If one thing was clear about Microsoft’s Xbox E3 2019 presentation, it’s that the company is happy to have you play its games wherever you like, whether it’s on your Xbox One, your PC, streaming to your phone via Project xCloud or on the mega-powerful Project Scarlett console coming next year.
To get a deeper dive on Microsoft’s vision for the future of Xbox and PC gaming, I sat down with Mike Ybarra, corporate vice president of Microsoft Gaming, as well as Jason Ronald, director of program management for the Xbox platform. Here’s a recap of everything we chatted about, from additional details on Scarlett to how new services like Project xCloud and Game Pass for PC fit into Xbox’s grand vision for gaming.
Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
So let's talk about Scarlett, which was obviously a huge reveal. How long has the project been in the works for?
Jason Ronald: I would say Scarlett was probably about three to four years ago.
Mike Ybarra: It's funny, people often ask, when do you decide? You don't just decide, we're always thinking about what's that next thing that happens. So it's kinda always on our mind, cause we listen to gamers and they give us a ton on feedback on here's what they want.
Ronald: Yeah, and even like I say in the [reveal] video, we don't just want to build more consoles for the sake of building consoles. It truly has to be transformative… just releasing yet another console doesn't really move the industry forward. So a huge part of this is just listening to the feedback from both gamers and developers.
Because Scarlett is such a leap forward, is there ever going be a time when there are Scarlett-only games that aren't going to work on Xbox One? Is there ever going to be that kind of generational cutoff?
Ybarra: Our [goal] is to empower the developers. Every developer is so unique in what they create and what they need. [For example], Halo announced on their Twitter that Halo Infinite would be on the Xbox One family and next gen.
Ronald: And PC.
Ybarra: And PC. We're committed to PC for sure, and so outside of that we're not committing more other than enabling the developers to make the decision for what's right for them.
Since the system is built to work with everything Xbox One, should people expect performance benefits from playing their Xbox One games on Scarlett?
Ronald: Yeah, so we're absolutely committed to compatibility ever since we announced backwards compatibility on Xbox One. So you know if you look in certain things like, bringing original Xbox games to Xbox One or if you talk about 360 games to Xbox One. But then we also have the Xbox One X Enhanced program, where we've actually made some older games run better at higher resolutions. I always think about the first time I saw a game like Crimson Skies running on an Xbox One X.
Ybarra: Which was crazy!
Ronald: And it was just amazing because I was like, I've never seen this game look and run as good as this. Obviously it's a really big technical challenge, but the teams really focus on finding those next innovations, finding those opportunities, and doing as much as we can so that not only do your games stay with you but they play better than you've ever seen them before.
I know it's early on, but is there a price ballpark you guys are looking at for Scarlett?
Ybarra: No comment on that.
Sony has been out there talking about what they're doing with their next generation. It seems like you guys are targeting similar ballparks in terms of great performance and advanced features, so how would you say Scarlett might stand out from other next gen consoles?
Ybarra: I would say we're focused on what our gamers are telling us they really want and building that product in a way that will exceed their expectations.
With Project xCloud, you mentioned that there's two ways to experience it. You've got the option to stream from [Microsoft’s] data centers and you can stream from your console. So for folks that maybe don't have an Xbox, and want to stream games right from your guys’ data centers, will there be some kind of subscription plan?
Ybarra: As we get towards more towards October, we'll go into further details on what that looks like. But yeah, there are two models, there's one where I own an Xbox, and I'm at my friend's house and I wanna just stream my whole library straight to that and I can totally do that. And then there's the model you said of, okay, I'm gonna have the cloud deliver the game to me, and I think as we get to October we'll share a lot more of those details relative to that.
I'm sure you’ve have seen that Google Stadia is getting a lot of buzz, I'm curious about your guys’ thoughts on the service, and how xCloud compares to it.
Ybarra: For us I think we just focus on our strategy and the mission we have. Games you want, with the people you want, anywhere, and that's the vision we keep laser focus on. I can't comment on what [Google] is doing but I know what we're doing is listening to gamers. We've been in this industry for 20 years. We know games, we know platforms and we're confident in what we'll build.
It seems like Microsoft has been doing a lot for PC gaming. There’s Game Pass for PC, and some of your games are coming to Steam, which gives people more options. Would you ever consider some of the other marketplaces out there like the Epic Games Store?
Ybarra: Our philosophy is to go where gamers would want to go, and if people are buying from our store or [one of the others] we want to embrace that. We leave it up to our game studios to say, “where do we think the best place for that distribution is?” But we want to make sure everybody can get those experiences and we don't think that's just locked into our store.
To bring it all together with console and PC, with Scarlett getting so powerful and so PC-like, who do you see as the Scarlett customer who would opt for that rather than get a PC and enjoy a similar experience?
Ybarra: Well, I'll talk about consoles in general versus Scarlett. I think consoles are an amazing gaming experience because you get home, you plug it into your living room, you turn on the controller and you're in the game. There's no drivers, there's no other elements to worry about, it's a consistent experience. It’s a 15-foot family experience.
The PC is a designed two-foot experience. It’s my keyboard, my mouse, or my controller. I've got a great Nvidia or AMD Graphics card and I probably spent thousands of dollars on this thing so I'm in. But what we find is, people actually play on all these devices. More and more of the time people have a console, they probably have a Nintendo Switch, they have a PC, and they're going across all of this. So that's why the vision we have is, games you want, people you want, anywhere and tying all that together as much as we can. That's really the vision.
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