Australian publication Stevivor recently sat down with Xbox head Phil Spencer to broach the subject of whether or not the company’s upcoming next-gen console would be matching Sony’s continued VR ambitions with PlayStation 5. The short of it: Spencer says it’s simply not a focus for Xbox Series X.
“I have some issues with VR — it’s isolating and I think of games as a communal, kind of together experience,” Spencer told Stevivor at X019. “We’re responding to what our customers are asking for and… nobody’s asking for VR. The vast majority of our customers know if they want a VR experience, there’s places to go get those. We see the volumes of those on PC and other places.”
Firing back at Spencer’s assertion that “nobody’s asking for VR,” Sony’s Shuhei Yoshida maintained Sony is still working hard despite the lack of wide-spread support:
（´-`）.｡oO（we oftentimes work hard to make things that no customers are asking for them）
— Shuhei ooOoo Bugsnax! (@yosp) November 26, 2019
Later, Spencer took to Twitter to reaffirm his views, saying that while he has played VR games in the past, including Valve’s upcoming Half-Life: Alyx, it’s still not going to be a focus for Xbox Series X (previously codenamed “Scarlett”):
Fair feedback. I've said publically, I love how our industry has pioneered: AI, physics, 3D, RT, VR/AR etc. For us, it's about focus on our innovations right now. I've played some great VR games, I got to play HL:Alyx in the summer, amazing. It's just not our focus with Scarlett
— Phil Spencer (@XboxP3) November 27, 2019
Project Scarlett’s big reveal at E3 2019 included no mention of VR support despite it’s fundamentally a VR-ready system, which is based on Zen 2 and Navi processors from AMD, and hailed as “four times more powerful than the Xbox One X.”
It’s not to say we weren’t holdouts for a surprise announcement though, as Microsoft has under their Microsoft Studios umbrella a surprising amount of talent with previous experience in making VR games including Ninja Theory (Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice), 343 Industries (Halo Recruit), inXile (The Mage’s Tale), Double Fine (Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin), and Mojang (Minecraft).
If there’s a silver lining in all of this, at least Xbox is staying consistent with their messaging from the get-go with Scarlett, as the company had been kicking the metaphorical ‘VR can’ down the road ever since they originally announced their intentions back at E3 2016 to bring “high fidelity VR” to Xbox One X. It wasn’t until June of last year that Spencer dashed all hopes of bringing VR to Xbox One consoles.
And in the end, it’s likely Xbox is focused on more than just bringing a more powerful console to the table, as the company continues its push to acquire first and second-party studios and game titles, improve Xbox Game Pass, and further develop xCloud, the company’s cloud-based game streaming service. Further splitting its attention by adding VR in at this late stage could simply be too much to ask, as Scarlett wouldn’t be able to benefit in the same way PS5 will when it launches with backwards compatibility for first-gen PSVR headsets.