Xbox’s Phil Spencer On Xbox’s Future & Working With Sony, Nintendo

Phil Spencer, Head of Xbox, announces original Xbox Backward Compatibility at the Xbox E3 2017 Briefing on Sunday, June 11, 2017 in Los Angeles. (Image courtesy of Xbox)

Phil Spencer, Head of Xbox, announces original Xbox Backward Compatibility at the Xbox E3 2017 Briefing on Sunday, June 11, 2017 in Los Angeles. (Image courtesy of Xbox)

Xbox figurehead Phil Spencer has had a busy month, from working with Nintendo and actor Keanu Reeves to announcing a new console. Kotaku’s Stephen Totilo caught up with him last week at E3, asking questions about Microsoft’s current direction and how that will affect their future.

According to Spencer, their internal mantra is about allowing people to play with whoever they want and on whatever platforms they want. “We use this tagline both internally and externally: Play the games you want, with the people you want and we say on the devices [you want], which you can think about as ‘anywhere,’ the Xbox head said. As a parent, Spencer is aware parents buy kids different consoles, while the kids will still want to play titles like Minecraft together. In prior hardware generations, they would be unable to play together unless they both chose the same console.

“And I think overall, as a gaming industry, how does that grow gaming?” Spencer asked. “It’s changing, it’s not just us. We’ve made great inroads with Nintendo. But this started when we were going to ship our first-party games on Xbox and PC at the same time, a few years ago.” Spencer is often given concerns from others who believe they’re devaluing the Xbox brand by offering its titles on additional platforms, but he’s more focused on servicing gamers than the machines they choose to play on; Microsoft has notably allowed titles like Cuphead and the evergreen hit Minecraft to release on the Nintendo Switch with Xbox Live functionality to “keep those communities connected.”

Minecraft is on countless platforms, allowing easy access to it.

Spencer admits that selling consoles alone is not enough to yield a profit, and some companies don’t even sell machines as part of their business model. In spite of that, Spencer does maintain the Xbox is a strong brand that offers its fair share of value and features. “But in the end we think us having a native platform in the home for years is going to be critical for to continue to push our vision of where the gaming platform should be,” Spencer claimed. Xbox, xCloud and Windows will be the core outlets for Microsoft Game Studios going forward.

Sony fans and Xbox fans alike were surprised by last month’s revelation that the two were working together, but Spencer clarifies that it’s merely “the beginning” of a conversation between the giants. Sony and Azure are interested in cloud gaming, and Microsoft happens to be one of the leading figures in that field alongside Amazon. “So I think when you’re another gaming company and you’re looking for who you’re going to partner with, you could either go and invest tens of billions of dollars in trying to catch up, or you can figure out who your partners are.” Spencer adds how even Google was “showing things that [they] build” during their Stradia conference. While Spencer could prevent a partnership with Sony, doing so would be counterintuitive to his vision for the industry. (Notably, Spencer was disheartened Sony did not attend E3 this year.)

“I’ve said this publicly before: I think the role that those other gaming companies play in gaming is critical,” Spencer summarized. “We’re a big publisher on those platforms. We have great relationships with them. So [instead of] blocking them so that it somehow kind of minimizes their impact on the future growth of gaming, I’d rather find ways of working with partners to help grow gaming. I just think it’s better, because it’s not a fixed market. It’s a market that’s growing. There are customers all over the planet that we haven’t reached that love to play video games.”

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