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Xbox boss says generation exclusives are ‘completely counter to what gaming is about’

Xbox head Phil Spencer has said he believes that generational exclusives are “completely counter to what gaming is about.”

The exec’s comments came in a frank discussion with GamesIndustry.biz about Microsoft’s cross-generational release strategy, which will see its future games released across its next-gen Xbox Series X console, plus current-gen hardware and PC.

The approach is unique in the console space and in great contrast to the strategy of rival PlayStation, which has committed to releasing games that are only possible on its more advanced PlayStation 5.

The conflicting stances have sparked much debate online about which approach holds the most merit. Asked about Xbox’s cross-generational release strategy, Spencer offered his most impassioned comments yet about why he believes it’s the right approach.

“As a player you are the centre of our strategy,” the exec said. “Our device is not the centre of our strategy, our game is not the centre of the strategy. We want to enable you to play the games you want to play, with the friends you want to play with, on any device.

Future Xbox titles will be released across console generations.

“On TV, the Xbox console is going to be the best way to play console games. Xbox Series X is the most powerful console out there and it will have absolutely the best versions of our console games. But that’s not to exclude other people from being able to play.”

He added: “Sorry, I am a bit soapboxy with this one. Gaming is about entertainment and community and diversion and learning new stories and new perspectives, and I find it completely counter to what gaming is about to say that part of that is to lock people away from being able to experience those games. Or to force someone to buy my specific device on the day that I want them to go buy it, in order to partake in what gaming is about.

“Gaming is bigger than any one device, and that is something as an industry that we’ve embraced all up as we bring more and more players in. I think it’s vital to the role that gaming can play on the planet.”

Microsoft has said its upcoming games, including Series X launch title Halo Infinite, will support Xbox One for the foreseeable future. The platform holder is also understood to be planning a second next-gen console, codenamed Lockhart, with less powerful specs than Series X.

Asked if current-gen console support could hold back the scope of Microsoft’s next-gen games, Spencer pointed to PC as an example of how it could work.

“Frankly, held back is a meme that gets created by people who are too caught up in device competition,” the exec said. “I just look at Windows. It’s almost certain if the developer is building a Windows version of their game, then the most powerful and highest fidelity version is the PC version.

“You can even see that with some of our first-party console games going to PC, even from our competitors, that the richest version is the PC version. Yet the PC ecosystem is the most diverse when it comes to hardware, when you think about the CPUs and GPUs from years ago that are there.”

He added: “Yes, every developer is going to find a line and say that this is the hardware that I am going to support, but the diversity of hardware choice in PC has not held back the highest fidelity PC games on the market.

“The highest fidelity PC games rival anything that anybody has ever seen in video games. So this idea that developers don’t know how to build games, or game engines, or ecosystems, that work across a set of hardware… there’s a proof point in PC that shows that’s not the case.”

PlayStation Boss Jim Ryan has said he wants to transition players from PS4 to PS5 “at a scale and pace that we’ve never delivered before.”

In a May GI.biz interview, the exec said PlayStation would continue to support PlayStation 4’s 100 million+ audience, but suggested that cross-gen games would not be a large part of that strategy.

“We have always said that we believe in generations,” he said. We believe that when you go to all the trouble of creating a next-gen console, that it should include features and benefits that the previous generation does not include. And that, in our view, people should make games that can make the most of those features.”