Xbox’s big boss Phil Spencer isn’t feeling particularly positive about cross-platform gaming with the PlayStation 4, as Sony doesn’t seem to be getting keen on the idea.
Microsoft has been working on expanding cross-platform play to both Sony and Nintendo, notably for Minecraft, but Spencer, in an interview with GameSpot, noted that only the latter has been keen to play nice with Redmond’s Xbox.
“The relationship with Nintendo on this front has been strong. They’ve been great supporters and we continue to collaborate with them,” he said.
But Spencer in’t so convinced that Sony is up for the cross-platform gaming, despite Microsoft’s dialogue with its gaming rival.
“We talk to Sony all the time. With Minecraft on PlayStation, we have to be one of the biggest games on their platform in terms of sales and gameplay,” he said. “But I think Sony’s view is different. They should talk about what their view is…”
Sony has previously said it didn’t want to go in for cross-platform gaming with Minecraft because it would need to relinquish some control over how it looks after is online gamer base. Moreover, in a cross-platform environment it couldn’t manage any problems that crop up, such as bullying between gamers, and exposing young children who play Minecraft to some of the toxic attitudes and behaviours of older gamers.
While Spencer is not exactly hopeful that Sony will change its stance, he was clear to point out to the GameSpot interviewer that he can’t talk on Sony’s behalf and that some day PlayStation gamers may be able to play online with Xbox One users. And he’s a big advocate of cross-platform gaming in general, which would lead us to suspect we’ll see more Xbox Live and Windows 10 PC cross-play games before to long.
“I think people look at [cross-play] and say is it better for gamers. If it’s better for gamers, I have a hard time thinking why we shouldn’t go do this, especially when you’re trying to make the gaming business a bigger business; grow it, get more games, create more opportunity,” explained Spencer.
As part of a strategy to accelerate its gaming business across the company, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella today named Xbox leader Phil Spencer to its senior leadership team.
Spencer, who joined Microsoft nearly three decades ago, was previously a corporate vice president leading the Xbox team. He’ll continue to oversee Xbox-related projects, but his new title is “executive vice president, Gaming at Microsoft.” Spencer will report directly to Nadella.
“In this role, Spencer is accountable for leading Microsoft’s gaming business across all devices and services,” Spencer’s new bio reads. “With his team and game development partners, Spencer continues to push the boundaries of creativity, technical innovation and fun across gaming genres, audiences and devices.”
Microsoft’s gaming arm will continue to share resources with the company’s Windows and Devices Group; there will be no changes to the financial reporting segments.
Spencer was named head of Xbox in March 2014, just after Nadella became CEO, replacing previous leader Marc Whitten. Spencer led the launch of both Xbox One S and Xbox One X and has also helped drive growth for Xbox Live, which now counts 52 million monthly active users.
The promotion, announced today in an email to employees from Nadella, signifies Microsoft’s intention to grow gaming beyond its Xbox business — with Windows 10, esports, Mixer, etc.
In a company-wide memo sent in June, Nadella outlined five core customer solution areas that he wants employees to prioritize. They include modern workplace; business applications; applications and infrastructure; data and AI; and gaming.
Separately, Microsoft also announced today that its Enterprise Mobility and Security team (EMS) will move from Cloud and Enterprise to the Windows and Devices Group. Its new team name is Enterprise Mobility & Management, which will be led by Brad Anderson, a corporate vice president who previously led EMS.
PUBG (PLAYERUNKNOWN’s Battlegrounds) is without a doubt the hottest game on the market, setting sales records almost every week since its launch on Steam Early Access.
Just this weekend, PUBG became the top game ever on Steam when it comes to concurrent users with over 1.3 million players logging online at the same time.
With this kind of numbers being pulled off, Microsoft’s agreement with Bluehole to bring the game to Xbox One first this Holiday season definitely feels more important and everyone is starting to wonder whether PUBG can enjoy the same level of success on Microsoft’s console.
Earlier today, Head of Xbox division Phil Spencer said on Twitter that he expects a similar success to bringing Minecraft to console and that PUBG will be “very big” on Xbox for many years to come. He also added in a subsequent tweet that having gotten to know the folks at Bluehole, he’s incredibly happy for them to have this success.
Similar to bringing Minecraft to console. Different game obviously but I expect PUBG to be very big on Xbox for many years.
Spencer also chimed in on other Xbox related topics. For example, he commented on Black Desert Online, another Korean made game (by Pearl Abyss) that’s coming to Xbox One later this year, with no official word on a PlayStation 4 port as of yet.
