Feature Article

Xbox's Phil Spencer Rejects The Console War

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There are no winners of a console war.

With Sony choosing not to attend E3 2019 the common-held opinion was that it would be Microsoft's show to "win" - without their major competition there, what could stand in their way? But according to Xbox head Phil Spencer, during an exclusive interview with GameSpot that took place after E3, he isn't interested in pitting Xbox against PlayStation these days, nor does he think the fan-fueled rivalry between the two companies is relevant or useful. He agrees that Sony and Microsoft compete on a technology level, but rejects the notion that there's a mean-spirited undercurrent spearheading that drive. As he puts it: "Business isn't sport. It is different."

If anything signposts the mutual spirit of cooperation that Spencer is talking about, it's E3. The ESA, where Spencer sits on the board of directors, is the driving force behind the event, and it regularly rallies the likes of Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo to work together towards making opportunity as impactful as possible for all. It's a coordinated effort with far-reaching goals, and from his point of view, the absence of booths from Sony and big-name publishers is simply a detriment. "I see it as we should all be there," Spencer tells GameSpot. "We should all be showing our best. I'm not alone in sharing that. All of us who are on the ESA board kind of aspire to have an E3 where everybody feels like they can be there and show up. I'd say the same thing about EA not being there with a booth, say the same thing about Activision. It's not specifically calling out Sony. I think we want to create an E3 where all of the gaming companies feel like it's worth their time and gamers love coming there and celebrating their love of gaming."

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"The nice thing about E3 is it is a time when all of us sit around a board meeting," Spencer noted. "EA is there. Take-Two is there. Sony is there. Nintendo is there. I think there are 30 board members from all the major [publishers]... Epic is there. We're talking about how we make this show a better show for everyone. Any time you can--and we're all focused on it--you can create common focus areas for us as a games industry, where we can hopefully make some progress, as we have over the years, I think it leads to the idea that it makes sense for us in certain instances to cooperate on different things."

What Spencer is saying is that while E3 is a major opportunity for everyone involved, it's also a jumping-off point for big-picture opportunities down the road. One not-so-small example: Minecraft. "Us being a big publisher of Minecraft on these other platforms, the longer that goes on successfully for both us, whether it's Sony or Nintendo or whatever, it just lessens that... friction might not be the best word, but I'd say lessens the, 'Hey. Are these people well intentioned in what they're doing?'"

Good intentions among competitors is one thing, but gaming has always struggled to portray itself as an industry with good intentions to misinformed onlookers and legislators. As gaming continues to grow in influence and profit, it's only natural that the target continues to shift with the times. Here, too, Spencer thinks that joining together is the only way to ensure a future for all: "As an industry, with cross-play, with some of the external kind of... I'd say threats to the gaming business--like loot box legislation, the World Health Organization stuff--these are things where coming together to make sure that we've got a good constructive point of view on our art form and what it means in society... I think all of that is just part of us as an industry knowing that the biggest competitor we have is actually not each other."

While most console-shopping customers are only able to keep up with a single high-end gaming console, an opportunity which Spencer at least hopes to win, the animosity often exhibited by the gaming community is the opposite of what Spencer likes to see. "I think there was friction just on that side as well, from the fans maybe creating this perception that we shouldn't like each other because one console is blue and one console is green and those two things can never mix," he said. "I do know there are parts of the community that wish we were more aggressive in being competitive with each other. I think competition between us, from an innovation and business model and value standpoint, makes a ton of sense. Competition at a human level or a punitive level, I find isn't really part of how we continue gaming's growth. There's much more to be gained by us at least having a joint point of view on issues that are important to gaming."

"As our industry becomes more relevant and more used across more people, I think our responsibility goes up to make sure we're being good kind of shepherds of gaming as it continues to grow." -- Phil Spencer, Head of Xbox

If any platform holder deserves the award for being the most vocal about the need or desire to collaborate, it's Xbox, but Spencer sees rays of hope from others, even if they are more subtle in nature: "Maybe we're too vocal on this stuff. We probably talk about it externally more than they do. I don't like to talk about their business. They're running their business from their point of view. But if you just look at... what's a good example? I think it was last summer when Nintendo did the Minecraft Better Together ad that they crafted. And it had Xbox in it. I'm almost positive it was the first time a Nintendo ad ever had the Xbox logo in it," Spencer recalled. "That was them pushing on the fact that Xbox and Switch, together with Minecraft, creates a better solution. Them creating an ad around it I thought was pretty cool, that they felt compelled to go do that. I think the industry is more, internally, as we're having discussions, more aligned on these topics. Everybody's got to run at their own pace from their business perspective."

Spencer set the pace for Microsoft's future when discussing the future of Xbox at E3, specifically the upcoming console currently known by its code name, Scarlett. Scheduled to ship during the "holiday 2020" release window, Scarlett is purported to be four times as powerful as the Xbox One X. According to Spencer, this power may be used in ways you didn't expect. Likewise, he's also spoken to GameSpot about the Xbox cloud gaming service xCloud, and touched on the very different approach Phil Harrison is taking Google's Stadia service.

We've broken out several stories of note from our conversation with Phil Spencer and outlined the full list of news articles below, including our big profile on the outspoken and positive leader of Xbox.

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

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