Our game studios should push the boundaries, says head of Xbox Phil Spencer

Videogame studios owned by Microsoft should push the boundaries of what can be done in the sector so gamers get the best experiences, the head of Xbox has said.

Phil Spencer said first-party studios are starting to take more risks and embrace innovation but need to go further to match the breakthroughs seen in other areas of the company.

“I think the work we do in our first-party studios should be a beacon of innovation for how our platform is being used,” Spencer, who has been at Microsoft for nearly 30 years, told the UK News Centre. “I like our first-party studios taking risks and trying new things. You see Gears of War doing cross-play between Windows and Xbox, and Minecraft connecting players on iOS, Android, Xbox and Windows, and its coming to Switch. It’s even on virtual reality devices. That’s the role I think our first-party studios should play – trying to be innovative.”

Phil Spencer, head of Xbox

Phil Spencer, head of Xbox

This desire for pushing the boundaries of technology to take gaming to the next level is part of a wider culture at Microsoft that has seen the company create some cutting-edge products in recent years.

Surface Studio came out and people loved it, they saw design and innovation; [Technical Fellow of the Operating System Group] Alex Kipman’s work on HoloLens has shown that Microsoft can lead in a lot of places. Xbox is definitely a fun spot to be in from that perspective. The team is really buzzing,” Spencer added.

A lot of that innovation comes from having “the community at the table, helping us design”, said Spencer, who was in Europe to visit Microsoft game studios Rare and Mojang.

Rare, which is based in Twycross, Leicestershire, was taking the collaboration with gamers “a step further” ahead of the release of the highly-anticipated shared-world adventure game Sea of Thieves, he added.

“Gamers are some of the most passionate consumers you will find, and feedback is critical. At Rare, they’re engaging the community before Sea of Thieves is even done. They brought people in to play the game online and captured feedback. The community are at the table, helping them design what the game should be about. I think that’s unique in videogames, breaking that wall [down] and bringing the community in as the process of development is going on.”

Join the Sea of Thieves insider programme

Sea of Thieves

He added that Xbox makes a point of listening to gamers about issues they are having or new feature suggestions, and will often act on those. Xbox Live features such as Clubs allows gamers to collaborate and play together, and just a few weeks ago Spencer’s team took one of the most popular titles on the Xbox 360 and made it available on the Xbox One.

“We specifically created our user voice channel on Xbox because we wanted to try to give the community a channel into us, to ‘vote up’ ideas and communicate directly with us. We gave people a place to go tell us what games they wanted to see in the Backward Compatibility list and we were able to launch Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, which was the most requested game.”

Spencer said he will talk about some of the most exciting upcoming Xbox games at E3 – the annual videogame conference in Los Angeles – in June. “It’s about the breadth of games we are seeing on Xbox. I want to spend the time on stage [at E3] showing how great first-party and third-party games are going to look on Scorpio, as I truly believe the best versions of games will be running on it,” he said.