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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?

AusGamers: Yeah.

Phil: Okay, I’m writing it down [smiles].

AusGamers: Awesome, well thanks so much for your time today Phil.

Phil: No problem.
Read more about Xbox One on the game page - we've got the latest news, screenshots, videos, and more!

Latest Comments
Posted 06:27pm 08/10/13
I can't wait to crush the console noobs to end the war once and for all
Posted 07:43pm 08/10/13
Yeah console FPS newbs definitely need to be put in their place. Controller better than mouse ...

Burn them.
Steve Farrelly
Posted 09:52pm 08/10/13
Because anyone who enjoys a game regardless of their platform is wrong unless it's PC right? You know, like those who think Christianity is wrong, or that all Muslims are terrorists, and all that...

It's time for everyone to just start respecting what their respective target respects. Enough with the ridiculousness already.
Posted 09:54pm 08/10/13
Because anyone who enjoys a game regardless of their platform is wrong unless it's PC right?


30fps is incorrect.
Posted 09:57pm 08/10/13
I'd love to have some proper cross-platform support between all consoles and PCs, would boost the numbers substantially when it comes to multiplayer and hopefully stop servers just dying after a month or so of the game being out.
Posted 10:01pm 08/10/13
Because anyone who enjoys a game regardless of their platform is wrong unless it's PC right? You know, like those who think Christianity is wrong.

Yeah holding a generation back for 10 years is wrong. Much like christianity holding civilisation back for thousands
Steve Farrelly
Posted 10:02pm 08/10/13
ctd next-gen games are all targeting 60 fps, but my point remains valid. What makes anyone right? If you watch a 3D movie and another person watches the same movie not in 2D are you better because of that?

The console wars and console/PC wars are so archaic, just get the f*** over it everyone. Games are games. If you have fun they're fun. No one you play against on your respective platform in anything competitive is playing you from another platform, so why does it matter?
Steve Farrelly
Posted 10:05pm 08/10/13
DK nice dig, fair point.

How about I simplify it, games are games, people play them on their platform of choice. Probably worth respecting that.
Posted 10:39pm 08/10/13
ctd next-gen games are all targeting 60 fps,

No, you're wrong. whats different this gen from last gen and the gen before that? This gen they are already well behind PC performance. If they should ever have aimed for 60fps it should have been well before pc left them for dead.


Posted 02:27am 09/10/13
And thats not biased at all, because Nvidia have no reason at all to try and downplay the new AMD powered consoles and push people towards PCs powered by their cards instead.

Oh wait...
Posted 10:49am 09/10/13
Of course its bias. Most things in life are. But the fact is AMD have being playing catch up to nVidia for years. If they had half decent cards do you think nVida would be commanding top dollar for there cards?
Btw at the end of the article it mentions AMD have their say next mouth. Havent read this yet but it will be interesting to hear what they have to say.
Posted 11:10am 09/10/13
Oh yeah, don't get me wrong, I prefer nVidia anyway, and I'll play games whatever platform they're on (PC, console, handheld, etc), but it just seems like sour grapes when nVidia is sitting there bagging out the consoles that have AMD hardware in them. I'm sure if they had nVidia hardware in them that article would be about how consoles are the future of gaming.
Posted 11:40am 09/10/13
The title's pun hurt
Posted 12:23pm 09/10/13
That's their choice to use borderline slow hardware though.

1080 @ 60+ constant fps requires lots of power and money, even still now. The next gen consoles are pushing somewhere above 30fps in their games, but less than 60, and since they all run vsync, you're left at 30fps. - If they did away with vsync, you'd get a more fluid output.

So now they have to make compromises, s*** game, or s*** hardware, or expensive console which makes people wonder why they don't buy a plain PC?

AMD wouldn't publish this article, clearly. There are people in the industry such as John Carmack who's touched base on this. If you listen to a few of Carmacks rants, the guy is very knowledgeable and articulate - and unbiased.

I think it's more of a general problem. Even if they went with nVidia GPU's, we wouldn't get GK110's in them. They'd probably use a 660ti chip or something close. This is a problem more local to the decisions of MS and Sony.
Posted 01:20pm 09/10/13
Khel i only mention all this as ya mate Steve claimed all next gen console game are targeting 60 fps, which is total bulls***.
Posted 01:38pm 09/10/13
i'm so glad you guys put your pc specs in your forum signature, it really shows what side you're on
Steve Farrelly
Posted 02:33pm 09/10/13
A also used the word "targeting", I didn't say "universally achieved" and most devs talk openly about wanting to run next-gen games at 60 fps

Frames per second wasn't my argument though, I was simply pointing out that fun game is fun, regardless of platform
Posted 08:12pm 09/10/13
Because anyone who enjoys a game regardless of their platform is wrong unless it's PC right? You know, like those who think Christianity is wrong, or that all Muslims are terrorists, and all that... It's time for everyone to just start respecting what their respective target respects. Enough with the ridiculousness already.

no, it's more that console lovers will tell you how much better they are because using a controller is harder therefore they are the superior gamer. At least the ones I know say that kind of crap.

I tried playing an FPS on my PC the other week using a 360 controller, it's the most clumsy system ever invented.
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