During Microsoft's lengthy E3 2019 presentation, it was clear that the platform holder is moving the Xbox brand in numerous directions. Xbox Game Pass is on Xbox One and PC, Project xCloud is bringing Xbox games to mobile devices, and Project Scarlett is keeping up the high-end. Even the advertisements of Gears of War 5 around downtown Los Angeles tout the game being on "Xbox Game Pass," as opposed to "Xbox One".
Xbox corporate vice president of services Mike Ybarra admitted that the future vision of the Xbox brand is a slate of games you can play on almost any device.
"Cross-play, cross-save, cross-progression; blurring the line between the device you're on and the experience you're getting," Ybarra tells Microsoft. "Our vision at Xbox is 'The games you want, with the people you want, anywhere you are.' Everything we do, we think about that taxonomy. How do we actually enable that seamless experience across those devices, so that what device I'm on doesn't matter. It's the relationship with the people I'm playing with and how much fun I'm having in that game."
Ybarra pointed to Minecraft as an example. The current version of Minecraft runs on nearly every major gaming platform, and all of the clients play well with each other. For Microsoft, the key is having a good experience on each platform. Even competitor's platforms. Prior to E3 2019, there were rumors that we'd see some sort of Xbox-branded service like Xbox Game Pass on Nintendo Switch. Those rumors didn't pan out, but Ybarra was open to the possibility.
"When it comes to that scenario of blurring the line, I'd love to have a consistency across that. If any game developer or platform holder wants to come talk about cross-play, I'll be the first one in that meeting," he admits.
As Game Pass and other Xbox services continue to grow, Microsoft has also acquired a number of different studios. Ninja Theory, Obsidian Entertainment, and inXile Entertainment were recently joined by Double Fine. In an industry where the Epic Games Store is gobbling up exclusives, I wondered whether Game Pass or Xbox One could see a similar walled-off approach.
"We think about it differently. [Our service] is about giving the gamers choice and what they want to do. You won't see us put our first-party games just in our store," says Ybarra. "We want to go where the gamers are, where they're comfortable in purchasing. If they want to buy it on Steam or other stores, we'll empower our studios to make those decisions. Of course, it'll be in Game Pass. If they don't want to subscribe to Game Pass, and they want to buy it on Steam, our store, or other stores, they can have that flexibility."
Microsoft's E3 2019 presentation has been mostly focused on xCloud and Game Pass, which highlights its shift toward being more of a service provider than a platform holder. Notably, Minecraft Dungeons and Super Lucky's Tale were both announced for Switch during today's Direct, joining Cuphead and the original Minecraft. While it is developing a powerful new console in Project Scarlett, we'll have to wait until 2020 before it's actually fully revealed. Stay tuned for our full interview with Ybarra as E3 2019 continues.