Black Desert Online is a game I’m really looking forward to launching, game looks great.
On the topic of upcoming backward compatibility additions, Fable Anniversary should be available soon, according to Spencer, who also regrets that the wishlist feature isn’t available yet in their store and would like to see something like 1v100 again.
He has apparently played a lot of Destiny 2 lately, which prompted a user to ask whether the game will have 4K and/or HDR support on the Xbox One X after all, as nothing has been announced yet. Spencer couldn’t really answer that question but he did say that Microsoft has a great working relationship with Bungie, which sounds promising.
Not my place to announce anything but the working relationship with team is great.
Phil Harrison was probably the tallest person at the Gamelab gaming event in Barcelona, Spain, this week. And that, along with his decades of gaming experience, gives him a great view into the past and the future of games.
Harrison ran research and development and first party worldwide studios for Sony’s PlayStation business. He left that position in 2008, and he began investing in game companies via London Venture Partners. In 2012, he became a corporate executive at Microsoft’s Xbox business, and he left that position in April 2015. At that point, he formed Alloy Platform Industries and became an investor in tech and games startups. Last week, he invested in Dream Reality, a maker of virtual reality experiences.
Harrison has a long view of games, and he’s optimistic about the opportunities in startups in VR. He did a fireside chat onstage with Matt Handrahan of GamesIndustry.biz at Gamelab. And I interviewed him one-on-one afterward. We talked about his view of the console wars, the positioning of the big platform companies, where games are headed, and investing as well.
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
Above: Phil Harrison (left) of Alloy Platform Industries and Matt Handrahan of GamesIndustry.biz
GamesBeat: How are you enjoying being outside of a console company?
Phil Harrison: I’m really enjoying being plural. I think that’s the description. It’s nice to be not tied to one particular thing. I can be helpful or useful, hopefully. And not exclusively in games. I’m invested in everything from games to stem cells and biotech.
GamesBeat: What does it take to be insightful about investing?
Harrison: If I knew that — well, it’s about the team. To focus on the announcement we made today, about Dream Reality Interactive, the reason I invested primarily in DRI is exactly the same reasons I invested in Supercell. It’s about the team, having a great team that understand their tool chain and their timing in the market. If you can get those Ts lined up, you have some percentage greater chance of success.
GamesBeat: And this is for a VR experience? They’re not exactly calling it a game.
Harrison: They are a team with incredible game chops. They’ve been a very experienced team working on the cutting edge of game development, and specifically VR, at Sony. But they’ve established a company with a view to taking that to the next level. VR is the entry point. It’s the appetizer, and then AR is going to be the main course, but it’ll take a bit of time. We’re making sure the team is set up correctly to take advantage of the timing.
GamesBeat: From the sidelines, where do you see the big three here and how well they’re doing?
Harrison: Nintendo has surprised me in a good way. They’ve put some excitement back in, or at least added a dynamic to the console equation that wasn’t there previously. From my focus group of a household with younger children, Switch is definitely the console that gets used. Mainly because of the content types. Surprisingly, the TV-to-mobile use case works way more effectively than I expected. Maybe I should give Nintendo more credit. I really enjoy that.
Above: The PlayStation 3 and both of the PS3 revisions.
Image Credit: Jeff Grubb/GamesBeat
GamesBeat: That seems to be what they tried to do with the Wii U, but it didn’t take. It may have been too early. The tethered tablet may have been a real problem.
Harrison: The tablet mode on Wii U just wasn’t powerful enough. It was rendered as a single frame from the console sent wirelessly from the console to the device. The Switch combined both modes into one and just switched the power state. When you’re tethered you get access to more wattage on the CPU and GPU. Maybe that technology didn’t exist when they were developing the Wii U. I suspect not. A great idea is about timing as much as it is about technology.
The game pipeline they have coming through looks pretty strong, with the greatest hits from Nintendo coming down the pipe in the next 12 months. That puts them in a strong decision.
GamesBeat: Between Sony and Microsoft, does it surprise you that Sony came ahead almost two to one on console units?
Harrison: The thing Sony has done incredibly well over many years is build up a very powerful distribution network outside of the U.S. and the U.K. I don’t think people truly understand how powerful that is and how much effort it’s taken. That’s part of it. But I also think Sony was just very clear about their proposition. It’s a powerful game console, no ambiguity. That’s what they tried to sell. Microsoft had a more challenged message at the beginning. They’ve acknowledged that themselves. But I think Microsoft has made a fantastic recovery. It’s still to play for.
