Phil Spencer Explains Why Windows 10 Focus is Good for Xbox Gamers; Promises Hardware Innovation

on March 1, 2016 9:00 AM

There has been a lot of discussion about Microsoft’s work on bringing Xbox One and Windows 10 together on the same ecosystem. During the Xbox Spring Showcase in San Francisco, that DualShockers attended, Xbox Division head Phil Spencer talked at length about it in its introductory remarks.

Spencer explained that this process is a positive thing for console gamers as well as PC gamers, promising faster software and hardware innovation, and pledging the commitment to the Windows 10 platform on the long run.

“We recently shipped Rise of the Tomb Raider on the Windows 10 store, we have announced that Quantum Break is shipping on both Xbox One and Windows 10, so I really look at 2016 as the culmination of last year of us talking about our vision, and talking about how that vision comes together for the betterment of gamers and the betterment of the games.

This team, the team at Xbox, and inside of Microsoft, is the gaming team. Everything that we do, on any device, is being driven by the Xbox team, and the team is 100% committed to the success on every platform that our gamers want to play.

When we talk about our Windows success, we talk about Xbox One console success, we get up every morning with the gamer at the center of every decision that we make and we think about our ecosystem to get better, both for the developers, and the gamers. We know that our gamers want better games, they want to play games where they wanna play, they want to see innovation in gaming, they want to see gaming coming together, to put their experience, and let them craft the experience the way they want to craft it.

Our really coming back to our fundamental belief which is that as the Xbox group, the gaming group inside of Microsft, with the gamers’ vision in mind, that we’ll move our platform forward and we will continue the progress that we’re making.

We also know, we talk to gamers, that there are multiple kinds of gamers out there. As we’ve been evolving our vision, as we’ve been going through the steps of announcing and releasing parts of what we’re talking about and what we’ll be delivering in the next year, we get feedback, as we always do.”

Spencer continued by addressing specifically console-only gamers, in order to explain why this new focus is good for them as well. The first reason is the ability to preserve the platform’s gaming library through the generations:

“We got feedback around the Xbox One launch, but we also get feedback at every incremental step, as you probably saw around the Quantum Break announcement. I want to talk specifically about some of the constituents out there, some of the gaming groups, and how we think our vision actually is a positive move for them.

I get this question all the time: “Hey, I started as a console only gamer. I’m somebody who only plays games on consoles, I probably own multiple consoles, but my question to you Phil, and to the Xbox team is, how is this vision you have actually better for me as a console gamer. I see things like my exclusives going on PC, losing some exclusivity that I feel I have on Xbox. I see the PC people and the PlayStation people getting to play games without buying an Xbox One, and that feels bad to me.”

So I want to talk directly to that customer. I talk to him every night on Xbox Live, but I want to talk directly to that customer and talk about why our vision is actually great, I believe, for the console gamer.

We started talking about something called the universal Windows platform. And we have talked about the universal Windows platform as the platform we are embracing for gaming across multiple devices. Just so we get the taxonomy right, the universal Windows platform, which I’ll probably shorten as the UWP, allows universal Windows applications (UWA) to run on Windows 10, and that is our focus going forward, is building a complete gaming ecosystem for UWAs.

The thing that we think it does for the console generation, is that we’re allowing ourselves to decouple our software platform from the hardware platform which it runs. I think all of us that have been console gamers for quite a while, know that at the end of the generation, we get the cardboard box out, we put our old console in there, a bunch of old controllers, all of our games, we stick it in the closet, hoping that some day we’ll get it out, nostalgia factor going, and play those games again, and then we buy our new console and a whole new library of games.

Basically, every time a generation shift happens in console gaming, it’s had the tendency to invalidate every game you’ve ever purchased, and require a whole new purchase push. This isn’t great for games. It’s great for innovation at that step function, but it’s not great that we invalidate the games that we have.”

Secondly, Spencer explained how the shared Windows 10 ecosystem will allow for more and faster hardware innovation paired with software innovation, with games remaining backward and forward compatible with every device.

“The other thing it does on a hardware side, and we see this all the time in the console generations, is that we launch a piece of hardware, a spec for hardware, we’re still selling Xbox 360s, that’s a hardware designed basically ten years ago. And it’s still doing well. I love the fact that Xbox 360 customers are still buying 360s and playing on them, but we see other ecosystems, whether it’s phones, whether it’s PC, they can get more of a continuous innovation in hardware that we rarely see in consoles, because consoles lock hardware and the software platform together at the beginning of the generation, and then ride the generation out for seven years, while other ecosystems are getting better and stronger, and we’re waiting for the next big step function.

For us, we look at consoles and the console space and believe we will see more hardware innovation in the console space than we’ve ever seen. We’ll actually see come out new hardware capability during a generation, allowing the same games to run backward and forward compatible because we have the universal Windows application running on top of the universal Windows platform, that allows us to focus more on hardware innovation without invalidating the games that run on that platform. We can effectively see a little bit more of what we see on PC, I can still go back and I can run my old Doom games and Quake games that I ran so many years ago, but I still see the best 4K games come out and my library is always growing. Hardware innovation continues, while the software innovation is able to take advantage, and I don’t have to jump a generation and lose everything that I’ve played on before.”

Thirdly, Spencer also mentioned that the shared ecosystem allows more games to be developed for Xbox One as well as Windows 10:

“Also, incredibly important, and we’re seeing this today, as we unite the Xbox One and Windows 10 ecosystems, we have more Xbox games in development that we’ve ever had, our id@Xbox program, our AAA partners, and our first party, because the addressable space of building Xbox games allows them to get to more customers, obviously we attract more developers to a lucrative and broad ecosystem of players. And we see that today.

