As the calendar changes to 2020, both PlayStation and Xbox are looking to the future as they prepare their next consoles. While details are just being released for the next Xbox system, the team in Microsoft’s gaming industry is clearly thinking beyond the consoles. Several key members of the Xbox team spoke to us about how the key philosophies shown today will guide and position them for the future.
Think beyond consoles
Think beyond consoles
After a difficult start in which Xbox One was surpassed and surpassed by PlayStation 4, Xbox listened more to its player base and created an ecosystem that was aimed at the audience and in stark contrast to the console’s abandonment.
The team took players’ feedback into account with initiatives such as adding backward compatibility for previous Xbox consoles and Xbox Play Anywhere, which gave players a PC copy of an Xbox game they bought at no additional cost. “These arise when you listen to customers,” says Xbox boss Phil Spencer. “We are not the first console to make Back compatible. I think as a team we took it as well as any other console manufacturer and really said we wanted to make it part of the value proposition. It was listening to customers and what they said that they wanted to do. “
Head of Xbox, Phil Spencer
To symbolize this commitment to the players, Spencer and the Xbox management team hold an empty chair at the management table to represent the customer. Spencer admits it’s a bit cheesy, but it’s a constant reminder to the leadership team about who they work for and what they want. “Players don’t buy things because we need them to buy them. They don’t do things because we need them to get them done,” he says. “They do things because they match what they need “And sometimes, frankly, it’s not always the best business decision for us what gamers want in the short term.” However, I think we’re taking a long-term perspective at Microsoft because it’s a big company. ”
This customer focus has been very well received by fans, which enables Microsoft to have an extremely enjoyable release with the next console, which is due for release in 2020. In fact, throughout this current generation, Microsoft has given players new and exciting initiatives. Due to the backward compatibility with Project xCloud mentioned earlier, Xbox One and Windows 10 have proven to be fertile ground for new consumer-oriented ideas. However, there is no initiative that is more upset than the Game Pass subscription service.
Playing is an expensive hobby, and selecting a large part of the industry is rarely as easy as it seems. Taking risks with new genres and keeping up with every major release is unrealistic for many. In response, Xbox introduced Game Pass, a service that allows players to pay a monthly subscription fee and download games for various developers, publishers, and genres for free on Xbox and PC.
Xbox One and PC subscribers currently have more than 350 games available, including massive tentpole titles like “Gears 5” and “The Outer Worlds”, as well as indie titles like “Slay the Spire” and “Lonely Mountains: Downhill”. “We’re seeing players ready to take risks on new games and genres because if you’re already subscribed, it’s so easy to click on something, download the game, and start playing,” Spencer says. “The variety of content in Game Pass, the genres in Game Pass, the things that people play, I think it’s a really healthy part of our industry.”
This approach has been well received by players who value not only how many games they can use immediately with a single entrance fee, but also how they can broaden their horizons. Thanks to this, Spencer says, Game Pass subscribers more than doubled in 2019. “When we launched Game Pass, we thought that the adjective that gamers would love about Game Pass is” value, “” he says. “What really happened is a community that wants to have a collection of great games.”
However, with the Game Pass, gamers are not the only ones Spencer has found that developers who often had to rely on live game service for profitability use the Game Pass subscription to develop and explore traditional game models. “You can have games that can only be games because you have a subscription with a good business model,” he says. “It’s just an evolving financial model for the place where the risk lives.”
With the success of Game Pass on both the development and consumer side, Xbox wants to support another new venture as it begins to bring its cloud streaming service to the fore.
Head in the clouds
Head in the clouds
While the Xbox One generation was one of the new initiatives for Xbox, few are as promising as Project xCloud. The service allows players to transfer large parts of their Xbox One libraries to different devices. Project xCloud is currently included in Xbox’s preview program and enables gamers to stream their games from Azure data centers through WiFi or mobile data plans to mobile devices thanks to the Microsoft network.
Xbox clearly sees Project xCloud as an important part of its strategy, and Microsoft has partnered with more than 20 third-party vendors to deliver more than 50 games to xCloud at this time. “[They] all got their permission to play Project xCloud,” said Project xCloud CEO Catherine Gluckstein. “It hardly takes time – I think less than 30 minutes – to bring a game live.”
One of the biggest potential problems with game streaming services like xCloud Face is reducing latency and providing a good experience over Wi-Fi or mobile internet. The xCloud team not only uses the power of Azure data centers, but also tries to keep the technological requirements as low as possible. The team is currently aiming for an internet speed of at least 10 megabits per second.
