- Mar 4, 2019
The X019 closed and three new first party games emerged with Everwild (Rare), Grounded (Obsidian) and Tell Me Why (Dontnod). The event also brought more information on the xCloud and definitely put the Game Pass at the center of the strategy that Xbox is building for players from all walks of life. It was on the mezzanine of the Copper Box Arena that we met Phil Spencer, executive vice president of gaming at Microsoft. The opportunity for us to take stock of the X0, to talk at length about the issue of first party studios, but also to discuss dormant licenses, cloud, backward compatibility and the future Scarlett.
X0 everywhere, Ori nowhere
While the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are both at the end of their life cycle, it's been over a year now that Microsoft occupies the media space without Sony organizing a major event dedicated to its console. Private PlayStation Experience and E3 conferences until further notice, the fans of the Japanese brand are content with State of Play and some official statements relayed on the Internet. On the side of Xbox teams, it's the opposite. Not satisfied with its press briefings on the Californian soil, the manufacturer multiplies his Inside Xbox and resuscitates for good his X0 event, whose very first show was organized in Cannes in 2001 in the Palais Bulles. "X0s play a very important role in the history of Xbox," said Phil Spencer, executive vice president of gaming at Microsoft.
Back from the abyss in 2018 in Mexico City, the X0 of last year was the opportunity for the firm of Redmond to announce the arrival of Obsidian and inXile in the big family of the first party Microsoft. "I expect that we will continue the X0 and be an important part of what we do. I think we will continue to move to different places to meet our fans, "adds Spencer. In the thirty or so playable games in the middle of the aisles of the show, the apparent polygons of TUNIC rub shoulders with the gleaming mechanics of Flight Simulator 2020. Yet we have noted a missing: Ori and the Will of the Wisps. "Ori and the Blind Forest is perhaps my favorite game of this generation," says the great boss of Xbox. He continues: "Ori is fine, we'll talk about the game at the Video Game Awards, so you'll see more at that moment. The production of Ori and the Will of the Wisps is going well and we feel really good about the progress we are making with Moon Studios on this game. "
The freedom of the First Parties and the return of old licenses
In less than two years, Microsoft has more than tripled its first party studios. Today, they are 15 to produce apps for the brand's ecosystem (which, from time to time, extends to the Switch or PlayStation 4). Producing an "AAA" can take between 2 and 5 years, for teams with several hundred people. Matt Booty said at E3 2019 that the goal was to bring a new title Xbox Game Studios every 3 months to feed the Game Pass. A statement that could raise the fear of developing less ambitious games to ensure more regular outings. "Having a steady stream of great outgoing games on our Xbox platform as well as on the Game Pass is essential for us," says Phil Spencer. He adds, "Our goal is to be able to bring four or five new big games to the platform every year. (...) We do not have an imposed formula in terms of team size, style of play, ranking or genre. We give our teams a lot of creative freedom on what they want to create. " This freedom expressed by Spencer explains to a certain extent why projects such as Bleeding Edge and Grounded are not canceled, since these are productions that were both started before the purchase of the studios by Microsoft, made by small teams. Microsoft would not require its developers to work on "commissioned" projects. On paper, even 343 Industries and The Coalition could hypothetically embark on other licenses.
When we talk about the Rare case with Spencer, he smiles. The holds of the studio are full of licenses claimed by fans such as Banjo-Kazooie, Conker or Perfect Dark. Nevertheless, during X019, British artists revealed a new license with Everwild. "We let our studios decide which franchises they want to work on," reports the executive vice president of gaming at Microsoft. "More and more, the leaders of our teams meet and discuss opportunities between studios, so that, perhaps, a certain franchise belonging to one studio is taken and assumed by another. These are opportunities we want to seize without feeling forced, "he reveals. From there to imagine that other Rare licenses will be developed in the future by other groups, like what was done with Killer Instinct and Battletoads, there is only one step that we will not dare cross. "We do not manage to say" this game must be done "or" we need a sequel for that one ". We are looking for the passion of the people who build the games, "says Phil Spencer. When we talk to him about Shenmue III and the need to listen to fans when they ask to bring licenses back to life, the boss of Xbox has fun. "I get a lot of requests to bring back many franchises. It's not always true that every franchise that we want to revive finds its audience, but that does not make it a failure. " He concludes: "Listening to the fans, listening to the creators and their passion is clearly a good thing".
More diversity among developers, but also among players
During X019, we saw a strong presence of Japanese games with the arrival of the Yakuza series on Xbox, the arrival of Final Fantasy in the Game Pass, and the availability of more Kingdom Hearts titles on the machine. However, Xbox studios are predominantly American, Canadian and British. "Ensuring that storytellers from around the world are part of our first party is important. I think in Asia we can have more first party, "said Phil Spencer. "Today, we focus mainly on the studios we have, but I think we have opportunities to expand the diversity of the countries where our teams are," he adds. The management teams of the brand know that the variety of proposals is important to reach more and more players, especially at the time of subscriptions. In the latest financial results of Microsoft, Satya Nadella says aim "2 billion players". "Yes, there are more than two billion people on the planet today who play video games," says the boss of the game division of Microsoft.