GamesBeat: It must be very different to be in your position now. What were the last decisions you were involved in as far as the console business?
Harrison: It does make me laugh that there are even games I was involved in at Sony that have only just come out. That shows you how long these things have gone on for.
GamesBeat: The Last Guardian?
Harrison: I’m not saying. I’m not saying a word. But no, I love the industry and I love what’s going on in the space, so I’m really happy to see all of the companies doing well.
Above: Virtual reality will eventually be hot.
Image Credit: Shutterstock
GamesBeat: Now that you’re in a neutral position, do you see mobile as a place where startups can make the biggest difference?
Harrison: It is. Even with all of the challenges of audience acquisition and barriers to entry — the development barrier to entry is really low, but distribution, awareness, cutting through the noise is really hard. Even with all those challenges, I still think mobile is the place to go. To make a console game as an indie, unless you have a sugar daddy relationship with the platform holder effectively sponsoring you, it’s really hard to make money.
GamesBeat: I notice some companies taking interesting pivots on VR now. Playful started with Lucky’s Tale on Oculus as an exclusive, but now they’re taking that same IP to Microsoft as a platform game for 2D screens. It’s a second use of the IP that might wind up being bigger as a market opportunity for them than the VR project.
Harrison: I played Lucky’s Tale a long time ago. I always was impressed with the style and design, but it felt like a 2D/3D platformer trying to be — maybe it’s come back to where it should be. I don’t know. I’m not in any way criticizing the game. I think they’ve done a great job.
That kind of pivot is a necessity in some cases. Not being specific to that game, but I think there are a lot of developers who have bet on consumer adoption of VR being bigger than it currently is. We’re definitely in the pre-inflection point of the hockey stick. We’re in the valley before we take off in the rocket ship.
GamesBeat: But you don’t doubt that will happen?
Harrison: Many factors will affect success, but no, I think there ultimately will be success. If you look at the weight of the balance sheet of Microsoft, Google, Sony, Apple on AR rather than VR, Samsung, and others who are all bringing their technology and, crucially, their supply chain efficiencies to this, I think we’re going to see a lot of growth. But we’re at the equivalent of the pre-iPhone moment in mobile.
GamesBeat: When you look at the larger games business and you add in these other platforms, what do you like about the deck these guys have to play with? You have Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo, but you also have Google, Amazon, and Apple. There are interesting competitions among all these companies.
Harrison: You’re betting on five watts versus 160 watts. Are you going console, PC, hardcore, or are you going mobile, free-to-play? It doesn’t seem like there have been breakout hits in free-to-play on console yet, maybe because the top of the funnel isn’t big enough to support all of the customer acquisition. But that will happen.
I’m excited about the future. I’m enormously bullish about the future of games, mainly because now we don’t have to explain what this is anymore. There’s an understanding of games among the wider population.
Above: The new Xbox One X
Image Credit: Microsoft
GamesBeat: Among those big companies, do you feel like anyone has the most interesting strategy to capitalize on that?
Harrison: They all have tremendous positives and some small challenges. If Microsoft’s Xbox business was a stand-alone business, only focused on games, that would be an incredible business. When you look at it as a part of Microsoft spitting out $20 billion in free cash flow every year, it just shows up as a tiny little dot, which is always a deep frustration for the leadership in the Xbox business. They do an incredible job, but they don’t show up that often on the scorecard.
GamesBeat: Did you feel that inside both Sony and Microsoft?
Harrison: It’s a different pressure that Sony has. They have a much smaller balance sheet. They’re a much more focused company through necessity, through the challenges they’ve been through, which have been public over the last 10 years or so. It’s a good question. Which would you rather be: a focused company with a smaller balance sheet or an unfocused company with a very large balance sheet? Ultimately a strong balance sheet is a good thing to have, which is why a company like Amazon could end up being a disruptive force in games. They have AWS as this secret provider of incredible services to so many games companies, which they’re monetizing like crazy.
GamesBeat: I like to think of them as the intentional game platforms versus the unintentional game platforms.
Harrison: Right. I think Amazon knows they have a games business. It’s interesting that the games bit of Amazon reports in to the AWS leadership. That’s not a surprise or an accident. That’s very purposeful.
The one unknown, unseen is what Apple is really doing in AR and VR. I don’t believe for an instant that what they showed at the worldwide developer conference is all they’re doing in AR. But they made a very strong statement of intent, and that’s exciting for the future.
Disclosure: The organizers of Gamelab paid my way to Barcelona. Our coverage remains objective.