Nine Things We Learned From The Big Phil Spencer Xbox Interview

Nine Things We Learned From The Big Phil Spencer Xbox Interview

Xbox just had one of its best showcases in years and hot off the heels of that big event, Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer sat down with IGN to chat more about some of the games the company revealed, as well as the current health of Xbox, Game Pass, and the closure of studios like Tango Gameworks.

Here are nine interesting things we learned about Xbox, Game Pass, Spencer himself, Bethesda, and more from IGN’s extended interview with the CEO.

Spencer used to sneak into Microsoft HQ to play Doom on his work PC

Spencer told IGN that he was talking to the folks at id Software about introducing the next Doom game, Dark Ages, at the Xbox showcase and started swapping old stories with the devs about his own history with the franchise.

“My only PC that could run [Doom in the ‘90s] was my PC at Microsoft,” admitted Spencer. “So I would sneak in at night, put it in so I could play.” He added that “the opportunity to stand there and get to announce” the next Doom was special and said he was “proud” of what the team had made.

Why Doom: The Dark Ages is launching on Xbox and PS5

At the end of the Doom: The Dark Ages trailer it was confirmed that the game will be arriving not only on Xbox and PC, but also on PS5. Some were surprised to see the Xbox-owned id Software releasing another multiplatform game. So why is Doom, unlike Bethesda’s Starfield, launching on Sony’s home console? Spencer says it’s because Doom is a series that has a history on “so many devices.”

Bethesda

“It’s a franchise that I think everybody deserves to play,” said Spencer. “And to be honest, I was in a meeting with [id executive producer] Marty Stratton and the team a couple of years ago and I asked Marty what he wanted to do and he said he wanted to ship it on all platforms. I said, let’s go do that. It was as simple as that.”

I wonder if the conversation with id Software Spencer referenced above was a result of some reported frustration at Bethesda with how Xbox was deciding which games were going to be exclusive and which ones would be multiplatform.

Spencer says closing Tango Gamerworks (Hi-Fi Rush) was done to keep Xbox “sustainable”

While I wish IGN spent more time drilling Spencer about all the recent layoffs and studio closures, the interview did touch on the subject for a bit and Spencer’s answer is about as corporate-y as you would expect.

The Xbox boss says that closing any studios is “hard on the team.” But he says that ultimately he has to “run a sustainable business” and “grow.” So sometimes that means he has to make these “hard decisions.”

“Sometimes I have to make hard decisions that frankly are not decisions I love, but decisions that somebody needs to go make,” explained Spencer.

“We will continue to go forward, we will continue to invest in what we’re trying to go do in Xbox and build the best business that we can, which ensures we can continue to do shows like the one we just did.”

In other news, remember when Xbox was able to spend nearly $US70 billion on acquiring Activision? If only they could spend a fraction of that on keeping award-winning studios filled with great talent open instead of shutting them down because the team at Xbox is, in their own reported words, not able to manage all these studios.

Spencer admits that for a time Xbox only had four franchises: Fable, Forza, Halo, and Gears of War

For a long time during the era of Xbox 360 and even Xbox One, it seemed like Xbox only had four big franchises to lean on. People used to joke about it all the time. And now, Spencer admits that, yeah, for a long time Xbox didn’t have a very diverse line-up of first-party games.

“We’ve got a broader library of games,” said Spencer compared to the “time of Xbox” where the company “basically had four games: Fable, Forza, Gears, Halo.”

“And we would just literally, every four years I would have to come to E3 and I’d somehow try to make those four games seem different every year for the community,” said Spencer. “Now what we have in gaming is just an amazing collection of teams and franchises that are doing great work.”

It should be noted that two of the biggest games shown during the Xbox event over the weekend were a new Fable and a new Gears of War. The more things change…

Game Pass is doing well and Xbox game sales are up

While it’s no secret that Xbox has been struggling to sell consoles, it seems that the company is selling a lot of games while also growing Xbox, at least according to Spencer.

