Microsoft's E3 2018 showcase is widely considered to be the company's best in years. Microsoft finally opened its wallet for Xbox, which was, until last year, a subdivision of the Windows and Devices group. The reorganization and promotion of Phil Spencer for the executive leadership table at Microsoft is already heralding a massive increase in investment in games for Redmond. We started to see the roadmap for this energized Xbox team during Microsoft's big E3 2018 showcase.
We then telephoned Xbox Corporate Vice President (CVP) Mike Ybarra to discuss the future of gaming at Microsoft, and what to expect from the company in the near future.
Windows Central Senior Jez Corden: How has E3 2018 been for you so far?
Ybarra: It's been really fun. I was in the audience for the first time in 10 years actually. When we started this campaign with the Xbox One X two years ago, by building the most powerful console in the world, we are now starting to see third-party developers knocking on our door, saying they want to show our games on their stage because the X version will show the best.
The Microsoft Theater allowed us to have many extra people there, the energy was high. It was a very proud moment for us. We still have a lot of work to do, listening to the comments of the players, but I loved Phil on stage announcing five studios. I love that you did not write about it a few days before the conference … haha. We somehow managed to escape, which is incredible.
How much creative freedom will these new studies have? How will Xbox use them in your wallet?
We are on the cusp of two billion people playing games at this time, and we believe it will double to four billion in the next five years. We have to globalize in terms of our approach to that. You will see us searching the world for the best studios. We are looking for that creativity, we are looking for teams that have demonstrated that they can create incredible fascinating experiences. It really is about their innovation, creative freedom, in all types of games. We want to take that to our players on Xbox.
Creative freedom was one of the most important pillars in the conversations we had with these developers. We are not dictating what they do and when they do it. We want creative ideas from them. We chose those studies because they showed that they can create those ideas and experiences that the clients want.
This is the level of investment that I think people want to see from Microsoft on Xbox. Why did it take so long to reach this level?
Yes, Phil [Spencer] has talked about focusing on repairing our hardware and service scenario first, now we are moving and looking at what other comments we need to address. Our clients want more games, more exclusive games, epic experiences. I think it's fair to say that it has been a bit slower than we want. When you acquire new studies, it takes a little time to land all that.
We saw Gears Tactics advertised as exclusive for PC, however, I always see negative comments about how Xbox works for PC, particularly with UWP. and the Microsoft store. Are we going to start seeing more investments to attract PC players to what they are asking for when it comes to Microsoft Store in Windows 10?
We are seeing growth in our PC space, from the store's point of view, including UWP, we are absolutely focused on addressing the biggest feedback points in an aggressive way.
It's a great question. We are definitely focusing on it, and back with the reorganization of last year, this is something we look at. We are putting more people on our PC side, and it is not being removed from the console. Our investment in the console is also growing. We have several gaming devices on Xbox, one is PC and one is console, and those are equally important to us.
We are seeing growth in our PC space, from the point of view of a store, including UWP. We are absolutely focused on addressing the biggest feedback points in an aggressive way. You will see some announcements about those areas in the next three or four months.
Speaking of PC … where is the Xbox keyboard and mouse?
There are some games that support keyboard and mouse on Xbox, such as Minecraft. It's in the SDK for developers who develop UWP, but whether we expand it more widely … it's something we're collecting comments on. There are many functions that customers and players want, and we have focused on things like top-level games and Game Pass, innovating with things like Fast Start, and it's all about setting priorities.
Another thing that was announced for Xbox that has never materialized is VR and Windows Mixed Reality. VR for Xbox is dead?
For now, our investment for VR is maintained on Windows PC. Our MR headphones work with SteamVR for PC now, there are some games with Xbox achievements in Windows Mixed Reality. That's where our priority is in that space, for now.
What is Microsoft's general attitude towards Steam? A big point of feedback for PC gamers is "why not put your games on Steam?"
Our relationship with Valve has always been strong. Steam is a great distribution vehicle to bring games to millions of people. We will continue to hear comments on where and how the players want to play. Our studies look and evaluate where to place the games, and they will continue to look at Steam with certainty.
Microsoft mocked the "console quality" cloud broadcast for Xbox in the future, taking games to mobile. Is there a future in which the cloud completely replaces the native hardware of the home console for Xbox?