However, the team knows that latency elimination in a cloud streaming service is not yet possible at this point in the technical lifespan. “We have found that consistency of latency is actually much more important than the absence of latency,” said Project xCloud Kareem Choudhry Corporate Vice President. “We do a lot to make sure it’s as consistent as possible. People have adjusted the timing so that they can play a game like Killer Instinct in our public preview, and Tekken 7 and others that you think they are very, very sensitive to latency. “
Make a change?
In 2019, Microsoft and Nintendo began a relationship that not only saw certain exclusive titles like Cuphead and Ori, and the Blind Forest appear on Switch, but these games also enabled Xbox Live features to be used on Nintendo’s hybrid console. While there is a possibility that other titles and features may be available on other platforms, this does not necessarily mean that Xbox exclusive providers will appear on Switch in the future.
“Our real strategy is what it means to be in the Xbox community,” said Xbox boss Phil Spencer. “That means I want to sign up for Xbox Live, have access to Game Pass in a store, and have access to our great first-party portfolio. I would say that is our strategy. And it’s true: there were certain things that showed up on other platforms, but I wouldn’t say that these things are strategic. I think these are opportunistic or partnership-based occasions. “
What Spencer does is the cross game. “If your house buys an Xbox and my house buys a PlayStation and our families can’t play Minecraft or Fortnite together, I can’t see how this will help the industry grow,” he says. “One of the strengths and things that I love about the medium and our art form is to bring people together. There is no other media that takes into account the social bonds that you and I are likely to have built when playing with people. I’ve never met any of these people in real life. And I love that about playing. And that will be possible if we can play better with each other across different platforms. “
The xCloud team continues to keep latency as low and persistent as possible, but also plans to expand further as it refines the experience. The preview program continues to expand to other devices such as PC and iOS and supports additional controllers such as PS4’s DualShock 4, with the team aiming for an official release date for xCloud in 2020.
Of course, this is just the beginning of this new brand of console wars as companies like Sony and Google fight for positions on PlayStation Now and Stadia. To stand out from the competition, Microsoft relies heavily on the platforms and community that it has already built. “We’re not building a brand new platform – we don’t have to start from scratch,” says Choudhry. “Some of the biggest stories we’ve seen in Preview are people who played Halo 5 years ago. They log in and it’s their saved data.” It is all their success. All of your progress. It’s just an extension of everything we do. “
Despite the optimism about the technology, Spencer recognizes that it is still years of mature community feedback and is still not the experience players have when their game is local. “The best place to play is on-site. I say that across the board, ”he says. “Streaming is a convenient technology. It’s a technology of choice when you’re away from your console and want to play. “
Strengthen the first party
343 Industries’ Halo Infinite
Strengthen the first party
In February 2019, Xbox announced the renaming of Microsoft Game Studios to Xbox Game Studios. The decision was a conscious step to signal the players where the focus is going forward. “We love Microsoft, our parent company, but the identity is identical to Xbox,” said Matt Booty, director of Xbox Game Studios. “What we’re doing is for the larger collection of hardware and services that Xbox has become.”
During the Xbox One generation, perhaps the biggest criticisms of Xbox One were due to the lack of exclusive content. Players watched PlayStation 4 and Switch deliver countless high-quality exclusive titles, while Xbox One became known as the home of multi-platform releases with an occasional exclusive game that often didn’t match the quality of other platforms.
To address these concerns, Microsoft acquired popular studios such as Hellblade developer Ninja Theory and The Outer Worlds developer Obsidian Entertainment. This not only helped to immediately build up a strong portfolio of studios under the company’s roof, but also set the course for the future.
“I think we just needed to be in a better position to keep the promise of content,” said Booty. “We were in this acquisition and growth phase for about 18 months. Now we have moved on to an execution or delivery phase. If you look back at the beginning of it while hoping for the coming [next generation] that Game Pass will become more and more fundamental to what we do, it is so important that we have a stream of content. “
When you look at the teams on the current development teams at Xbox Game Studios, it’s a diverse group of teams that have grown across many genres and games in all areas over the past few decades. Since many of them were completely independent for much of their existence, there were sometimes concerns about being taken over by a massive company like Microsoft. To address these concerns, the Xbox Game Studios team used Minecraft developer Mojang, a previously independent developer acquired by Microsoft in 2014, as an example of how the platform owner can bring the two different cultures together and provide independent users with a good experience be acquired.
