And so, no point in showing them, he feels.
The one thing above all that Microsoft has been criticized for, repeatedly, over the last 16 years that they have been in the gaming industry, has been for their repeated failure to invest in a stable state of in house exclusives and first party content. When you buy a PlayStation and Nintendo, you can be assured of quality exclusive content coming for those platforms- in fact, the exclusives are why you buy them. With Xbox, there is no such assurance.
This was most apparent at Microsoft’s E3 conference this year, where there was the announcement of one new exclusive, in Ori and the Will of the Wisps (technically two, since Forza 7 hadn’t been announced previously, but come on now). However, speaking to Waypoint, Xbox head Phil Spencer said that there are many more Xbox exclusives incoming- they’re just 2-3 years away, and he doesn’t feel like there is any point showing them this early.
“Our first party is a critical part of that equation. Yesterday, I know people want to see what we’re investing in new,” Spencer said. “We are investing in new things, we signed things just recently that I thought, ‘Hey, from a PR standpoint it would be really easy for me to put a trailer on screen’, but then I know the game is not coming for another two and half or three years, so I didn’t want to do that.”
He also pre-empts the argument that knowing there is a stream of exclusives coming would breed and engender confidence in the Xbox as a whole. “I understand some people would say, ‘Hey, that would give me confidence in the future of Xbox’… This is a cheesy line, but I’ll just say, trust that this is important to us as a platform. From the top CEO of the company down, if you talked to Satya [Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO] he would say ‘I understand, we need to invest in content in the gaming space’.
“That is important and we are going to invest. We have Sea of Thieves, Crackdown 3, State of Decay 2, Lucky’s Tale, Ori and the Will of the Wisps…But I know what you’re asking about. Big, triple A console games, I hear that and I’m committed to that. Today I wanted to talk about things that if you’re going to buy the console you will be able to play, but I’ll continue to work to deliver games. We did on hardware, we did on platform and [backward] compatibility and we will do this on first-party as well. It is critically important.”
See, there are multiple factors at play here. While I definitely believe that one should not be in the habit of announcing games that are years away (which is a problem Sony and Square Enix above all seem to have), I do think that for systems to maintain momentum, it is important for people to feel confident and excited about their future prospects- as an example, if Nintendo had not announced Metroid Prime 4 or Pokemon for the Switch, would you feel its future was anywhere near as assured as it is now?
The second problem is with Spencer’s assurances- we have heard them before. We have heard them from him, and from his predecessors. Microsoft has sworn up and down that first party is important to it, and that it will be doubling down on it- but here we stand today with the most diminished Microsoft’s first party has ever been. So I understand that people aren’t willing to trust him yet.
Mr. Spencer, it is now time to put your money where your mouth is. If first party content for Xbox is indeed strong, it is time to show us your hand- if only a little.