Kotaku: Phil Spencer On Microsoft’s Struggles With 1st Party Game Quality And Efforts To Improve It

Dimple

Member
Jan 10, 2018
2,446

Whatever the strengths of the Xbox platform, it’s long lagged behind Nintendo and Sony in terms of homegrown, exclusive video games. There have been highlights in its history and even some stellar games of late, such as last year’s Forza Horizon 4, but the Xbox One era has been rough. There have been prominent cancellations, disappointing sequels and games that under-deliveredgiven how long fans were waiting for them.

In recent years there have been hints of a coming turnaround. While Nintendo and Sony have turned out Game Of The Year contenders such as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, Horizon: Zero Dawn, and God of War, Microsoft has slowed its development cycle for Halo games (and possibly Forzaas well), and it has nurtured unusual exclusives like the zombie strategy adventure State of Day 2 and multiplayer-centric pirate game Sea Of Thieves with lengthy, game-improving post-release support. It’s also been building and buying game studios, announcing five such additions last E3, two more in the fall and adding longtime indie Double Fine to the mix this month.



With all this in mind, I spent some time at E3 last week asking Xbox boss Phil Spencer about the quality of the platform’s games. What follows is the final part of my E3 interview with Spencer, in which we approach the topic from a few angles and discuss the conditions for the people making those games as well.
 

Cess007

Member
Oct 27, 2017
7,520
Mexicali, Mexico
Totilo: Do you think it would be beneficial if game developers unionized?

Spencer:
You know, I’ve been asked this and I always answer and I feel kind of silly in the way I answer, but honestly I have no—I’m not any kind of expert on a union. I’ve been at Microsoft since I was 20 years old. So I don’t know. I don’t hear that inside. Just being honest. When I’m with my teams that...

Totilo: You don’t hear the desire?

Spencer:
No. The things I get are, ‘Hey I want to make sure I can do my best work here. I want to make sure I have the right tools. I want to make sure I have the right environment to work. I want to make sure I have more space.’ Like these are the things that we work through. And I see it. You guys report on it. Other people report on it.

Totilo: Yeah, you don’t want the Kotaku story about one of your studios, right?

Spencer:
Well..

Totilo: We don’t have one planned.

Spencer:
I’d rather have the conversation internally, because I think it’s an easy way to do it. And I think we have the environment that we could. And it’s not a conversation that I hear inside of our halls. And as I said, I don’t claim to be an expert of what it means to either work in a union… so if you ask me, ‘Do I think it would make things better or not?’ I honestly don’t know.
You don't know if Unionizing would be good for devs neither hear the desire, Phil?
 

NLCPRESIDENT

Member
Oct 25, 2017
3,157
Midwest
Games like Bleeding Edge are what I expect from XGS. Games with great multiplayer experiences. If they keep hammering this aspect, xbox will find its stride once again.
 

Birdseye

Banned
Oct 27, 2017
13,464
User Banned (1 Day) - Console Warring & Driveby posting
Unless they get Kojima and Yakuza on board I'm never buying an Xbox console
 

Atisha

Banned
Nov 28, 2017
1,331
I like the sea change and the direction they sailing now. The Horizon looks fine. Really geeked about playground and Fable, and all the studio aquisitions in general and Gamepass. Now, though i will be needing a suped up Banjo game.
 

Zedelima

Member
Oct 25, 2017
3,500
I think they need to up their SP portfolio.

Is great to see their MP focus, but they have some ips (like fable) that would rivalize with the competition.
 

PopsMaellard

The Fallen
Oct 27, 2017
2,013
Better than him coming out against it. It leaves the door open for discussion at least.
Yeah, and what he says doesn’t come across as disingenuous. I’m sure his employees aren’t coming to him to talk about unionization, because of course they wouldn’t. It’s not unreasonable of him to say that he hasn’t had talks about it, and he admits he doesn’t know anything about the topic and has zero experience with it since he’s worked at the same place for decades.
 

Raide

Member
Oct 31, 2017
9,365
Regardless of which side you sit on when it comes to Phil Spencer, he is certainly driving MS and Xbox in the right direction. Slowly but surely, he will get there.
 

Khanimus

Avenger
Oct 25, 2017
17,293
Greater Vancouver
I think there's a major hurdle that they have 3 studios now dedicated to continuing (or to put it more cynically, really only emulating) past franchise successes without the creative talent that spawned them, rather than fostering talent to create new IP and forge a new identity. Maybe Halo Infinite is this exciting new thing to inspire people, but Halo 4 and Gears 4 were largely just exercises in "Hey we wanna make a new one of these... but we can't be too different because we still need to win over the skeptics who think it's wrong for anyone else to do these soooo..."

And I mean, Nintendo obviously maintains their franchises for decades, but they also have a diverse portfolio, with a lot of games that maybe only have one entry per system. Microsoft on the 360 had that ambition. Rare making Viva Pinata, B+K: Nuts and Bolts, that was cool and weird and awesome. Remedy making Alan Wake. Gears was a shiny new thing. Fable 2 was huge, if flawed, but it just had so much charm that I got lost in it.

I'm glad Sea of Thieves seems to have evolved a bit. I hope it continues to keep people around and they continue to evolve that game. But... I dunno, it kinda feels like one of the few things you can point to and say "look at this cool-ass thing Microsoft has." Besides Ori. Ori is good shit. But Ryse was... eh. Dead Rising 3 didn't have the enthusiasm you always saw behind Dead Rising. Sunset Overdrive was fun, but Insomniac obviously went on to make Spider-Man this massive hit. Scalebound fell through. Quantum Break (or what they originally planned with their TV division) seemingly fell through. Crackdown 3... no. And it's telling that I'm mostly talking about games that were announced within, what, the first couple years of Xbox One?