It depends on how much time in the future we are talking about. I will paraphrase what [Microsoft CEO] Satya Nadella says, which is something that I believe, with respect to the intelligent limit and the intelligent cloud. That scenario is very powerful for us. We are committed to bringing the devices to the living room, we are committed to innovation. Those are all the final Xbox sentences.
The game is a very broad term at this time, it does not just mean "AAA", it could mean something in terms of the experiences we get. We just have to let the players guide us and, as the market grows, we have to see the opportunity and make sure that Xbox is the best place to play no matter how you want to play.
What players want, and what experiences they want, whether they are high-fidelity experiences with low latency or more, let's see comments from players and developers and make sure that Xbox has the products and capabilities to be the best place for play.
At the EA conference, the company unveiled its own cloud-to-gaming platform. Are there any concerns that large publishers such as EA may elude Xbox using their own broadcast platforms?
From our point of view, I am very happy that we have invested billions in Azure and we have a lot to learn there. I think we are in the best position to provide whatever technology players want in this area. Having the back-end in Microsoft from the point of view of the cloud, from the point of view of AI, gives us a unique advantage.
Speaking of AI, can you give us some details about how Fast Start works?
We have a large division of Microsoft dedicated to artificial intelligence, and we work very closely with them. We sit down with them and discuss Game Pass, and one of the biggest comments about Game Pass has to do with the discovery. Game Pass users are discovering new games that they would not otherwise have tried or adored, and they are installing many games in a short space of time. We asked: "How can we include them in the game faster?"
This new Fast Start technology requires developers to do absolutely nothing.
We have technology similar to this one for disks and downloads, but nowadays developers need to think about how they organize their gaming facilities. Actually, many developers simply do not do that. This new rapid-start technology requires developers to do absolutely nothing. It will be applied in all areas.
It is an artificial intelligence system that sees how games are installed and played, taking that information and then building a real-time delivery strategy for the new facilities. You will find the parts of the package that must be installed in advance to play the first parts of the game. We will know which parts you expect to have installed to run the first 10 minutes or more. Instead of having to download the entire game, or 75 percent of the game, our artificial intelligence will begin to understand what pieces are needed, and we will prioritize those at our level, not the developer level, to make sure those bits are turned on. . gaming systems, allowing customers to enter the game as quickly as possible.
So … can you tell me something about the Xbox race mode?
I was worried you would not ask! Nothing new to discuss here … haha. You wrote the article and we talked a bit about it on Twitter. We are always looking for new features for Xbox Live that we can offer to fans. We start hundreds of projects every year, and some of them are put on pause, some of them we cancel. It is one of those many characteristics that go through that process.
When we wrote about that before, the response from Xbox fans was overwhelmingly positive. When the patent for career mode came out, I found it exciting for players who are not in the hunt for achievement.
We need to have a service that recognizes and makes heroes of people for his style and his different ways of playing.
I'm with you. When I think of Xbox Live, I think the games are expanding to those two billion, four billion people we're talking about. Nothing is going to represent a player. Gamerscore will no longer be that thing. The premise of "career mode" still exists. As more people enter games around the world, we need a service that recognizes and believes people's heroes for their style and its various forms of play. That is absolutely something we are seeing.
What games of the E3 2018 really stood out for you and did you personally get excited?
I love CD Projekt RED, I thought your show for Cyberpunk 2077 was amazing. I'm very excited about that game. Every time there's a new Halo, I'm very excited, happy that it's focused on the Master Chief, so I'm all in there. I did not know that Fallout 76 would be released in November, so I'm pretty excited about that to dive in and see what Bethesda is doing there.
The presentation of Gears 5 was incredible. I'm a little dizzy here just waiting to go home and start playing some of these games later. The next six months have such a full calendar: Call of Duty, Fallout, Forza Horizon 4 and Xbox One X will all look great. Ninja Theory, Compulsion, We Happy Few.
Many thanks to Mike Ybarra for talking to us
Microsoft is finally starting to show the investment that Xbox deserves, but as we have written previously, it will take time to go there. Microsoft is well positioned to move the platform towards the four billion players that Ybarra mentioned earlier, and we will be watching to see if they achieve their goals in the coming years.
What is your favorite thing about this year's E3 2018 show? Let us know in the comments.