112 Interviews

The Xbox One interview: Phil Spencer

Microsoft Studios boss on the controversial Xbox One policies

As promised, Microsoft went hard on games during its E3 press conference this week.

Over 90 minutes the platform holder reeled off exclusive after exclusive, but it was the failure to address Xbox One's various online and used games policies that left an always-on shaped elephant in the room.

Today at E3 CVG secured time with the corporate VP of Microsoft Studios, Phil Spencer, to add more pieces to the Xbox One puzzle.

[ Xbox One: All news | Xbox One Games | All videos | Games gallery | Price | Release date ]
[ Wii U: All news | Wii U games | All videos ] [ E3 2013: Game trailer & video library ]

So how do you think Microsoft's E3 has gone so far?

So we started this three weeks ago at the reveal where we named the box, showed the box and we thought that was an important step. We talked about a lot of our entertainment features on stage. First party didn't play a big role there; we had EA, Activision, NFL, Steven Spielberg - some big brands to show the partnerships we had, knowing that three weeks later we would be at E3 rolling out the goony studios guy and putting me on stage.

We did 90 minutes of games and that was our expectation; we were going to stand on stage and do 90 minutes of big games, small games and games of many different genres. I sort of represent the work that a lot of different studios do - I'm obviously not the one who build the games myself - and I was really proud of the quality of what the teams put on stage on Monday.

I thought opening with Metal Gear Solid V and Kojima-san having his game at the opening of our show was tremendous. Closing with TitanFall from Respawn, which is exclusive to Xbox, I thought was an amazing announcement. Showing a Halo tease - I thought that was fun. The teams just did a really nice job getting the content ready. So that's kind of how I thought it went, and now I watch people on the floor playing and it seems like they're having fun.


Is it frustrating for you as a games guy that despite the list of exclusives you just listed, the public's focus is very much on Xbox One's online and pre-owned policies?

I say this, and I'm not trying to be pithy about it: I'll never get frustrated with fans of what we do, because they're very passionate about the games that they play and the systems that they purchase. We're obviously trying to build games and a platform that people will love and invest their time and money in.

I take what we hear as feedback. When we came out of our Xbox Reveal event there were some questions about certain policies that we put in place, so we put it up on our website in black and white terms, in text. Here I wanted to talk about games and what we were doing. We stood on stage and talked about not only our content line-up but had so many creators come out and talk about the features of Xbox One and the new experiences that they're building.

We're always listening. My Twitter account is full and I appreciate the voice of the gamer - I'll never deny that and I think it's an important part of what I do in running the studio organisation.

Do you accept that there's a need to convince many people that these new policies will benefit them?

In game development I think I need to convince people every time I put out a new game, because nobody has to go out and buy the games that we sell. You always have to regain your customer, whether it's Halo 4 or State of Decay 1. You end up shipping games where you have to convince people that you've created something that they want to invest in and spend their time with.

When you're looking forward in the console cycle and you think about any other device that you own - phone, ipad or PC - and how you consume media - music, video or books... these things have all become digital and I think we've seen the advantages of having your music library wherever you go or being able to listen to your songs on any device.

Games on any other device are natively digital. I think there are some distinct advantages of the ecosystem that we wanted to bring to console; I can go to my friend's house and my library comes with me. The content's not locked to the disc, in fact if the disc got scratched or I lost it, the content's on my hard drive and the license to that content is associated with your account on Xbox Live. There are advantages to that: your whole family can play all of the games that are in your library, regardless of wherever you're home or not or what machine they're on.

"I think there are some distinct advantages of the ecosystem that we wanted to bring to console"

So I think there are some distinct advantages. We also understand there are advantages to the retail and physical media system. One is just the data movement: it's faster to move a lot of data with a disc - I can just put it in and install it. The secondary market is something that gamers have said is really important and we wanted to make a definitive statement that we support the secondary market.

But we're still looking at the advantages of digital - especially if you think about a console that's likely to be in market for quite a while. If you think about the life cycle of Xbox 360, we're in year seven or eight now and we just announced a new hardware ID for the platform and new exclusive games coming even this late in its life cycle.

We want to have that same level of support with Xbox One and you have to forward look then and say, 'what is that ecosystem going to look like down the road? Let's build a system now that's going to being able to take advantage of advantages and be relevant for many years to come.'

In hindsight do you think it would've been an easier sell for Microsoft if you'd have ditched physical discs entirely?

That we didn't have to was the nice thing. And we do know that games today are big. When you think about the Blu-ray technology that's in Xbox One, it's gigabytes and gigabytes of data and it's an easiest way to get that data on my machine is via disc. That's different to what I do with music, where the music files aren't that large. We wanted to make sure that both physical and frankly the retail purchasing of that content is an important part of our ecosystem.

So we didn't feel that we had to shut down or deny people the ability to buy discs. We wanted to make sure those discs were not somehow lesser citizens in a digital ecosystem. So how do we think about that content being digitally licensed similar to what I buy out of the store, and the advantages of roaming my library, my family all being able play all of my content... the disc is not the most important part of the ecosystem because your identity knows the content that you have access to.

Thos are the advantages we wanted in physical and we didn't have to kind of leave those on the floor.

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