“Game Pass is up double digits. PC is growing really well, cloud is growing really well,” said Spencer, who also added that he and Xbox are happy if people prefer buying games, too.

In fact, according to the CEO, game sales on Xbox are better than ever. He says that some worried Game Pass would train gamers to expect games to be “free” and might lead to decreased sales, but Spencer says that’s not the case at all.

“We’re up double digits every year over the last five years on game sales, on Xbox consoles,” claimed Spencer.

While I don’t think Spencer is lying here, I think the data might be a bit more complicated than how he’s presenting it. In 2023, court docs showed that Xbox admitted that, yes, Game Pass games sold less after they entered the service, adding that the subscription plan could lead to the “cannibalization of [digital] sales” in some situations.

Spencer has probably seen Elder Scrolls 6 recently

When asked if he has recently seen or played an early build of Elder Scrolls 6 from Bethesda, Spencer dodged the question and responded: “I’ll refrain from comment!”

That seems to imply that, yeah, he’s probably seen and maybe even played the upcoming open-world RPG. We know the game is probably playable and, according to Bethesda, is pretty fun.

Bethesda

Xbox buying Activision was more work than expected

Buying Activision wasn’t just expensive, it was also a lot of work as Spencer and the rest of team at Xbox had to hop around the globe fighting different groups and agencies in multiple court battles.

“It’s my fault as the head of the business, I didn’t really internalize that in the beginning of what a drain that would be on the team,” admitted Spencer.

“For the management team like Sarah Bond, Lori Wright, Linda Norman, who’s our lead lawyer at Xbox, we all had our same job of running Xbox and doing the things that we needed to go do. Matt Booty. But then we actually added this second job in the time of having to work through regulatory.”

Spencer also told IGN that they had plans for if the deal died, adding that there were “dark days” when it seemed like it wasn’t going to happen.

“When the CMA came out and said, no, this isn’t going to go through,” said Spencer. “And the drag on the teams, the teams at Activision, Blizzard, and King, [they were] dealing with this uncertainty. So it’s so nice to have it behind us, and now we can just focus on building great games together.” Well, mostly together. Not everyone is around after layoffs in January.

Todd Howard might be more open to another studio making a Fallout game

The Fallout TV show was a massive success for Xbox, Bethesda, and Amazon. It’s getting a second season and will likely get a few more and maybe some spin-offs, too. The show’s success led to an explosion in popularity for the post-apocalyptic franchise, with old Fallout games becoming some of the most popular games on the planet shortly after the show’s launch.

And yet, we are still likely close to a decade away from Fallout 5. Some have suggested that Bethesda let another Xbox-owned studio—maybe New Vegas devs Obsidian—take a crack at making a new Fallout game or spin-off. But it has always seemed like Bethesda and creative director Todd Howard don’t like that idea. However, Spencer hints that maybe, just maybe, Xbox and the Amazon show have convinced Howard otherwise.

“Yeah. I’ll just say that Todd’s recognized the success of the television show on his own,” said Spencer.

“For us specifically, Fallout’s been amazing. And yeah, Todd’s looking at the plans on what he’s doing. I’m not going to get into it, but I’ll say Todd has recognized the success on his own and is thinking through what that means.”

Finally, it sounds like the rumored Xbox handheld PC thing is real and won’t be powered by the cloud

IGN asked Spencer about the long-rumored Xbox handheld and as you might expect the CEO was tight-lipped about it and didn’t reveal anything or confirm its existence. However, when asked if a theoretical Xbox handheld would require an internet connection, similar to the Logitech G Cloud streaming device, Spencer seemed to offer a possible nugget of info about the still-not-confirmed Xbox handheld.

“I’ll put it this way: I like my ROG Ally, my Lenovo Legion Go – fantastic – my Steam Deck. I think being able to play games locally is really important,” Spencer said.

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