Phil Spencer is open to having other digital storefronts on Xbox – WGB


Xbox head honcho Phil Spencer is apparently very open to the idea of other digital storefronts, such as Epic, on Xbox.

Speaking in an interview conducted with Polygon at GDC, Phil tackled a range of subjects which Polygon have been slowly drip-feeding us. They’ve discussed the possibility of an Xbox hand-held, for example, as well as the recent layoffs. But this most recent snippet caught my eye because of how it lines up with Xbox’s new direction of publishing some of its exclusive games on other platforms.

The topic of the ‘walled garden’ ecosystem came up, which is to say the traditional model where there’s a single storefront on console that you buy your games from. It’s the same model used on Apple phones as well: you get all your apps from the Apple storefront, and any developer or publisher seeking to put their stuff on iPhone will have to pay Apple 30% of every sale made.

Polygon specifically asked Spencer if he could see a future where the likes of the Epic Store could also exist on Xbox, and Phile seemed very open to the idea.

“Yes,” said Spencer. “[Consider] our history as the Windows company. Nobody would blink twice if I said, ‘Hey, when you’re using a PC, you get to decide the type of experience you have [by picking where to buy games]. There’s real value in that.”

Phil went on to say that the current idea of subsidizing the cost of manufacturing a console and then recouping the value through sales on that console’s storefront doesn’t work as well in today’s market. The console market isn’t shrinking, but it’s also not growing, and according to Phill, Moore’s Law – a concept that states computing power will double roughly every two years at minimal cost – isn’t holding true anymore.

“[Subsidizing hardware] becomes more challenging in today’s world,” Spencer said. “And I will say, and this may seem too altruistic, I don’t know that it’s growing the industry. So I think, what are the barriers? What are the things that create friction in today’s world for creators and players? And how can we be part of opening up that model?”

This may at least be partly why Microsoft has opted to move four of its exclusive games to PlayStation and Switch, marking as big change in strategy for the company.

“if I want to play on a gaming PC, then I feel like I’m more a continuous part of a gaming ecosystem as a whole. As opposed to [on console], my gaming is kind of sharded — to use a gaming term — based on these different closed ecosystems that I have to play across.” said Spencer, citing Sea of Thieves as an example, telling Polygon that if he and a friend want to play Sea of Thieves, they shouldn’t have to worry about what hardware each of them is on.

This goes back to something Spencer said in another snippet from Polygon, discussing the idea of Gen Z’s habits influencing Microsoft’s choice to start publishing to even more platforms.

“This notion that Xbox can only be this one device that plugs into a television isn’t something we see in the Gen Z research. Because nothing else is like that for them,” he said.

“Some of them will have an iPhone, some will have an Android, but all the games and everything is the same. I can still get to TikTok on both of them, at least for now.

“All of their stuff is available wherever they want. So for Xbox, our brand pivot — as we attract and maintain relevance with a younger audience — is ‘Xbox is a place where I can find the great games I want to.’”

Phil may also be laying the groundwork for the potential future of the industry, too. Over the last few years there’s been pushback against the idea of walled gardens and even concern that legal rulings may force platforms to open up and allow other storefronts, so it makes sense for the likes of Xbox to already be considering that as a potential future and preparing for it.

Between Spencer’s words here and Microsoft moving games over to PlayStation and Switch, we surely have to wonder what the future for Xbox as a console is really going to be? They’ve seemingly said they’ll be in the console market for at least one more generation, but will that matter if the Xbox name no longer means anything? Will it just be a box to access a bunch of other content?

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