Obsidian Entertainment is grounded
“We are fortunate to have a track record now, but several examples are needed to reassure people,” says Booty. “We have a dedicated team in Redmond that only focuses on supporting these studios because we try to keep them as close as possible to what they had before the acquisition.”
In addition to existing studios such as 343 Industries and The Coalition, as well as various acquisitions, Xbox Game Studios founded The Initiative, a team based in Southern California led by Darrell Gallagher who has worked on several high profile projects with companies like Crystal Dynamics and Activision. The initiative has also attracted top talent from other respected game development teams while leveraging their geographic ties to the film industry to leverage these resources and explore new ways to advance the game as a medium. We still need to learn about what the initiative has been working on since its inception in 2018, but Booty tells me we’ll learn more in the next 12 months.
The faces of the first party
After a recent period of rapid acquisition and growth, Xbox Game Studios has expanded its list with a diverse collection of respected and popular developers. In addition to Xbox Game Studios Publishing, the list of development studios is as follows.
- 343 Industries
- The coalition
- forced Games
- Double fine
- The initiative
- InXile Entertainment
- Ninja Theory
- Obsidian Entertainment
- Playground games
- Turn 10 studios
- Undead Labs
Head of Xbox Game Studios, Matt Booty
Spencer and Booty offer such a diverse range of studios that they identify a painfully absent region: Asia. While the team has worked closely with developers and publishers from Asia to deliver new games to the Xbox ecosystem, Xbox’s leadership team doesn’t believe it should stop there. “Sure, we could publish relationships there, and we could do that. I think that’s fine. In fact, I would guess we’ll do some of them, ”says Spencer. “But I also think that it would be a good addition for us if we continue to develop our platform and have a first-party studio voice from Asia at the table, whether from Japan or another market.”
Even with the teams under the roof of Xbox Game Studios, Booty is aiming for high performance on important titles in the future. By 2020, Booty hopes that Xbox Game Studios will release an extensive version for Game Pass subscribers and Xbox players about every three months.
Xbox has great hopes for the next big technological leap for which Spencer is very optimistic. “I think now that we have our first party where it is today, I am very happy with the strength we have there,” he says. “When we move into the new generation, we obviously have higher ambitions to build a bigger business for the Xbox console business, too, and the team is fully committed to doing that.”
Painting The City of Scarlett
Painting The City of Scarlett
Xbox Series X, officially launched as Project Scarlett during its E3 2019 press conference, has remained a mystery since Spencer’s first hint in 2018. At the 2019 Game Awards, however, Spencer and Xbox pulled back the curtains of their next-generation console. Similar to its predecessor, the Xbox One X, the new Xbox offers a resolution of 4K and a performance of 60 frames per second. However, the ability to achieve 8K and 120 FPS sets new standards. It also has a variable shading rate GPU and has the variable refresh rate and auto-latency reduction mode that are already included in Xbox One models. In addition, all games, controllers, and accessories that work on Xbox One will work on the next Xbox consoles, including the X series. However, the Xbox is still excited about other potential features or how new projects like Game Pass and xCloud can be used in new ways.
When he dropped out of Xbox One, Spencer was thrilled with the team that improved the ship of this generation so much that it got a blast in creating a whole new platform. “I think a lot of our learning happened during the generation when we listened to fans and customers about what we needed for further development,” he says. “I love the fact that this team can now create a platform that is unique to us. Because a lot of people in today’s Xbox leadership team inherited this platform and I think they did a great job. But [Series X] is the platform this team can create. I am incredibly encouraged from work. “
Senua’s Saga of Ninja Theory: Hell Blade II
Xbox already has the powerhouse of a console with the Xbox One X, but hopes that the X series will not only be able to update the middle generation from 2017 again, but will also offer developers and gamers some sense of touch. “We spoke to our creators. We went out and talked to third parties about some of the trends we saw in gaming and said we wanted to build a platform that would do this because there is no reason for us to just sell a console to anyone to sell him a new console, “Spencer says.” I want to sell them a new console that actually offers them new features that they can see and feel. “
Now that aggressive and innovative plans are in place, Xbox will take the lead that will become the premier destination for games in many parts of the world. We won’t know how many of these different parts will fit into the X series for a while, but Phil Spencer, Matt Booty and the teams below are confident that they have positioned themselves for a great run.
This article originally appeared in the January 2020 issue of Game Informer. It has been changed and updated with new information.