When we began hatching plans for a PC gaming event during E3, I wouldn’t have believed you if you’d told me that Microsoft would be a part of it. Sure, Windows is our OS of choice, the foundation for almost every PC gamer. I have warm memories of growing up with the games Microsoft was involved in: Age of Empires, Freelancer, MechWarrior, even smaller stuff like Chip’s Challenge and SkiFree.
But for too long, that history has been unacknowledged by Microsoft itself. Games for Windows Live burdened some excellent games with cumbersome middleware. Ensemble Studios was closed. Microsoft purchased Minecraft, a phenomenon that started on PC. Over the release of the Xbox, Xbox 360, and Xbox One, PC gaming had begun to feel like a child that Microsoft had grown estranged from.
Earlier this year, Microsoft’s strategy shifted. Phil Spencer, head of Xbox, outlined a plan to make Xbox a multi-platform gaming brand that extended across many devices, including PC. Xbox would be integrated into Windows 10. Fable Legends was coming to PC. Gigantic would be a cross-platform game between Windows and Xbox One.
We’re still wrapping our heads around what this means for the platform, but I’m excited we’re able to help create a stage from which Microsoft can share its vision for the future of PC gaming.To shed further light on those plans right now, I spoke with Spencer about Microsoft’s plan to bring Xbox to PC, what it means for us, and what we can expect from them on stage at E3. Watch our Twitch channel the evening of June 16 and we’ll find out together.
PCG: Xbox already has its own conference during E3. What made you also want to participate in the PC Gaming Show?
Phil Spencer: We’re proud to be involved in the first PC Gaming Show. E3 has traditionally been a console-focused event, so it’s great that there is a forum to celebrate all that is going on in the community and it’s an opportunity for us to speak directly to core PC gamers. In Windows gaming we are part of an overall ecosystem and it’s critical that we understand and recognize this.
What can we expect from your part of the PC Gaming Show?
Spencer: For us, it’s about kick-starting a more regular and open dialogue with the community so that we can collect feedback and share developments on what we are working on. Specifically, we’ll share our vision for gaming on Windows 10 and why it’s the best version of Windows ever for both gamers and developers alike. We have bold ambitions, but we also want to set expectations early and often as to what gamers and developers should expect. Also, we want to make clear that when we talk about Xbox going forward, we’re talking about gaming on all Windows 10 devices – PCs, tablets, phones, Xbox One and HoloLens. And we’ll talk about some of the games we have coming to the PC this year.
Looking forward to that. I have to say, though, rebranding Xbox as a multi-platform thing still feels like a hard sell to me. How has that message been received so far, from your perspective?
Spencer: We’re at the beginning of this new journey. Today when I look around, I see games showing up in places I never would have imagined back when consoles and handhelds were starting to become really popular. Today through Windows, Microsoft has a reach that spans billions of devices. That’s where I see a natural progression for Xbox to expand. To us, and to millions of gamers, Xbox is gaming. And those gamers play on PCs, tablets, phones, and want to play on new devices. It makes sense for Xbox to play on those devices too. We’re about connecting gamers and their games - wherever they play.
Over the last few years many PC gamers developed a sense that, from a gaming perspective, the platform wasn’t important to Microsoft. Do you understand how that perception came about?
Spencer: We certainly understand the perspective. That’s one of the reasons why we need to be here. We want to be clear with the community about not only our progress and our ambitions, but also how we think about other popular gaming platforms like Valve, Origin, GoG, Oculus, etc. in the broader PC gaming ecosystem.
Games for Windows Live hurt Microsoft’s reputation with PC gamers considerably. What were the key mistakes made by that initiative, and how are you aiming to do things differently now?
Spencer: We weren’t fully committed as a company and I’ve said that before. We made commitments to developers and consumers that I don’t feel we lived up to. The key difference now is that the Xbox team is driving the Windows and console gaming efforts as one connected ecosystem. Games and gaming is front and center in our device and service strategy at Microsoft. I can tell you definitively that our team has never committed more resources to making Windows better for game developers and gamers, and that means any gamer on Windows 10, regardless of storefront or device.