By opening its streaming solution called xCloud to new markets in 2020 (with Canada, India, Japan and Western Europe), Microsoft hopes to multiply the entry points to the ecosystem attached to its brand . "We love console experiences and we know that's the heart of the Xbox brand. (...) But we know that the # 1 device on the planet to play is the cell phone. The xCloud project challenges us: could we make any cell phone a phone giving access to the rich worlds that Xbox games offer? That's the challenge we've put forward and it's really good to see the results, "says Spencer. He continues: "Satya and we see all players around the globe as people who should be able to participate in the Xbox community and Xbox platforms. The xCloud project is essential in this expansion ".
Is the Game Pass expensive enough, my son?
Offered at 12.99 euros a month and regularly promoted since the update of the service at E3 2019, the Ultimate Game Pass continues to be talked about. While Microsoft took advantage of the X019 to confirm that all Game Pass subscribers will automatically benefit from xCloud, some observers are beginning to wonder how this subscription can be profitable for the company. "I heard that some people seemed to be worried that the Game Pass would not be a financially viable service," says Spencer. "When you start a service, you are always looking to acquire new customers and then keep them. (...) In the long run, I tell you that it's a big part of our business. (...) More than 50 new titles arrive in the Xbox Game Pass in total, and the service is definitely financially viable. You should see in other media where there are subscriptions that it can find new customers, that it shapes a good business, and, more importantly, that it leads to very great creations. The Xbox Game Pass will do exactly the same thing, "concludes Spencer.
With Project Scarlett, Microsoft does not intend to reproduce its old mistakes
The teams that were behind the One X are now on Scarlett, the future Microsoft console that will be released at the end of the year 2020. We know that Microsoft is aiming for the power and the disappearance of charging times, just like Sony. "By launching the Xbox One, I learned a lot about the value proposition, the trust in a product, and the message that comes with the release of a console on the market," says Spencer. "We know that our customers and our fans place power as an important element in what they want from the Scarlett project. I am very confident (...) for the next generation. " As a reminder, the Scarlett will be equipped with a custom CPU based on AMD Zen 2 and a Radeon RDNA architecture. What offer a power four times higher than that of Xbox One X according to Microsoft. "We did not talk about the price, but we know that the price is something important. We learned that. If you remember the Xbox One, we were 100 bucks too expensive. We were less powerful than the competition, "admits Spencer. He adds: "We know that it is essential to be efficient on the tariff position. I am not announcing a price, but yes, we know that the price and performance are incredibly important, and we trust our plans. "
"I do not think we're done with backward compatibility"
Our meeting with the executive vice president of gaming at Microsoft has led us on the tracks of backward compatibility. This is an argument brandished by Sony as the firm of Redmond for the new generation. What we know today is that Scarlett will be backwards compatible with Xbox One, Xbox 360 and Xbox Origami games. Xbox One accessories will also work on the machine. However, we can only deplore the fact that the titles of the very first Xbox are rarely compatible. Despite previous statements on the subject, Phil Spencer believes that new backward-compatible titles could happen. "Even if we have a title of the first Xbox or 360 launching, we need the approval of the right to make this game backwards compatible" recognizes Spencer. "We have more original Xbox games that work in comparison to what we have actually released in the backward compatibility program, but there is a lot of work to find the rights. (...) I do not think we're done, I think we can continue the work "he announces.
By the time we recorded this interview, Phil Spencer had just returned from Stockholm following his meeting with members of the young studio Embark. It is certain that the availability of their future project on the Game Pass was mentioned, the service being the center of attention at Xbox. By this summer, 5 new Xbox Game Studios should point the end of their polygons with Bleeding Edge, Grounded (in game preview), Wasteland 3, Minecraft: Dungeons and Ori and the Will of the Wisps. While Phantasy Star Online 2 is still scheduled for 2020 (in the US), Spencer assures that Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn should also arrive on the big box "X". After the departure of Reggie Fils-Aimé (Nintendo) and that of Shawn Layden (Sony), the boss of Xbox knows he is appreciated fans of the brand he represents. "I'm the face of the product mainly because I'm left with the microphone in my hands and I'm in front of the camera," Spencer laughs. "But the real success of the brand (...) comes from the team and all the work they do."
This quote stuck out:
"Our goal is to be able to bring four or five new big games to the platform every year. (...) We do not have an imposed formula in terms of team size, style of play, ranking or genre. We give our teams a lot of creative freedom on what they want to create. " This freedom expressed by Spencer explains to a certain extent why projects such as Bleeding Edge and Grounded are not canceled, since these are productions that were both started before the purchase of the studios by Microsoft, made by small teams. Microsoft would not require its developers to work on "commissioned" projects. On paper, even 343 Industries and The Coalition could hypothetically embark on other licenses."
Le X019 a fermé ses portes et a fait émerger trois nouveaux jeux first party avec Everwild (Rare), Grounded (Obsidian) et Tell Me Why (Dontnod). L’événement a également apporté plus d’informations sur le xCloud et a définitivement placé le Game Pass au centre de la stratégie que Xbox est en...