Recently, head of Xbox Phil Spencer, sat down with Gamasutra and chatted, at length, all things Xbox. Out of this interview, some interesting things about Microsoft’s past (including the reveal of a roughly designed Xbox handheld) and future were discussed.
At one point in the interview, Gamasutra asks Spencer what his philosophy concerning the future of Xbox is, as well as probes for information about whether or not Scorpio is an example of how Xbox evolves from here on out. To this, Spencer responded with the following (notably revealing that and Xbox handheld had once been designed):
Well, let me say that the amount of times we’ve designed, roughly designed, an Xbox handheld, or a cheap Xbox kind of stick that you could plug in and stream from an Xbox in the home, or play low-powered games….we are always thinking and brainstorming on different scenarios of where the console could go. Or the gaming experience, I guess, more specifically, could go.
Spencer, answering the same question, continues by stating that he still believes in the power of a television in the home, and comments that he knows it’s something Microsoft is committed to for the long run. The executive continues:
In terms of where the console space goes, there’s some things about how the console business runs, in terms of you don’t make any money on the hardware, it’s making money on the games, making money on the service. So if you’re in a situation where you’re subsidizing the hardware, a faster refresh of the hardware really hurts you. Because obviously, any subsidy of the hardware is kind of played out over, somebody is going to buy games, they’re going to subscribe to Live, they might go subscribe to Game Pass and other things. And that’s how you kind of run a business around the console space.
So I don’t think you’ll see console move. Unless the prices of the consoles themselves change to where they’re not a subsidized piece of hardware but rather something that’s profitable, like other consumer electronic devices, I don’t think you’re going to see a constant iteration in the console space.
Going back to Scorpio, we saw 4K. And we said we’re going to go make a bet that 4K adoption is going to happen faster than maybe some people thought, or that it’s going to happen in the middle of this generation. Let’s go do something. So in the console space, in terms of where it’s going, I look at those gaming consumer trends and say what are the trends we want to be a part of?
Spencer continues, transitioning into console generations:
It’s possible console generations slow down. Because I don’t want to falsely put out a console that doesn’t have a real selling proposition relative to the thing that’s already in the market. I’ve said this before, that with the launch of this generation, I thought we struggled a little bit. Because a late-gen 360 game looked pretty good. So when an early-gen game from this generation came out, if you weren’t in the industry, and you looked at late-gen 360 game to early-gen Xbox One game — and I’d say the same thing for the other platforms — you couldn’t make the same statement you made on original Xbox to 360, where the screen went from 4:3 interlaced to all of a sudden you’re sitting there at 720p HD. Like, it was just obvious. And TV was moving that direciton, you had sporting events and other things being broadcast in HD, and it was just like okay that’s a no-brainer, I’m going to go do that.
This generation, I don’t think, had that same call to action. Of here’s what’s happening around gaming, and you all have to be a part of that. We looked at 4K, we said we wanted this generation to incorporate 4K, and we thought we could do it in a way that wasn’t disruptive, and was additive to this generation. And that’s what we’re trying to do.
When you think about what’s next, and what’s going on, just like you guys write about it every day, we play games every day, and we watch what’s happening in development and we think okay, well what are the trends? Trends are more socially-driven games. Trends are a more constant set of games that grow with, frankly, a very strong indie scene, such that the hit games don’t come from the top three publishers. So we’ve reached down into the ID@Xbox program and done things like give them dev kits, let them turn their Xbox One into a dev kit so effectively anybody can become a developer. Now letting them submit their stuff directly to the store. This is all part of us saying how do we unlock the greater dev community so that they can actually create the next hits?
Because it’s not as likely that you’re just going to go bet on a hit that’s going to come from one of your traditional names; it might come from somewhere else. And then well, what does the console have to be in order for that to make sense? From a platform standpoint, the platform’s still got to be safe. As a parent, I want to know that my daughters can go on the platform and I know what they’re able to play and I know who they’re able to play with and the ratings of the content they have. We have to continue to do work on the service; we’ve built Clubs and we’ll continue to work on our gaming for everyone accessibility features. And then the hardware capability itself, it’s how do you hit a price point that somebody will like with a hardware capability that’s easily understood?
The two easy ones to bet on are resolution and framerate. And I don’t know if we’re ready — I saw Dell shipping their 8K monitor now, but it’s like…five thousand dollars. I don’t know if we’re quite at a point where everybody is gonna refresh their televisions to 8K framerate. So you see us starting to look at the framerate area and saying okay what innovations can we bring, not only in maximizing the framerate, but even things that tailor the framerate of display to the capability of the engine. So that you get a very smooth feeling. So framerate is one of the things, as we go forward, that we’re going to look at.
But I also think there’s going to have to be some disruption. Nintendo, I thought, did a cool thing with picking mobile. They kind of said okay, Switch is going to be a console that you can take with you. That’s an interesting idea. Nintendo always does cool things, right. They did the second screen with Wii U, they obviously did the Wii and motion gaming in the room. I love that innovation.
Having innovation that really brings third-parties along is critical to us, I think; Nintendo tends to have great success in their first-party on their platforms and then third-parties usually come in a little bit later, usually because Nintendo creates things that are less like other things. Which is, you know, kudos to them. I think it’s a fantastic part of the industry. Us being Microsoft, we’re going to think about the health of Windows. And of our Xbox console. And try to think about those together, and really continue to grow Xbox Live.
This is the year I think people are predicting that broadcast viewership of games will exceed playing hours of games? I don’t know where people come up with those stats. And playing hours are going up. We know this. This industry’s massive. It’s over a hundred billion dollars, the game industry, globally. It’s a massive business, and it’s just finding more and more ways of reaching gamers every day, which is I think good for all of us.
The Project Scorpio is expected to release sometime later this year at an unknown price point. You can check out its spec reveal here. Additionally, you can also check out the newly released Scorpio dev kit as well.
For more content related to this interview, be sure to check out our other post, where Spencer talks about Scorpio’s spot in the Xbox One family, why the console didn’t ship in 2016, and more.