Will bringing Xbox to Windows 10 see you bring Xbox One exclusive deals to PC as well?
Spencer: Our vision is to unify platforms so gamers can play the games they want on any Windows 10 device – PC, Xbox One or otherwise. That can come in the form of game streaming to a Windows 10 PC from Xbox One or simultaneously shipping games on both platforms. For developers, Windows 10 brings one core operating system, one application platform, one gaming social network, one store, and one ingestion path across more than one billion devices. Getting the platform and service ready and shipped are our first priorities. You’ll hear more about specific game titles and partnerships as we move forward.
Are we going to see original, PC-exclusive games from Microsoft Studios after Fable Legends?
Spencer: The charter of Microsoft Studios is to develop games that showcase the best of every Windows device. You can absolutely count on us to invest in games for the PC. While we want to break down the walls between platforms, we also know that certain games are optimized for certain devices.
One of those walls I think a lot of PC gamers would like to see broken down is Halo. Would you rule out the possibility of Halo, Xbox’s biggest franchise, returning to PC?
Spencer: Halo already has a long history on PC. “Halo: Combat Evolved” shipped on the original Xbox and Windows 98, and “Halo 2” came to PC after the Xbox 360 version. And for Windows 8 we shipped “Halo: Spartan Assault” and then just recently “Halo: Spartan Strike.” There's definitely a legacy there. So no, we wouldn’t rule out more Halo coming to the PC.
What do you see as the biggest potential growth area for PC gaming?
Spencer: Unifying gaming experiences across all devices, giving PC gamers more ways to play and more people to play with. There hasn’t been a gaming platform built with that in mind, keeping the gamer at the center across devices. It’s all about great games. And today’s gamers want more choices to play the games they love on the device of their choice. But let’s be clear, the PC gaming space is healthy today. As the platform holder we have some specific areas we have to deliver on and as a creative organization we believe we have some unique franchises and service ideas that can augment PC gaming.
You’ve talked a bit before about how Microsoft doesn’t necessarily see itself as being in direct competition with Steam – Ori and the Blind Forest was recently published there, for instance. How does Xbox see itself in relation to the PC platform? A publisher? A retailer? What does it want to be?
Spencer: A combination of all. We’re a company built by PC gamers, and we want to enrich PC gaming for gamers, developers and the industry. I’m a big fan of Steam, 95% of Steam games are played on Windows. At the end of day, we want to be the best at giving gamers their greatest gaming experiences as a platform, publisher or retailer. That said, we’ll obviously be shipping a Windows Store with the launch of Windows 10. We’ll make sure our first-party franchises are well assorted in our first-party store. It’s good for the store to have first-party games using our service, this will be the same for Xbox Live on Windows. The combination of first-party studios using our service and store will make us a better platform.
What do you see Microsoft’s key role in the PC space as being?
Spencer: Windows is the most popular platform for games in the world and we are committed to doing more. Xbox needs to deliver meaningful, measurable improvements for games and gamers – both for existing games and services and new titles. Windows 10 delivers features like built in Game DVR for nearly any game, DirectX 12 capabilities for performance and speed boosts, cross-device multiplayer for playing on PC against friends on Xbox One, keeping content you earn or buy regardless of the device, and the new Xbox app that includes game streaming. We are just getting started with Windows 10 and we look forward to working closely with the PC gaming community to meet and beat their expectations. I guess if I had to sum up all we could do, the result would be that gamers will feel like the best games in the world come to Windows, are easily acquired, have consistent and reliable online services and that studios and publishers feel like they can build and grow a healthy business on Windows.
Thanks for your time, Phil. See you at E3.
Spencer: Thank you, Evan. I can’t wait, it’s going to be a great show.