As the Xbox Series X and Series S are released, Microsoft gaming chief Phil Spencer says the next games generation is all about how many players you have, not how many consoles you shift
The launch of the Xbox Series X this week marked the start of a new video game console generation – historically a super-exciting time for players, as better technology unlocks new dimensions for games. But despite the usual competitive crowing about teraflops, frame rates and resolutions, there’s a different dimension to the console wars this time around. The looming Netflix-ification of video games threatens to upend the whole idea of video game consoles. Amazon and Google are both working on game streaming services that let people play cutting-edge games without paying for a box that sits under the TV. And Microsoft has spent the past five years spending billions on game developers to shore up its star service: Xbox Game Pass, a monthly subscription that lets you play hundreds of games for a monthly fee.
It’s been clear for a while that Microsoft sees the future of gaming in subscriptions, streaming and services. Phil Spencer, the head of Xbox since 2014, is known to players as the guy who shows up on stage at press conferences in video-game T-shirts. Under his leadership, Microsoft has massively broadened its stable of game developers, started selling Xbox games on PC, and engineered its own streaming service to let people play on any screen, known in prototype as Project xCloud. Subs and streaming have already transformed other creative industries, with varying effects on artists – Spotify has been a disaster for musicians, where Netflix has arguably been good news for TV producers. With Microsoft already clearly committed to this direction of travel, what will its effect be on the games industry?