gdc 2014

Phil Spencer Talks About Indies, Games, And More At GDC Fireside Chat

by Jeff Cork on Mar 21, 2014 at 11:40 AM

Corporate vice president of Microsoft Game Studios Phil Spencer participated in the annual GDC fireside chat at this year's conference. Marc Whitten was originally slated for the event, but he was replaced after announcing earlier this week that he was leaving Microsoft.

Spencer was joined by the fake fireplace with Gamasutra editor in chief Kris Graft, who led the conversation. Here are some of the highlights

  • They started off talking about Whitten's departure. Spencer said that Whitten was instrumental in the success of Microsoft's Xbox business, and he decided to move on for family and professional reasons. He then joked that Whitten had better give him some free speakers (Whitten left for a position at Sonos). According to Spencer, his departure was amicable.
  • Graft asked what was going on internally with Microsoft when they saw the reaction to the Xbox One's DRM and pre-launch messaging. Spencer replied that he thinks in retrospect they could have been more clear and concise about the role of games to the platform. The plan was to focus on games at E3, with the media functionality leading the way.
  • Spencer says Microsoft has always planned to make indies a big part of the console. He said whether players want to buy hardware on the backs of games like Limbo or Watch Dogs isn't as important, since the company is increasingly taking a games are games outlook. 
  • When asked about the plan to allow developers to turn their consoles into dev kits, Spencer says it's still being worked on, but it's absolutely part of the console's future. He says the company has been having a hard time getting dedicated Xbox One dev kits into the hands of developers because there's been so much interest in the platform.
  • Spencer says he doesn't think Microsoft is behind Sony as far as indie development goes, and we'll be seeing more and more such games on the Xbox One as time goes on.
  • Spencer spoke about the early discussions that occurred to bring Minecraft and World of Tanks to the console. According to Spencer, Mojang and expressed reservations that Microsoft understood how PC game development went. Both titles have grown and evolved since release, and they were concerned that Microsoft wouldn't allow that to happen on console. Microsoft now points to those games as successes on Xbox 360, and says that they've learned a tremendous amount in the process that they can use as they move forward.
  • Free-to-play games are part of the Xbox One's future, but Spencer says the company is trying to figure out how to ensure that players aren't misled as to what they're getting for their money.
  • As far as content discoverability goes, Spencer says he thinks the future is seeing what your friends are doing, and it's important that Xbox moves in a direction that makes it easier to make that happen.
  • Spencer says he doesn't get sales numbers from Titanfall since it's an EA property, but that its release created the busiest time in Xbox Live history. 
  • When it comes to Steam, Spencer started soft by by saying he thinks they're an incredible company. He says there's a renewed focus on PC gaming within Microsoft, not to compete with Valve, but to make sure gaming is a fundamental part of Microsoft. He says he thinks Valve is smart to attempt to move their 65 million Steam subscribers from one screen to another via Steam machines.
  • Platform parity is important for Microsoft. He says Microsoft has changed policy positions in the past, and they're interested to learn about what developers want from the hardware.
  • VR has been a big part of this year's GDC show, and Spencer says there are some scenarios where it makes sense. He says the technology is interesting, and Microsoft has been looking at it for a while now.