched on all three platforms on the same day, and you could start on one platform and then save the game to the Cloud and play across any of the screens and progress. And then Halo: Spartan Assault has some links between Halo 4 and Spartan Assault, even though they’re very different games. This connected ecosystem across all the different devices is definitely where I think the future of gaming is going; you don’t have to do it as a developer, but you have the capability and I think a system like Xbox Live across all those screens where you know who someone is and who their friends are, what their Achievements are and their progression is really critical to that.
AusGamers: We’re running out of time Phil, so I want to wrap on the feeling internally at Microsoft with this year and all the information and back and forth -- it almost feels like the industry has receded to the old Nintendo vs SEGA schoolyard fights and arguments with a fair amount of slinging going on. And then there’s what people are referring to as the “Microsoft 180” post-E3 -- can you talk about, how the industry as an entity feeds into what Microsoft does and decides to do, and at what point does the give and take just need to become you guys [Microsoft] give and the others take? Because at the end of the day, Microsoft is the one putting the product out there and it’s an evolutionary product if history is to repeat -- look at Xbox 360: a success because the hardware was never really a problem or a barrier, it was all about input, interaction, the OS (Xbox Live)...
Phil: Yeah you know the… we have very passionate fans. And I love that about our industry. But what does that mean? It means they’ll make fun of me for wearing two watches (but it wasn’t two watches) while I’m at some kind of show. They recognise what we say and they keep us truthful about what we’re saying -- I think that’s all an incredibly important part of our industry so I love the vocality… well, that’s not a word, but you know, the fact that our fans and gamers have a voice in what we do. I’d never try to turn that off.
You’re right though, at some point it’s our product and we have a vision behind our product which frankly hasn’t changed -- what we heard was that the gamers had some specific feedback about the systems they enjoyed on 360 and wanted [us] to bring to [Xbox One]. And we thought that was very valid and we wanted to be flexible; we wanted to listen and take the feedback, so we’ll do that. And I think if you look at the evolution of Xbox; Xbox Live -- it’s always been this relationship with the gamers where they’ve told us things that they really like and we try and go and build that out more -- multiplayer has been incredibly important and you’ve seen what we’ve done around matchmaking and Friends and Parties and all that, and [so] that two-way relationship with community is always going to be important. We have to have our vision, but we’re always going to listen, it’s an important part of who we are.
AusGamers: There’s a lot of talk about barrier of entry, specifically from a monetary perspective, and Xbox Live has obviously proven quite successful for you even with a subscription model because having a locked-down system offers gamers, I think, a more safe environment; a more conducive environment and we’ve seen in parallels between PSN and Xbox Live that the Microsoft service appears to be a stronger and smoother experience, particularly online. Is it important for you to maintain that subscription-based model going into the next-gen when so many other platforms and services are shifting to a free model?
Phil: You know gamers have really shown that they value what we put behind Xbox Live, and what we’ve said with Xbox One is that we’re putting a lot of investment around Cloud, smart matchmaking systems, and we’re going to continue to invest. And based on adoption we see that our investment is in line with what they think it’s worth -- they continue to subscribe and continue to use. Our usage is incredibly strong with Xbox Live, not just in games but across media, people playing games like Minecraft, games like Call of Duty -- in the US the video streaming services like NetFlix… it’s [all] been an incredibly strong part of what Xbox has turned into, it’s really become an entertainment home for people and I think the online service and its capability -- and our investment in that capability -- is continuing to grow and it’s something they [consumers] buy into -- it’s part of the value that you see in the box.
AusGamers: Are we going to see any change to the Achievement system with the new roll-out?
Phil: Yeah, we’ll probably go into that in more detail in the October time-frame, but you will see some I’ll say “expansion” of what Achievements are and I won’t say too much now, but it is an area that Xbox 360 gamers have come to love and it’s something we think putting a bit more creativity into would be a good thing.
AusGamers: And finally, keyboard and mouse support. Now I know Xbox One controller has been announced to useable with PCs down the track, but it just seems like maybe this time around the traditional PC input could also work for Xbox One -- just for those hardcore gamers out there…
Phil: I’ll write it down. We don’t have anything to announce right now, but I’ll write it down: So you want keyboard and mouse support on Xbox One?
Phil: Okay, I’m writing it down [smiles].
AusGamers: Awesome, well thanks so much for your time today Phil.
Phil: No problem.