Kudos to any interviewer who actually gets Head of Xbox Phil Spencer to say an unequivocally harsh thing about Microsoft's competitors. In a new interview with The Verge, Spencer even says nice things about the ways that Sony and Apple work with Microsoft, even though the PS5 is launching in opposition to two new Xboxes and the iOS maker's keeping Game Pass off the App Store. On the former point, Spencer offers an interesting perspective on today's console competition, one a bit deeper than his usual friendly outlook.
While discussing the notion of toxic competition in the console space ("I just really despise it," he says), Spencer says that the Xbox and PlayStation have a common competitor—and in this case, he's not pointing to the game streaming efforts from Google and Amazon.
"I don't think we have to see others fail in order for us to achieve the goals," Spencer explains. "That’s not some kind of 'kumbaya' thing. It's actually real. We're in the entertainment business. The biggest competitor we have is apathy over the products and services [and] games that we build."
That's a claim backed up by actual data Spencer has. Earlier in the interview, when discussing the decision to launch both the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S simultaneously, Spencer says it was motivated by a perceived need to grow gaming by getting new people into the Xbox ecosystem.
"I'd say in the console space over the last four or five years, most of the growth that the industry has realized has been growth per user, not growing the number of console users that are out there," he says. "It's actually been a fairly fixed number over the last decade[...] it can't just be a fight over the same customers that we've all seen every year—your average age of your [customer] goes up by one every year, because it's the exact same demographic that's just moving with you."
Such a trend certainly suggests an inability to reach new, younger users, at least over the last generation of hardware. With Microsoft touting a successful launch for the Xbox Series S based on the number of newcomers to Xbox hardware it attracted, it certainly seems like the cheaper console could help with those troubling demographic stats.
Then again, Microsoft is also competing in more than just the traditional console space. With Game Pass streaming, Xbox has an offering that goes up against both mobile gaming and portable systems like the Switch. Elsewhere in the interview, Spencer again alludes to seeing gaming hardware change and the idea of Game Pass running natively on smart TVs, a move that would arguably put it in more direct competition (if only for users' time) with ubiquitous streaming apps like Netflix.
In one sense, it's obvious for a video game exec to say that boredom and disinterest are the real forces they have to fight against. In another, it quietly shows that Spencer ultimately has his sights set on bigger goals than simply outselling Sony consoles or Stadia subscriptions.