They made good acquisitions. I just hope they lead to exciting new things.
 
Last edited:

Cess007

Member
Oct 27, 2017
7,520
Mexicali, Mexico

Ramjag

Member
Oct 25, 2017
4,405
Unless they get Kojima and Yakuza on board I'm never buying an Xbox console
Lol, what in the world?

Honestly? The "I don't hear the desire" doesn't actually sounds promising. I mean, even Totilo reply of "You don't hear it?" sounds a little skeptic.
I think Phil gives great answers a majority of the time on these types of questions, but it sounded like a company man response, which is expected. I’m not willing to give most corporate heads the benefit of the doubt when it comes to unionization though. It was a non answer if anything.
 
Last edited:

LifeLine

Member
Oct 25, 2017
2,632
AAA Obsidian and Inexile RPGs + Double Fine getting the budget to make bigger games again. Microsoft first party next gen will be hard to resist.

Payoff won’t hit till the gen after that though once their games actually start coming out and people’s opinion start to change.
 

Newman

Member
Oct 28, 2017
126
Xbox only needs one true slam dunk and that is Halo.
I’m not saying they shouldn’t invest in other titles, or new IPs but in nearly a decade they just haven’t quite stuck the landing on Halo (IMO Halo 5 being a complete disaster)

If they can nail Halo Infinite, and get it up there in that Halo 1-3 area of quality then I think a lot of the unhappiness with their first party disappears. Not all of it of course but a large chunk.
 

Deleted member 249

User requested account closure
Banned
Oct 25, 2017
28,828
Honestly, the "I don't hear the desire" doesn't actually sounds promising. I mean, even Totilo reply of "You don't hear it?" sounds a little skeptic.
Of course he doesn't hear the desire though, no employee who wants to keep their job will go to their boss and talk about unionizing. Especially in the US. He's just being honest.
 

scitek

Member
Oct 27, 2017
3,426
Yeah, and what he says doesn’t come across as disingenuous. I’m sure his employees aren’t coming to him to talk about unionization, because of course they wouldn’t. It’s not unreasonable of him to say that he hasn’t had talks about it, and he admits he doesn’t know anything about the topic and has zero experience with it since he’s worked at the same place for decades.
When I worked in TV in St. Louis, the team I was working on got to vote on whether or not we wanted to join a union (we ultimately did), and in the weeks leading up to the vote, we were basically forbidden from talking about it around anyone not already in the union.
 

jett

Community Resettler
Member
Oct 25, 2017
21,483
Hopefully we'll be seeing some of the fruits of their labor next year.
 

boxingiscool

Member
May 15, 2019
2,998
Xbox only needs one true slam dunk and that is Halo.
I’m not saying they shouldn’t invest in other titles, or new IPs but in nearly a decade they just haven’t quite stuck the landing on Halo (IMO Halo 5 being a complete disaster)

If they can nail Halo Infinite, and get it up there in that Halo 1-3 area of quality then I think a lot of the unhappiness with their first party disappears. Not all of it of course but a large chunk.
Not on the internet. Nobody cares about halo or master chief anymore. And there’s no real discernible way to bring it back
 

El Bombastico

Avenger
Oct 25, 2017
12,381
Xbox only needs one true slam dunk and that is Halo.
I’m not saying they shouldn’t invest in other titles, or new IPs but in nearly a decade they just haven’t quite stuck the landing on Halo (IMO Halo 5 being a complete disaster)

If they can nail Halo Infinite, and get it up there in that Halo 1-3 area of quality then I think a lot of the unhappiness with their first party disappears. Not all of it of course but a large chunk.
Focusing solely on Halo is one of the reasons why MS is in this situation in the first place...
 

christocolus

Member
Oct 27, 2017
6,116
Last edited:

Kage Maru

Member
Oct 27, 2017
3,790
They have been making some good progress in improving not only the number of studios but also how they are managed, which I think was a bigger issue inside Microsoft. Hope they continue down this path and we're all treated with some great games.

Honestly? The "I don't hear the desire" doesn't actually sounds promising. I mean, even Totilo reply of "You don't hear it?" sounds a little skeptic.
If you followed a lot of devs working there, it doesn't seem like a topic that would come up. They seem to be treating their devs well enough to not need unionization. I'm all for devs to unionize but I don't find anything wrong with his answer.
 

Vinc

Member
Oct 25, 2017
2,920
It'll be tough for Sony to match my excitement for Halo Infinite, that will be my first priority for next gen, after I was all PlayStation this gen. I'll definitely get both though!
 

Dabanton

Member
Oct 27, 2017
1,998
Good stuff.. going by his comments they seem to have a lot more 1P stuff they aren't talking about now planned for next years show? Interesting.
MS got burned seriously with revealing stuff way too early they will never forget Scalebound

And as we can see this year at E3 it was wall to wall CG or in engine trailers no company wants that heat of downgrade talk or early game play messing up the optics.
 

MrKlaw

Member
Oct 25, 2017
10,062
How many studios did MS have before the recent acquisitions? Curious compared to Sony if the difference was really enough to make a significant difference.

Next question is why they allowed that to be like that for so long? Yes it looks like spencer is addressing that, but first party support has been lacklustre since halfway through 360 - coming on 10 years now.
 

dyst

Banned
Oct 27, 2017
1,461
This poor guy, seems like he has been trying to answer questions on the quality and quantity of 1st party games for the past 5 years now.