Phil Spencer: Microsoft is “learning to ship PC games again”

"We gotta earn it," said Xbox head Phil Spencer, speaking to PC Gamer during E3 on Tuesday about Microsoft's push to publish games on Windows again. "I know our Quantum [Break] launch wasn’t the best launch we had."

It's a bit of an understatement. The launch of Remedy's Quantum Break on Windows 10 wasn't a complete disaster, but an inconsistent framerate and other ugly graphics flaws definitely hurt it. We called it "a disappointing PC port" in our review. But Spencer, who spoke to us at some length about Microsoft's shaky start to Windows 10 game publishing, says it wasn't for lack of trying.

"Remedy said the same thing, we’ve said the same thing: I wanted to do a better job with the initial launch of Quantum Break on PC," said Spencer. "It wasn’t a motivation thing. I wouldn’t stand up and talk about things like Xbox Play Anywhere or show a full lineup that’s coming to Windows if I was going to try to short on our support there, and not be all in. We will make mistakes going forward as well. It’s part of being, I think, human."

We will make mistakes going forward as well. It’s part of being, I think, human.

Phil Spencer

According to Spencer, part of the problem was adding Windows 10 as a platform part way through Quantum Break's development, which helps explain why Microsoft has opted to leave Halo 5 as an Xbox One exclusive and focus on Halo Wars 2, which was planned for Windows 10 from the start. 

But Quantum isn't the only game to struggle on Windows' new platform: Gears of War Ultimate Edition also had a rough launch, and that was a remaster of an old game, not a brand new Remedy blockbuster. When asked what's causing these launch problems, Spencer said plainly that Microsoft is "learning to ship PC games again."

"I started when we were basically a PC developer," said Spencer. "I go back to like Deadly Tide, Fury Cubed, all that, you know, Midtown [Madness], Age [of Empire] games. When we shipped the original Xbox, for better or for worse, frankly, we focused almost the entire organization on doing console games, and that’s 15 years ago, and the team’s built a lot of muscle of what it takes to build and ship console games. And we started a couple years ago—I’ve been in this job two years—so we started a couple years ago, I wanted to get back to PC gaming."

When we shipped the original Xbox, for better or for worse, frankly, we focused almost the entire organization on doing console games.

Phil Spencer

The process of re-learning PC publishing, and the stumbles so far (including criticism of the Universal Windows Platform), hasn't slowed Spencer and Microsoft down yet. Gears of War 4, Scalebound,  Forza Horizon 3, and the rest of the first-party Microsoft lineup shown at the Xbox E3 conference are releasing on Windows 10. And that's along with new cross-buy functionality, which they're calling Xbox Play Anywhere, and cross-platform multiplayer. "You don’t have to buy two copies of Gears of War to play on your PC and your console, your saved games move back and forth, co-op stuff moves back and forth, you can play with people—cross-play, cross-buy, all that stuff supported," said Spencer. "So I’m just going to let you decide where you want to go play."

That even applies to Microsoft's biggest franchise, Halo. While there's no plan to develop Halo 5 for Windows, Spencer makes it very clear (without actually saying it) that the next Halo will release on Windows 10. Based on his statements, we're confident that Halo 6, or whatever it ends up being called, will be a PC release. With all that money and effort going into Windows 10 gaming, I have to assume—or at least hope—that we'll see major improvements to the Windows Store and the technical quality of the games released on it over the next two years. It'd be a shame if Microsoft wasted apparently good intentions on poor ports and a restrictive platform. (And it'd be extra nice if MS published its games on GOG as DRM-free Win32 applications, too, but we also wish every mosquito would spontaneously drop dead and that's probably more likely.)