Two decades ago, When the first Xbox came along, it used the Internet for small-scale multiplayer, and each game came on a disc. Microsoft built a massive business selling consoles that grew to play games beyond these discs. While the company looks forward to the next 20 years, it does so in an industry that is shifting away from games brought to you by a single device, a mobile will inevitably overtake Xboxes and cloud games completely wipe out physical platforms. One where it’s easy to ask: Does Microsoft need to make consoles longer?
It’s a tempting view. Supply chain shutdowns and a global chip shortage – both spurred on by the Covid-19 pandemic – have made the Xbox Series X / S very difficult to find without constant vigilance or overpayment by a retailer. Meanwhile, the Xbox gaming app for Samsung smart TVs will arrive during their Gaming Hub on June 30, allowing anyone with the right Bluetooth controller to stream Xbox titles without a console at all.
But for Phil Spencer, the man at Microsoft who is in charge of its well-known gaming device, hardware is still the key. For him, the switch to the cloud has been about creating a hybrid approach that allows Microsoft to expand its market beyond Xbox fans. He told The edge in 2020, he did not think the latest generation of consoles would be the last ones the company sent, and his stance on the matter has not changed. “We’ve been through two years of real market constraint,” Spencer told WIRED. “Giving people more choices in how they can play games has certainly been a good thing, both for our business and for players.”
Cloud-based gaming via platforms like Google Stadia has not had it smoothest of launches, but companies like Sony and Microsoft are better able to make this work. Sony has just merged its cloud gaming service, PlayStation Now, with its more popular PlayStation Plus subscription. Microsoft has name recognition that makes the service easily identifiable to potential competitors.
Spencer also notes that while cloud gaming can bring in new players, there will always be “people looking for dedicated, advanced devices to play games in the highest fidelity they can in their homes.” For many of these gamers, that device is an Xbox, something even the head of Samsung’s service business team, Won-Jin Lee, agrees: “The hardcore gamers will always play their games on consoles.”
The Xbox app will first be available on Samsung TVs, but not exclusively. The company says it is investigating other partnerships. Similarly, Samsung does not end with the Xbox. Lee says the idea was not to build their ecosystem around the Xbox, but rather to work with it and companies like it. “Working with the Xbox really gave us the foundation in terms of how we build this service and how we move forward,” Lee says. “From the beginning, our philosophy has always been to offer a discovery experience that is very open.”
Instead of E3, Microsoft is preparing to show off upcoming games during a streamed event on June 12th. Spencer points to the company’s library of games – as well as its recent acquisition of Activision Blizzard – as a key focus for the company going forward.
It’s actually video games that sell, whether it’s hardware or cloud games. Without a strong lineup to woo gamers, it doesn’t matter how many TVs the Xbox overtakes if no one wants to play.