The first-party lineup for Microsoft has been fast-or-famine over the last few years. While it can boast games like the upcoming Gears 5 and the Forza series, it's competing with the likes of God of War and The Last of Us. In an interview, Xbox executive Phil Spencer broke down the company's approach to first-party and how it's shifted, hopefully to the benefit of its developers.
Speaking with Kotaku, Spencer notes that there was a time when the number of games and studios was putting "a lot of pressure on everything that [they] were doing." It became difficult to manage a preset date picked out years in advance, while maintaining the quality they wanted.
"I feel like I can give teams the time they need in order to get the right creative positions in place so they're building the game they want to build," Spencer told Kotaku. "And when things require more time, we can afford to make sure that we're giving things the right amount of time."
Spencer referenced Xbox Game Pass as changing the dynamic between Xbox and its players. He also references Sea of Thieves, a game that had a rough launch but eventually blossomed in its own right.
"It's a game where what it is today wouldn't be what it is if we had just waited another year and kept it to ourselves," says Spencer. "It is a game that was literally created with the feedback of the community, and how you manage that through the traditional lens of how people think about what a game launch means is interesting for all of us."
After joking about Fable and a Marvel MMO that mysteriously disappeared, Spencer reiterated his commitment to delivering things in the immediate future.
"I know I get called out about being too conservative and holding too much back," says Spencer. "But the thing I love about our show was 60 games and the first-party games—I could tell you when those all were shipping, and I can play those games, most of them here, and can put my hands on them and make promises."
While we weren't all as enthused by Microsoft's E3 2019 showing, it's certainly true that what they showed was all in the here and now. And we can already see the evidence of this strategy in games like Halo Infinite, which were quietly worked on and then unveiled in grand fashion. As 343 Industries boss Bonnie Ross told us, "it is basically trying to create an environment that we can build the game better, faster, and ideally, you know, prevent crunch."
Despite the next generation of consoles looming, Xbox has a road map seemingly leading up to the big switch over, and it's a lot of variety, from Ninja Theory's Bleeding Edge to the indie gem Spiritfarer. We'll see whether this added time and relaxed pressure on first-party studios results in new classics or not.