GameDaily spoke with analysts about Spencer's recent interview with IGN.
In the lead-up to the launch of the next generation of video game hardware, Xbox head Phil Spencer has been rather transparent about Microsoft’s plans with the Series X. While he remains opaque on some of the finer details -- such as console pricing -- Spencer’s various interviews have been refreshingly robust in terms of outlining the launch roadmap. In a new interview with IGN, this trend of openness continued as he elaborated on Microsoft’s vision for this holiday’s rollout.
In the hour-long interview, Spencer discussed a number of topics, including the console’s initial software cadence, plans for simultaneous region launches, and, of course, the potential impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. Spencer said that while the hardware side of things is mostly locked down, it’s the software side that remains in the air.
“Building a video game from home with a large distributed team of hundreds of people is not easy,” Spencer told IGN.
For Piers Harding-Rolls, research director of games at Ampere Analysis, spreading a team as thinly as this has the potential to disrupt launch windows.
“I got the impression from Spencer’s comments that delays to development, and also testing of hardware and software, which are made more difficult by remote working, are an ongoing threat to the launch timetable,” Harding-Rolls told GameDaily. “Supply chain for the console seems to be okay and aligns with my thinking that a ramp up of production would occur deeper into Q2. It is likely that most, if not all, dev studios will have been negatively impacted by losing time switching to remote working, but there are a number of months left to get games ready for the launch window, so there is time to make up for lost time.”
Because of social distancing, Harding-Rolls noted that testing is a more tricky proposition, and there is likely to be an impact on process efficiency in this area.
According to David Cole, analyst at DFC Intelligence, there isn’t likely to be any long-term impact on sales, but supply may be an issue at the start.
“Even with limited software, demand is likely to exceed supply,” Cole told GameDaily. “Pricing, supply, regional availability are all supply issues. Pent up demand can be a good problem to have and I do not see this situation impacting long-term sales.”
Regardless, Spencer was adamant that the Series X launch will not be held up by any delay in games, Halo included.
“Hardware and service software, those two things have to stay linked. I don’t want to ship a piece of hardware where the platform’s not completely there,” Spencer said. “I don’t think I would hold it for any individual game -- obviously the big one you think about is Halo -- but I don’t think I would hold the launch of the overall platform for any individual game.I think we just have to be very transparent with where we are.”
On the topic of regional availability, Spencer said that the goal is a simultaneous global launch for the Xbox Series X.
“Having lived through the Xbox One launch, I know that significant delays in region launches hurt us,” Spencer explained. “It hurts us with the sentiment of the fans, and every time I go to Japan I’m reminded that we were nine months late in launching there with Xbox One.”
According to Harding-Rolls, beating the competition to launch in a region can provide a strong market advantage while endearing yourself to the relevant consumer base.
“Ideally, you would try and match or even beat [the competition to release], otherwise you are on the back foot from launch,” he said. “Having a limited launch can also tarnish the brand in markets not served, as consumers have to wait to get access to the new console and software.”
As the company has continually hammered home, cloud technology figures heavily into Microsoft’s vision of building a far-reaching Xbox brand ecosystem. Spencer reiterated this in his interview with IGN when he touched on the xCloud subscription service.
“The xCloud scenario on a console makes a ton of sense,” Spencer said. “One of the things we’re seeing in the xCloud preview...is we watch people sample games. We see that in [Xbox] Game Pass already; we call it the ‘hummingbird effect.’ People are willing to try more games, but obviously you have download time. On xCloud, we definitely get people who are sampling a lot more games, and I think that’s healthy for our industry.”
For Lewis Ward, research director of gaming at analyst group IDC, this leveraging of the cloud could pave the way for an increased Microsoft presence on mobile platforms.
“Microsoft wants to deal itself back into mobile gaming, and xCloud and 5G are their ticket in,” Ward told GameDaily. “I’m sure they’d love to expose hundreds of millions of iOS and Android gamers to Xbox platform games in the coming years. That could be one of their smartest marketing plays ever if it pans out.”
Ward said that by using xCloud to expose mobile gamers in developing markets to the Xbox platform games at a low price point could be an excellent way to get them to upgrade to a Series X console or even a Windows 10 gaming PC. In this way, the cloud has the potential to positively impact all aspects of Microsoft’s gaming business.
When asked about how the power specs of the Series X compare to what Mark Cerny revealed about Sony’s PlayStation 5 in March, Spencer said that Microsoft feels very comfortable in what the team has built.
“I felt really good about how Series X lines up. Now, I think Mark and the team did some really good work on the audio processing that they talked about, their SSD technology is impressive, we like that,” Spencer said. “We saw the work that they did. But you know, we took a holistic view on our platform, from CPU, to GPU, to RAM, to throughput velocity architecture, latency, back compat -- you know, it took us years to get to this point.
"I will definitely have respect for any platform team that's launching, it just takes a lot of work. But I will say, when we finally saw the public disclosure, I felt even better about the choices that we made on our platform. And I kind of expected that I would."
Overall, Microsoft’s marketing strategy in the build-up to the Series X launch has been marked by transparency. Spencer has had a strong media presence and has been surprisingly forthcoming with new information on a regular basis. The Xbox ecosystem feels very ambitious, but the company is well-positioned for a strong launch. COVID-19 is certainly a wrench in the gears, but hopefully the impact on the Series X release is minimal.
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