Microsoft’s Xbox Division Head Phil Spencer was at GDC in San Francisco this week, and he as together with ID@Xbox Chief Chris Charla on Larry “Major Nelson” Hryb’s podcast, chatting about a variety of Xbox-related topics.
Spencer talked about the ID@Xbox program, mentioning he sees creativity and diversity coming from many different places, from AAA, from new business models, and from small teams, even from developers that used to work for bigger studios and went indie because they had a passion for what they wanted to build.
He added that other platform holders like Steam and Sony have done a “great job” with indies as well, and what he loves of ID@Xbox is that small studios now have an avenue to get to the largest audiences. They can ship on PC, but they also have a way to bring their games to consoles, and it’s a great opportunity for them and for gamers to get their hands on more and more games.
Talking about the Xbox Live Creators Program, Spencer explained that some developers aren’t working through the ID@Xbox program, as they prefer to take their own path, and Microsoft wants to make sure that they’re able to access Xbox Live. It’s not a full access because there are parts of the system that Microsoft wants to protect, but the company wants developers to be able to connect to Xbox Live and reach the rich social network of games there.
Charla added that there will be a special section on Xbox One for people using the Xbox Live Creators Program, because Xbox One gamers want a curated environment, so the standard store won’t change.
Spencer feels that opening game development to everybody is going to lead to more creativity coming to the space. While it’s uncurated space, as Xbox wants to make sure that gamers know what they’re getting into (not in a negative way), we have seen a lot of great things come out of this kind of environment.
He then moved on to talk about Xbox One Game Pass, mentioning that the idea has been in the team’s heads for quite a while. The response has been fantastic, and Spencer would actually like to see games ship first to the program as a way to get distributed.
“I would actually like this to see this grow to a program that you could see front-line games, first shipped games, come in Xbox Game Pass as a way to get distributed. I think we’ve seen this in the TV space, like Netflix”
“I’d love to see us grow Game Pass to a program where episodic and smaller story-based games could see this as a way that they actually launch, because obviously there is a business model behind Xbox Game Pass, and I think it could really support that.”
Spencer would also love to bring the Game Pass to more platforms, like Windows and basically every platform where the company ships games.
Speaking about augmented reality, virtual reality, and mixed reality, Spencer explained that he’s seeing developers trying to find what he calls “the vocabulary” of that space. He was in Japan last week and saw developers trying new things, and all are starting on Windows, since it’s a very open space for them to try on.
He also talked about the recently-announced head mounted displays that will be supported on Windows, and while that is starting on PC, the longer-term plan is to bring it to all Windows 10 platforms, including Xbox.
One of Spencer’s Japanese stops was Namco Bandai (even if Hryb was quick to clarify that this is not a confirmation that the products mentioned will come to Xbox), and they had some VR experiences that they include in their arcades, like a Gundam experience that was “really cool.” It was really well done, and as an experience you felt the sense of height and immersion that VR has done “a great job in bringing to gaming.” He thinks that developers could tell stories that would “land in a very fundamental way with somebody using this as the medium for that.”
After that, Spencer talked about E3:
“I’m already a little nervous. I’m always nervous before I go on stage for that thing. It seems like it’s tomorrow. […] We made some changes at this year’s E3, our briefing is now on Sunday, it’s not on Monday now, who knows when it’ll be next year, but this year we’re on on Sunday.
Some of the reasons behind that is that we want to be a little later in the day, which I think is great, so I think that works for us. Also, if we needed to go a little bit longer… I’m not sure I want to go a little bit longer… But if we needed to go a little bit longer we could, because we don’t have somebody right after us.
In the past we always wanted to be a good citizen. I’m on the ESA board, so I felt respondibility to make sure that we got done in time, because there were people with their briefing right after us, and we’re conscious of the press and other people.”
“There is always a lot of competition, but there’s also that we want to work together to make E3 great. So maybe this gives us a little more time, but we’ll see if we actually need to go a little bit longer.
“The other thing was the booth. We moved the booth. We’re in a different hall. People have done the math, but there’s no conspiracy theory behind the booth size. We know consumers are coming into the booth this year, so our booth will probably feel a little different than it has in the past.”
“What we’re trying to make sure is the booth is about… We’re gonna learn, so bear with us everybody that’s gonna be there… We’re trying to make a booth that will allow more people to play as many games, and getting our meeting rooms and everything else out of the way. It shows no lack of commitment to E3. I think E3 is an incredibly important point for our industry, and something that we’re committed to make great. And I can’t wait to see all of our fans down there.”
Funnily, earlier in the interview Spencer joked about the release date of Cuphead.
“As we know, trying to get when they’re gonna come out with some of this ID games (see Cuphead) isn’t always the easiest thing, but we can ask Chris when these games will ship.”
Chris Charla answered, explaining that ID@Xbox does not dictate release dates, but simply supports what developers decide:
“They will ship when they’re ready to ship. We don’t dictate release dates to developers. They tell us when the game is ready to come out, and we support them.”
Charla also mentioned that in 2016 year ID@Xbox shipped 450 games, and gamers played a billion hours of ID@Xbox games. Spencer joked asking if he was counting Minecraft as an ID game, but Charla clarified that’s not the case.
Spencer also hinted that he remembers the debates on whether ID@Xbox was a good thing or not for the company before he was named Head of Xbox, and to see it turn into one of the most creative and innovative things that have hit the Xbox platform is fantastic.
In conclusion, he mentioned that he loves the community of Xbox gamers. They have been incredibly supportive. It was nice to see the response to Xbox Game Pass. The passion and feedback from the fans are what keeps the team going, pushing them to try to do more and better to live up to the fans’ expectations.