When Microsoft's new Xbox One debuts in North America later this week, it will be accompanied by more than 20 launch titles, including Dead Rising 3, Forza Motorsport 5, Ryse: Son of Rome and more first- and third-party games.
Like its chief console competitor, Microsoft is aiming to bring a steady stream of games to its nascent platform in an effort to keep new Xbox One owners happy. Microsoft Studios corporate vice president Phil Spencer tells Polygon that he hopes to avoid any "gaps" in bringing fresh games to the next-gen console and will likely make announcements about new titles in the coming weeks and months.
"I'm spending all of my time now playing games that are 2014 titles," Spencer said in an interview. "I was in Europe last week visiting Lionhead, I was at Rare, [Max: The Curse of Brotherhood developer] PressPlay up in Copenhagen talking about and playing things that are going to come out in the next year, maybe a little later. The depth of the portfolio next year is pretty incredible."
Spencer said he was also factoring in third-party Xbox One titles, like Respawn Entertainment's Titanfall, Ubisoft's Watch Dogs and Bungie's Destiny, into the slate of games planned for 2014. Those titles will help alleviate a historically slower period for new game consoles, he said.
"I think back to the Xbox 360 launch, I don't think we really had those mega franchises that were landing in winter to spring that we're seeing out of third parties in that same timeframe for Xbox One," Spencer said.
On the first-party front, he pointed to the console port of Halo: Spartan Assault, Max: The Curse of Brotherhood, Kinect Sports Rivals and Project Spark as first-party Xbox One highlights for the first half of next year. Beyond that, there's Capy Games' Below, Swery's D4 and things Spencer said he couldn't talk about yet.
"Rolling into the next holiday, we haven't announced everything that's coming yet," he said. "But that lineup from first party also looks strong. I don't mind saying that on 360, I think we had a gap. We had our launch lineup ... and a couple Japanese games, but in that first half of the following year, we were a little dry from a first-party standpoint.
"But I look at the next 18 to 24 months, and really on a month by month basis, you're going to have something you can go out and play," he said. "It's not really a portfolio plan that way, but when I look at the way the portfolio is laying out ... I think people are going to be happy with the lineup that's coming. And I haven't even mentioned when Halo is coming or some of the big mega franchises."
Spencer said not to expect any major game announcements on the eve of Xbox One's launch. Instead of aping Sony's approach — the company announced a new Uncharted game and Towerfall Ascension for PlayStation 4 last week — Microsoft plans to focus on its launch lineup.
"This week it's really about what people can play at launch, and the excitement that the fans will have," he said. "I look at launch as more of a celebration with the fans than any kind of big breaking news."
Instead, look toward Spike's VGX awards presentation, airing Dec. 7, where Spencer said, "We'll have some things to say there." From there, next year's Game Developers Conference and E3 will likely be where the majority of Xbox One announcements will hit.
"We've got a lot of news," Spencer said. "Frankly, we've got enough news that our E3 would be a little overloaded if we kept everything for that. We're being real thoughtful about the news that people want to hear and also the right time to announce games so that we're not too early."
One component at the launch of Xbox One that's lacking are compelling gameplay reasons to have a Kinect. With Kinect Sports Rivals pushed beyond launch, Microsoft is relying on third-parties to sell the next-gen Kinect sensor — now bundled with every console — as a viable controller. I asked Spencer why Xbox One owners should feel good about spending the extra money to have the device.
"When we launched the original Kinect on 360, given that it was an accessory and didn't come with every console ... there was a real need for us to shift Kinect-exclusive games as almost a separate endeavor inside of the organization," he said. "You saw us with our purple boxes at retail and putting 'Kinect' in the title of a lot of our games, just to denote that the Kinect is here, these are games for people that have that device, if you don't have the device don't buy the purple games that have Kinect in the title. I think you saw a real separation in our portfolio.
"On Xbox One, what we've been able to do ... is think more consistently with the creative in the game around how Kinect should show up," he explained. "There are some examples — and Kinect Sports is an obvious one — where I think the Kinect input is just better than trying to play those games with a controller. D4 is an example where Swery really thought about it as a Kinect game from the very beginning. When you play it, you feel like this is a native Kinect game and this is the only way the game could've been realized. Obviously, Kinect Sports or Dance Central are the same way. Trying to play Dance Central with controllers, it doesn't make a lot of sense.
"On the other side, games like Dead Rising 3 is a cool example, where they use gesture while you're holding the controller in a natural way to make the gameplay more immersive," he said. "Now that Kinect's in every console, we can think about where Kinect makes sense in the games that we're building and not specifically about 'What's our lineup of Kinect-exclusive games?' If there's an idea that matches with what Kinect's great at ... then we do that. And if there's a game where you find that either through voice or light gesture that there's an augment to the game that makes it more complete, we'll do that as well."
Spencer couldn't provide updates on 343 Industries next-gen Halo or Black Tusk Studios' game — "We really just wanted to announce [at E3] that the studio was up and running and they were doing something." But he did tease more information about Remedy Entertainment's Quantum Break coming soon.
"We did a pretty deep dive [on Quantum Break] last week while we were in Europe, and I'm feeling really good about the creative. It may be before the end of the year when we talk more about what the story and the gameplay is... We have a pretty good piece that I'm trying to coerce people into putting out before the end of the year ... showing the full Remedy vision, with Sam [Lake] giving a pretty good description of how the game works with some new gameplay footage.
"Maybe VGX would be a good place for that."
Additionally, Insomniac Games' Sunset Overdrive, also announced at E3 2013, is playable and "passed its vertical slice" that illustrates how it will play.
"We're playing a full section of the game and feeling really good about the open world gameplay that they've put together," he said. "I like the investment around new IP at the launch of a new console."