Microsoft is getting ready for the next generation of consoles, and the company began to talk about details and strategy during E3. We still don’t know a lot in terms of solid information, but there’s enough here to get a sense of Microsoft’s general strategy for the sequel to the Xbox One and its family of consoles.
This is what Microsoft’s Phil Spencer was saying during E3, and what we can learn from it.
There will be more than one
“Our hardware team, the same team that delivered unprecedented performance with Xbox One X, is deep into architecting the next Xbox consoles, where we will once again deliver on our commitment to deliver the benchmark of console gaming,” Xbox chief Phil Spencer said during the company’s press conference.
It’s possible that we’re reading too much into the use of the plural word for console, but the idea that the Xbox One sequel won’t just be one piece of hardware has been discussed extensively by Microsoft. It’s pretty clear that there won’t just be a single option of what to buy when the Xbox Two, or whatever silly thing they’re going to call it, is released.
It will likely be backward-compatible
“When people buy an Xbox, they buy into an ecosystem and they become an Xbox fan,” Spencer told Eurogamer. “Many of the Xbox fans we have today started on the original Xbox, were with us on 360 and they’re with us now on Xbox One. I trust their commitment to our devices and our services as we go through this journey with them. So, I’m going to be open with them.”
This was in the context of talking about whether Microsoft will even create another dedicated console, but that sense of caring about the players in the long term, through different generations of hardware and software, is a theme in this interview.
“What I would say specifically, without announcing anything, is I’m very proud of our track record of compatibility and us respecting the purchase of games you’ve made with us and bringing that to the current generation,” Spencer continued. “It is in our core on who we are.”
While he’s careful to say this isn’t an announcement, hitting the company’s commitment to taking the investment players have in the Xbox platform seriously indicates that your purchases today are likely to carry over to the next console.
The Xbox One’s backward compatibility is a big advantage over the PlayStation 4, and it’s always fun when Microsoft adds new games that you already own on your account, and they just kind of ... show up on your Xbox One. This is a trend Microsoft should absolutely continue.
Frame rate is going to be very important
The Xbox One X may be the most powerful console on the market, but it still struggles to hit 60 fps when games are running in 4K. Many titles give you a choice: Do you want to focus on frame rate or resolution?
Microsoft doesn’t want you to have to choose in the future.
“If you watch what we’re doing on the Xbox consoles right now with variable refresh rate, looking at higher frame rate capability, I think frame rate is an area where consoles can do more,” Spencer said during an interview with Giant Bomb. “Just in general. When you look at the balance between CPU and GPU in today’s consoles, they’re a little bit out of whack relative to what’s on the PC side, so I think there’s work that we can do there.”
Streaming is going to be big, and so is your phone
While Spencer made it clear that Microsoft is still interested in selling you a box that sits near your TV, your family of devices will be more important in the future.
“We pivoted about three or four years ago to thinking about the gamer first, not the device first,” Spencer told the Guardian. “I still see remnants of that: what can you do to force somebody to buy a device, and then once you’ve bought it, own the store and the services? [But] this limits people on the creative side because you have to build games for specific devices …”
So while Microsoft knows it should sell hardware, and some aspect of that hardware is a box connected to your TV, the overall vision is much larger.
“Our focus is on bringing console quality games that you see on TV or PC to any device,” Spencer continued. “I want to see the creators that I have relationships with reach all two billion people who play games, and not have to turn their studio into something that makes match-3 games rather than story-driven single-player games. Because that’s the only way to reach a bigger platform. That is our goal: to bring high-quality games to every device possible on the planet.”
Spencer hit this point with Eurogamer as well.
“For a lot of us today, there’s a certain kind of game we expect on a phone and another kind of game we expect on our console,” Spencer explained. “It’s not always true they’re separate. You can see PUBG and Fortnite now on the phones doing much better, but a lot of the games there are very casual. I know content developers want to reach as many people as they can with their content. So, I do think as we move forward, more people will be playing more kinds of content on other devices. But television will be one of those.”
So streaming, and your existing mobile devices, are going to be a larger part of the new Xbox. This is the sort of lofty planning that we often see from console manufacturers before things are announced, but this sounds like Microsoft is planning to rethink what Xbox means as a platform in general.