Xbox manager Phil Spencer has heard from the skeptics. They think that what he does with Xbox means that Microsoft gives up on consoles or even goes on third parties. It's wrong, he told me during an extensive interview in Los Angeles last week, where we discussed his vision for the Xbox, the recently announced potential gambling agreement between Sony and Microsoft, and if he ever wanted to put Gears of War on PlayStation 4.
(The following transcripts have been easily edited for clarity.)
Stephen Totilo, Kotaku : I want to talk first only at platform level. I would describe what you and your team are doing these days as "refreshing radical" when it comes to running a platform. You have really broken down many walls and done a lot of things that would previously have been thought of as things a platform holder would not do. As a thought experiment, I thought that if PlayStation did what you did last year War god would have come out day and date on PS4 and PC.
Phil Spencer, Xbox: Right.
Totilo: I wouldn't necessarily have to pay $ 60 for it. I could have gotten it as part of a subscription that got me many games. And at some point in the future I can play it without even needing a PlayStation by just having it streaming to me.
Totilo: I'm curious how far you see this vision prolong, because I know some people are wondering: "Does Xbox also need a box?" term. Does it need all of its games all in one unit anymore? Where does it eventually go?
Spencer: We use this tagline both internally and externally: Play the games you want, with the people you want and we say on the devices [you want] that you can think of as "Anywhere." And we are driven by it. We actually believe two billion players on the planet, the size of the company that plays today, that for us, the industry continues to grow as we reduce the friction of people coming in.
The scenario that always drives me crazy is, I am a parent, you are a parent, we live in the same neighborhood, we have children, you go into Best Buy and you happen to buy an Xbox. I go into Best Buy and happen to come out with a PlayStation. Our children want to play Minecraft together, and they can't. And I generally believe, as a gaming industry, how does that game grow? It's changing, it's not just us. We have made great inroads with Nintendo. But it started when we were to send our first party games on Xbox and PC simultaneously, a few years ago.
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Read more Read  There is always the core coming back [and says]: "You reduce the need to buy an Xbox." I actually think people are actually playing on a console because they like to play on a TV on the couch with a check in their hands and it is a thing of experience more than trying to sell an individual device. Shorten it: We focus on the player; We do not focus on the device.
Totilo: But you can make enough money to do what you do? This is a company.
Spencer: This is easy. The business sells software and services. The business is not how many consoles you sell. The consoles are not where the profit in this side of the business is done, which is where the whole: "Who sells more consoles" which once as the kind of root that is good for who is good in the industry is just not true. You have other companies that record games that do not even have a console as part of their equation. It's about how many games people play.
Totilo: So if you had the way, would you sell Gears on PS4 in September?
Spencer: I think the experience we bring in the family room with Xbox and focuses on things like compatibility and focuses on things like cross-play is actually important because we see games growing, why we are focused on consoles and spend lots of money and resources investing in Scarlett. Same thing on the computer.
So today people say, "Are you coming to a third party?" Whatever it means. But the idea that we are a platform company continues to be true, and we are thinking about how the platform infrastructure can grow. And we think having the world's most powerful console, with a good Xbox at home, is an important component to it.
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Totilo: Yes, but you value with Cuphead and Minecraft can break these traditional boundaries and look up Switch …
Spencer: With Xbox Live so everyone plays together ….  Totilo: So, to go back to it, you would ever appreciate Gears or a ] Halo on a PlayStation or Switch?
: The games themselves are critically important for players and people who play. But ensure that you have a linked ecosystem with the players, where people's rescue games and their state and their buddy list and their rights move smoothly from any ecosystem – from any device they want to play on is critical. There are no other systems where we can do it today.
Today at Switch is what we can do, we have Xbox Live on switch so we can keep these communities connected. And, as you have pointed out, we have a certain number of franchises over there. But in the end, we believe that we have a built-in platform in the home for many years will be crucial to continue driving our vision of where the gaming platform should be.
Totilo: So where would you draw line between which games you would like to see on other platforms? And what wouldn't you do?
Spencer: The bulk of what we do will be on Windows, it will be on Xbox and it will be on xCloud. And the great thing about xCloud is that it's an Xbox in the cloud and so we don't actually need to build another version of the game. It is a clear focus for [Xbox games chief] Matt Booty and the team. We value the relationships we have with the other companies that are out there. We believe we learn from them, we believe that we can help games grow up with cross-play, cross-buy, cross-progression, all these things we focus on. We believe that we would be extremely limited to drive that vision if we were not strong on the console and strongly on the computer.
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Totilo: In terms of partnership and surprising things, the message tells a month ago that There is a partnership between Sony and Microsoft that is gaming-related shot many people and confused some people. Can you talk about what this deal is, where it comes from and what it means if I think of the world when it comes to Xboxes and PlayStations?
Spencer: We should start, just so we are clear, that it is a memorandum of understanding. It is the beginning of the kind of conversation. Sony and Azure are looking at the future of cloud games. We look at what you need to be a future gaming platform – content, society and cloud are things we focus on – and there are only a few companies on the planet that really have a global cloud that can reach players everywhere. Today it would be us and Amazon regarding the scale. Google builds its cloud.
So I think that when you are another gaming company and you are looking for who to work with, you can either go and invest tens of billions of dollars to try to catch up, or you can find out who your partners are. And the good thing for us is that you can focus on Sony, you can focus on many companies. We have this thing Microsoft Game Stack. We announced it on GDC: it's DirectX, it's Windows Studio, it's Azure. Even [Google’s Phil] Harrison when he was on the stage announcing Stadia showed Havok, showed Digital Studio, showed things that we build – we should have platform components, like Microsoft and as our gaming body that competitors use. We think about the strength we get when our platform grows and that we have good partnerships with gaming companies that help us to increase the platform strength that is important to us.
Totilo: You could have blocked this memorandum? You could have said, "We shouldn't work with these people. We are competing with these people?" Wouldn't it have been an option or something worth doing?
Spencer: It is just a kind of countermeasure to the strategy and what we are as a company. But I say this: I actually think games are a better place because of the other brands that are there. Over the past 20 years, the number of players on the planet has tripled. Gaming is a $ 150-billion-a-year company, and double-digit growth. I don't see ourselves succeeding, which necessarily requires others not to succeed.
I have said this publicly before: I think the role that the other gaming companies play in games is critical. We are a great publisher on these platforms. We have great relationships with them. So [instead of] blocks them so that somehow lowers their impact on the future growth of games, I'd rather find ways to work with partners to help grow games. I just think it's better, because it's not a fixed market. It is a market that is growing. There are customers all over the world that we have not reached the love of playing video games.
We will get more from my chat with Spencer soon, as we discuss online toxicity, first-party game quality and more.