Microsoft is investing deeply in gaming as a whole, but that doesn’t mean it’s abandoning its Xbox consoles, just evolving its approach to supporting them and other platforms, head of Microsoft Studios Matt Booty told Variety in a recent interview.
The changes that are reshaping Microsoft’s approach to gaming started last fall when Phil Spencer was promoted to executive vice president of gaming, a move that means he now reports directly to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.
“That sent a message about Microsoft’s conviction to stay in the gaming space and a dedication to put our full resources behind Xbox and gaming,” Booty said.
Gaming is now one of Microsoft’s “six solution areas.” The decision, Spencer tells Variety, came with a challenge to make Microsoft the “global leader in gaming by empowering everyone on the planet to play, watch, communicate, and create together.”
But what does this new push to make gaming more ubiquitous mean for the exclusivity of gaming that typically empowers the growth of a gaming console and its cross play with Windows computer systems?
Spencer points to “Minecraft” as a good example of this new goal in operation.
“We’re updating ‘Minecraft’ to play across as many devices as we can, toward a goal of having every ‘Minecraft’ player in the world able to watch, communicate and play together,” Spencer said. “We’re focused on this mission for the future of gaming at Microsoft and in recent months this has led us to continued updates for Mixer, day and date Microsoft Studios games available on Xbox Game Pass, and the Xbox Adaptive Controller. Gamers are playing across a variety of devices and it remains important to us to make that experience great – that includes Xbox One devices in the living room.”
In Microsoft’s eyes the growth of gaming will come by investing in content, in the cloud and in community. The bulk of Microsoft’s content comes by way of Microsoft Studios, Booty said.
During Sunday’s Microsoft E3 press conference, the company detailed their latest investment in Studios, announcing the acquisition of Playgrounds and the creation of a new studio in Santa Monica. Those investments speak to a desire to continue creating original content for Microsoft’s platforms – Windows and Xbox – but not whether the company is refocusing its energies on Windows over Xbox .
When asked, Booty insists that Microsoft’s commitment to console gaming and to the Xbox, remains firm.
“Xbox, for us, is our home base. It is the root of our origins, a place where we built out a strong community of gamers,” Booty said. “As we look around the world and we think about the bigger collection of gamers on the planet, that goes beyond a console. It absolutely means we are going to have to pursue ambitions on PC and mobile as well. We need to go to where the gamers are, where the players are. But by no means does that mean to imply that we will spend less attention on Xbox and its fans on that journey. This is very much an additive situation.”
This new direction by Microsoft means, in the words of both Booty and Spencer, that while Microsoft is expanding its vision on supporting gamers to include more support for Windows and smartphones, it doesn’t mean less for the Xbox.
Key among Microsoft’s commitment to gamers is the content they will create for players. Booty said that content coming from Microsoft sits in two big groups. On one side are the established franchises like “Halo,” “Gears of War,” “Forza,” “Minecraft,” and “Age of Empires.”
“I very strongly believe that we, as a company, are fortunate to have a number of billion-dollar franchises with a decade of established relevance and impact with our players,” he said. “It’s a base we can build on. There is a whole lot we can do with our franchise.”
On the other side of content is an investment in creating new things, building for the future, taking bets on new people and new studios.
In looking at the big games Microsoft is investing in, there are a number of different approaches. “Minecraft,” for instance, was a very well established franchise with a massive audience already on most video game platforms, including some that were on competing platforms.
“When we were fortunate to acquire Mojang and the ‘Minecraft’ franchise, we acquired what already existed on a number of platforms,” Booty said. “Our approach starts with a player centric view. With ‘Minecraft,’ we already had a lot of players on those platforms and we would never want to go backwards.”
That approach differs slightly from how Microsoft is handling “Gears of War,” a franchise launched as an Xbox exclusive.
“With a game like ‘Gears,’ we have a lot of players on our platforms and that is where our focus will be right now,” Booty said.
It’s the “Gears” news that came out of Sunday’s press conference that perhaps offers the best insight into Microsoft’s strategy moving forward. During the press conference, the company unveiled not one, but three different “Gears of War” titles, one for Xbox, one for PC and one for mobile.
“The thread here, that overarching focus, is how do we meet our players on the devices where they are and how do we use our existing franchises as a base,” Booty said. “It’s like ‘Minecraft,’ we are going to go broad.”
Does that mean Microsoft could, as it has with “Minecraft,” one day release some of its other owned titles on platforms like the Nintendo Switch?
“I think we would keep those options open,” Booty said. “And we have a fantastic relationship with Nintendo. I think it’s far too early to tell with the new stuff we are working on. It feels premature to think about a device strategy before we have a creative vision.”