The original Xbox console first launched 20 years ago to the day on Nov. 15, 2001, and to say Microsoft’s gaming brand has evolved since then would be an understatement. What was once a singular console is now an entire ecosystem, one that lets you play Xbox games on consoles, computers and even right from your smartphone via the cloud. And when you factor in Microsoft’s ever-popular Xbox Game Pass service, accessing the latest Halo and Forza titles is now as easy as signing up for a Netflix subscription.
To discuss this evolution and see where Xbox is headed next, we sat down with the person in charge of it all: Microsoft’s executive vice president of gaming, Phil Spencer. Here’s everything we were able to glean from the head of Xbox, including some of the new ways you’ll be able to play Xbox titles, the big games to keep on your radar and why it’s still so dang hard to buy an Xbox Series X.
Microsoft “I thought it was a bold move by the company,” says Spencer, who was joining a new internal games studio at Microsoft when the original Xbox first hit shelves in 2001. “[It was] a group of innovative, disruptive thinkers inside the company that wanted to go do something different and were able to make that happen.”
That big bet paid off, as the Xbox brand is now in its fourth generation with the Xbox Series X and Series S consoles, and is part of a larger ecosystem that includes Windows and cloud-based games. Microsoft is celebrating its 20-year gaming journey in a number of ways — you can buy an Xbox Wireless Controller and an Xbox Stereo Headset adorned with the 20th anniversary logo, to name just a few examples. But if you really want to see what Xbox’s two-decade legacy is all about, you don’t have to look much further than Xbox Game Pass.
Microsoft’s monthly subscription service contains hundreds of games that span its whole console history, from OG Xbox titles such as Crimson Skies to modern hits like Forza Horizon 5. We’ve long considered Game Pass to be the best value in gaming, and by the looks of things, it’s only going to get better — and will soon let you play on even more devices.
Microsoft’s subscription service runs $10 to $15 a month depending on which tier you pick (you can currently try a month of the service for just $1), and lets you play titles on everything from consoles and PCs to just about any device with a web browser via the cloud. Considering that many new console games go for as much as $70 each, being able to access all of Microsoft’s first-party releases as well as a slew of major blockbusters like Star Wars: Squadrons or Destiny 2 for $15 a month is a heck of a value. But while day-one access to the latest Halo and Gears games is great, Spencer says that the real magic of the service lies in the hidden gems.
“Yes, you can go to Master Chief. You can go to Forza Horizon 4 and Forza Horizon 5 when it comes out,” says Spencer. “But for me, these great games, that maybe wouldn’t have been discovered because they didn’t have the same marketing budget as another game or might have fallen in the shadow of something bigger happening in the industry, have really been just special moments.”
Spencer cites striking pixel-art adventure Echo Generation as one of his favorite new Game Pass releases from a smaller team, and notes that indie games that launch on the service often go on to sell well across all types of platforms. For gamers, that means an even bigger variety of unique, creative titles to choose from that go outside the typical blockbuster box — even if you’re not in the Xbox ecosystem.
Having used Xbox Game Pass for a few years now, it’s become a pretty reliable way to discover new games in addition to saving on the ones you were going to buy anyway. The PC, console and mobile apps all do a good job surfacing both new blockbusters and more niche releases, and you can also filter by genre if you want something more specific. We’ve personally sunk lots of time into titles like Cyber Shadow or The Medium, which we might not have plunked down $20 to $50 on to purchase individually.
“Game Pass has really turned into that discovery mechanism for players looking for something unique and new that maybe a retail purchase would’ve been a barrier to them trying,” continues Spencer.
Microsoft As the Xbox Game Pass library grows, so does the number of platforms you can play its games on. On top of downloading titles to your Xbox One, Xbox Series S or X and PC, you can also stream Game Pass titles to just about any smartphone, tablet or computer. Microsoft is taking this “play where you want” approach even further, as it’s starting to roll out the ability to access cloud games from your console — and will eventually let you stream games right from your smart TV.
Console streaming, in which you stream a game from the internet to your Xbox, is a big addition to the Xbox ecosystem for two reasons. You can try out new titles without having to wait to download them, and folks using the older Xbox One consoles can still have a way to play current-gen exclusives like Microsoft Flight Simulator or the upcoming Forza Motorsport. Considering that the $499 Xbox Series X is still very hard to find — and not in everybody’s budget — this is a great way to get more mileage out of your Xbox One.
“We’re not trying to say that streaming to an Xbox One is exactly the same fidelity or latency as local,” says Spencer. “Clearly it’s not, but families are going to make their own decisions about when is the right time for them to upgrade. We didn’t want that to be a barrier to people playing.”
Speaking of removing barriers to people playing, Xbox announced earlier this year that it plans to bring Xbox game streaming directly to televisions. This will arrive via both smart TV apps as well as dedicated streaming hardware — think a Roku stick for gaming — that could turn any TV set into a gaming center. So when is all that coming?
“There’s really no blockers other than the physics of time,” says Spencer. “In terms of us, we’re definitely talking to TV manufacturers. Many of them have [web] browsers in their TVs today. And we’re all in, we’ve got no reason to try to block any game or the service from any device. In terms of dedicated hardware devices itself, I think we’re definitely interested in that space and we’re prototyping some things and looking at different opportunities.”
Regardless of where you stream your Xbox games, Spencer was also quick to note that you’ll eventually be able to buy games a la carte and play them f
We talked to Xbox chief Phil Spencer about Game Pass, Xbox shortages, and where you’ll be playing next
Go To The SourceRead More