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Monday, November 15, 2021

GQ Magazine's Phil Spencer Xbox 20-Year Anniversary Interview

By LUDWIG VON KOOPA - I think it's fascinating. And answers some questions I posed a year ago.

Today marks the 20-year anniversary of Microsoft's videogame console, the original Xbox. That means a bit more to Microsoft than 20 years of stepladder jokes, at least. By itself, it's not article-worthy, but it comes with GQ Magazine having an extensive interview with Xbox head Phil Spencer and some of his other reports. I found it interesting to read through and you might, too.

It's a lot more interesting to read and think about Xbox's future visions than Nintendo's. Throughout the interview, Phil and his team are referring to interesting investments in cloud gaming and the Xbox Game Pass and buying out ZeniMax Media. Phil is all about fundamental changes and big moves for new markets, like how xCloud can increase the Xbox addressable market by an order of magnitude by going into areas with high brand recognition but low access to high-end gaming devices, like Africa, which does have access to a number of low-cost open platforms. Meanwhile, Nintendo is planning to expand by... building out theme parks, merchandising more, and working on movies with weak Nintendo Account tie-ins. That's their whole strategy they've been repeating for years.

It's obvious which company has the deeper, more engaging plotline, though Xbox has the advantage of being able to pull from Microsoft's pool of money. I outright was wondering a year ago what the conversation was like between Phil and Microsoft's board of directors when they bought out ZeniMax, and in the GQ interview, Phil Spencer actually addressed my wonder and characterised it as:

“It's actually not a very long conversation, they’re going to do their work and ask hard questions [...] but I think the biggest hurdles are the self-imposed questions. The ‘hole’ in that acquisition was, it’s more ‘core’. It’s more guys in armour, killing aliens or demons.”

Well, that wasn't informative. But it seems Microsoft wants to make sure that they're covering their bases for both core gamers and mass market casual stuff. The interview goes back to how Rare Ltd was stuck on the Kinect project and how Kinect Sports (casual mass-market) wasn't the big success they expected. Then Rare retreated and worked on Sea of Thieves, which was made available for Xbox Game Pass. While its launch went through rough waters, Xbox Game Pass has allowed Sea of Thieves and other games to be able to emulate the Nintendo evergreen effect, and now it's smoother sailing. I would think Sea of Thieves is also mass-market casual, by the way. Just in a more appealing way to gamers than Kinect Sports ever was.

The bigger headline other outlets picked up is that, much like Starfall supposedly releasing next year, the sixth The Elder Scrolls will (apparently... Phil Spencer implied it but didn't outright say it... just that he sees it happening) be exclusive to the PC and Xbox consoles. That was a question that a lot of people had—whether it'd be like certain other Microsoft purchases such as Minecraft and be available everywhere (another example being The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim which is available everywhere and on almost everything), or if they bought ZeniMax for a strategic purpose to differentiate the Xbox from other platforms. Turns out it's the latter!

And, no, the interview didn't go into any other detail about The Elder Scrolls VI.

Also of interest, they said that the PlayStation is no longer the competition, but entertainment platforms in general are. (The courts disagree, though.) Nintendo has said the same thing. Does that mean that the PlayStation is competing with itself? Interesting questions, but outside the scope of the interview. (If you can find an interview with some Sony head saying that the PlayStation competes in a fundamentally different market than the gaming space, put it in the comments section and we can talk about how there are zero relevant companies in the gaming console area.)

Do you think that PlayStation owners or anyone else are owed and entitled to having The Elder Scrolls VI on their preferred non-Microsoft device? Do you think goofy things like Chris Pratt voice-acting evil plumbers in upcoming movies are more interesting things to talk about than Microsoft's strategy? Ludwig wants to disclaim that just because he finds it interesting, that doesn't mean he wants it to be the future for him and his nonexistent children.


  1. I think the real takeaway from both Microsoft and Nintendo saying they don't intend to directly compete is that they've sort of agreed to not have "console wars" anymore.

  2. So does the whole PlayStation talk mean that PlayStation is so good it’s in a league of it’s own? Or because it’s so irrelevant l, there’s no use in competing. I just think it’s strange that PlayStation is the only one to be singled out.

    1. Well, there's the Xbox, Nintendo, and PlayStation, and the former two have said publicly they're not in this business.

      It's possible PlayStation has also said this, but I haven't looked for that or come across it!


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