Microsoft’s VP of Gaming, Phil Spencer, has his sights set on the bigger picture, and we understand why. Spencer believes the “console wars” are a thing of the past–or at least a hindrance to the future. Noting that Sony and Nintendo deserve all due respect, Spencer recently told Protocol.com that he views Amazon and Google as Microsoft’s main competitors going forward, and he has a point:
When you talk about Nintendo and Sony, we have a ton of respect for them, but we see Amazon and Google as the main competitors going forward. That’s not to disrespect Nintendo and Sony, but the traditional gaming companies are somewhat out of position. I guess they could try to re-create Azure, but we’ve invested tens of billions of dollars in cloud over the years.
I don’t want to be in a fight over format wars with those guys while Amazon and Google are focusing on how to get gaming to 7 billion people around the world. Ultimately, that’s the goal.Phil Spencer, VP of Gaming for Microsoft, via Protocol.com
The so-called “Console Wars” (what Spencer called the platform wars) have been raging for almost as long as home gaming consoles have existed. It’s a term used to refer to the generational competition between gaming console manufacturers, with each new set of more-powerful hardwares representing a new battlefront.
The console wars are a vestige of a time when unique and idiosyncratic hardware meant video game developers had to design and program games within the limited confines of individual game consoles and with respect to their assorted hardware architecture and software ecosystems (including their operating system, APIs, supported programming languages, online platforms, etc.).
With a whole new generation of home gaming consoles lined up for release later this year (including the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5) and the runaway success of the Nintendo Switch still in full effect, the console wars show no overt signs of subsiding just yet, but many in the industry believe that the death knell for the era of platform-exclusive gaming has been wrung none-the-less.
In fact, Microsoft’s upcoming console, the Xbox Series X, seems designed to prepare for this inevitable future. Rather than representing a new assortment of Series X-specific games, Xbox is changing how it thinks of its gaming platform. The Series X is merely the first entry model into a new line of gaming hardware that Microsoft has simply dubbed “Xbox”.
The new Xbox soft-reboot marks a shift in ideology away from the console wars. The Series X, or more accurately the Xbox hardware line that the Series X is merely a part of, is designed to play all previous Xbox-console games (from the original Xbox through to the Xbox One). Further, Microsoft has said that new games will not be exclusive to the Series X–the Xbox One will still be receiving new games (presumably until either its software sales drop off enough to warrant the Xbox One’s retirement or until hardware limitations force the issue).
Xbox isn’t alone in this, mind you. Sony’s upcoming PlayStation 5–while there have been few official announcements–has set the rumor mill ablaze with reports of its supposed backward compatibility; not to mention reports that a PlayStation Remote Play app could be coming to the Nintendo Switch!
Alone, these developments might not mean much, but combined with new, cloud-based streamed-gaming platforms entering the fray, they mean everything. Fledgling platforms like Google’s Stadia and Nvidia’s recently debuted GeForce Now mark the absolution of the “gaming console” wholesale and any notions of “console wars” with them.
Backed by major players like Google (even Facebook, Apple, and Amazon have thrown their chips on the table) these new platforms pose a substantial risk to an overly comfortable market–something that has no doubt inspired decisions being made within any corporate faction. So when Phil Spencer says the world’s tech giants are his main competitors, he’s absolutely onto something.
Like it or not, platform-specific-gaming’s growing obsolescence is unavoidable–and while we think it’s likely that gaming-specific hardware itself will continue strong into the future, it’s not unfathomable to imagine a world where your game will work on whatever gaming device you put it into (with, perhaps, some first-party exceptions).
Afterall, we’re already at a point in which “consoles” don’t represent one device, but a line of tiered hardware set at different price points. We’re also at a point where the major contributors of the industry’s platform-exclusivity are both widening the confinement of their extant IPs (and again) and simultaneously building their off-platform presence.
Phil Spencer is onto something, for sure. One thing that Amazon and Google bring to the table is something that virtually no other entrant can compete with is their huge online presence and massive cloud infrastructure–the latter of which is absolutely essential to the growing “gaming without borders” sentiment. No one, that is, except Microsoft.
Not only is Microsoft’s new console backing away from the idea of platform wars, but its new Xcloud technology–likely to be well integrated with the Series X and the Xbox One–will allow gamers to play their Xbox games not just on their home consoles, but on their computers, tablets, and phones as well.
While Sony has dabbled in streaming with their PlayStation Now service subscription (and in cross-platform playability with PlayStation Remote Play), Sony does not have the current infrastructure to scale those services the way that Google and Microsoft are apt to do.
Nintendo is, as it has always been, woefully behind in terms of online technology–a weakness it has sidestepped by refusing to compete on anything but its own terms. Nintendo represents an ever-profitable niche market that exists in tandem with console gaming rather than as a direct competitor within it.
That’s ultimately the point Spencer is making here. Gaming has grown beyond its cradle, and in fact, so-called premium gaming represents a relative minority of the industry. More and more gaming is being done on platforms not exclusive to gaming itself–with mobile gaming accounting for the majority of this shift–and platforms are rapidly changing to adapt to consumer demands.
Few companies in the world are as equipped to capitalize on that change as multinational tech giants. If we were to say that Spencer has made any error in his judgement, its that his scope of the competition seems limited. China’s Tencent, for example, represents a multinational tech conglomerate that is just as well-positioned to serve up the competition as Google or Amazon, and Microsoft would be wise to consider the idea of gaming without borders to its fullest extent.