Frankly the console space borrows some things that we’ve seen from the PC space. Our game preview program that we brought to Xbox One has been incredibly successful. People play Arc Survival, a game that has come to Xbox One because of the game preview program and that was adopted from something happening in the PC space, allowing game developers to bring their games in more of an unfinished state and engage with the community as they go up and build those games.

We’re getting more games developed for the console gamer, we’re letting more gamers play with the console gamer, and we’ll see more continuous hardware and software innovation as we realize this vision as we go forward. That’s the commitment from our team to our console gamers.”

Spencer also talked about those gamers that just want to play games, regardless of platform.

“Now another constituent of gamers that is actually easier for us to address with our strategy, and frankly is probably the biggest group, are people that just play games. Some times I play games on my PC, some times I play games on consoles, and franly there is a lot of times, from my friend list being in several places, from my inability to make progress on the same game on these different screens, it just isn’t really putting my needs at the center of what I cant to do. So as we bring Xbox Live across both platforms, we allow for things like cross play, and teams to play together, and business model innovation, so people can sell content on one device and people consume it on another device.

All of these capabilities really unifying the PC gaming space with the console gaming space, and our vision has probably been most positively reacted by this group, the group that’s a Windows gamer maybe during the day, and a console gamer at night, looking at what we’re doing in the decision making for our console, and our focus on Windows 10, and understanding that focusing on both of these groups, where you wanna play, but with your decisions and your library at the center of what you want to do, gives us a fundamentally better experience for that group, the group that wants to play on multiple screens.”

Lastly, he addressed PC-only gamers, without hiding the Games for Windows Live debacle and admitting that Microsoft has a lot to prove to them:

“Recently, we launched Tomb Raider on the Windows 10 store, and we focused on this group, the group that we’ve heard most vocally on this launch is from the PC-only gamer. They’re looking at the capability that we have on the Windows store, and with UWAs, and giving us feedback on what’s working and what’s not working. This has been a great journey, a journey that we started.

Obviously at Microsoft we have a decades-long history of building PC games, going back to adventures and Flight Simulator, but we also have those missteps along the way. A number of times I’ve seen Games for Windows Live brought up on my Twitter account, whenever we’re trying to make a move into PC gaming, and it’s staggering. We live based on the decisions of the past that we’ve done, and we know that we have a lot to prove in the PC space.

We first came out last January and we said, “we’re gonna take PC a focus on PC gaming that’s as important as it has ever been inside of the company,” and got a lot of feedback saying “prove it to me.” And we’re still in that stage.

The thing I want to say about our focus in this area, is that it’s one that’s obviously incredibly important to the company. The company is Microsoft, and Windows is a critical franchise to the company. Frankly already today, when we look at the people who are running Windows 10, over 40% of those people are playing games on Windows 10. We see that already. We know that those devices get used to go play games, and we want to make sure as the platform creators, that we work hand-in-hand with our partners to make it the best ecosystem that we have.”

Spencer then continued by explaining the feedback received on Rise of the Tomb Raider on Windows 10, mentioning that those complaints are all on the roadmap, and they’re being addressed.

Support for multiple GPUs is something supported by the UWAs and is important, and Microsoft wants to make sure that developers have the tools and the time so that they can see UWAs as a fundamentally better way for them to build games. If that doesn’t happen, according to Spencer the process will be a failure, and that makes multiple GPU support important.

Forced VSync is also on the roadmap to be fixed, and feedback was also received on overlays, mods and injection tools. Microsoft’s intent is to embrace the “full breadth of what makes PC gaming great,” and to make sure that the games developed by them and by their partners have the features that PC gamers want.

According to Spencer, the point is not about bringing console games to PC, but it’s about embracing what’s great in PC gaming.

Lastly, he clarified that the focus on Windows 10 and PC games isn’t a passing fancy, and renewing Microsoft’s commitment to the PC gaming space.

“We are committed to this space. One concern I hear from people that I just want to stand up and squash altogether, is “is this a passing fancy at Microsoft, focusing on the PC gaming space, or is this a long commitment.” And as much as I stood on the E3 stage after getting my job as head of Xbox, and talked about our team’s commitment about making Xbox One absolutely the best Xbox console we can make, the best Xbox console Microsoft ever created, we’re 100% committed to the PC gaming space, and ensuring that Windows 10 becomes the best place to play games for PC gamers.

That is a long-term commitment from us, you’ll hear our CEO talking about it, you’ll see the company talk about it in their quarterly releases. It’s a commitment top-down, and the leaders understand that for Windows 10 to be successful, gaming has to be vibrant, healthy and innovative, and we as the Xbox team want to be at the center of that.”

One thing is for sure: whether Xbox fans are ready or not, Microsoft seems to be absolutely determined to pursue their shared ecosystem with Windows 10. It’ll be interesting to see if time will prove them right.

I’m especially interested in seeing what Spencer means with more continuous hardware innovation. I’ve always been very skeptical on the possibility of seeing evolved hardware between generations from home console manufacturers, but Microsoft’s plans seem to be putting that kind of option back on the table. Time will tell.

 /  Executive News Editor
Hailing from sunny (not as much as people think) Italy and long standing gamer since the age of Mattel Intellivision and Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Definitely a multi-platform gamer, he still holds the old dear PC nearest to his heart, while not disregarding any console on the market. RPGs (of any nationality) and MMORPGs are his daily bread, but he enjoys almost every other genre, prominently racing simulators, action and sandbox games. He is also one of the few surviving fans of the flight simulator genre on Earth.
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