Microsoft’s E3 2017 presentation concentrated on the new Xbox One X console, but made no mention of VR. After dodging questions for the first few days following the presentation, Phil Spencer, Head of Xbox, gave his thoughts on the games industry, the Xbox One X reveal, and Microsoft’s position in the VR space in a refreshingly candid interview with Giant Bomb’s Jeff Gerstmann last night.

Asked about the lack of VR at the Microsoft E3 presentation, Spencer replied saying that he is “long-term bullish”, and a “believer in the category”, but had some reservations about how suitable it is (in its current state) in the family room environment of the game console. He referred to the issue of cords, and that “there’s just more people” to think about. “I do think we need to lose the cords at some point, we’re a few years from that”, he said.

We’re beginning to see very effective wireless solutions already, but they are expensive accessories and Spencer is likely considering when such solutions will reach mainstream affordability for consoles. He thinks we’re still “a few years away from something that will really work”.

Spencer on stage at E3 2017 where the company announced that ‘Project Scorpio’ would officially launch as the Xbox One X.

He acknowledged that the Xbox One X is more than capable of running VR. “The power of the box is fine in terms of having a VR or MR experience run on it, it’s really that family room environment that we’re struggling a little bit with. We’re saying ok, let’s stay more on the PC where we’re seeing action and developer interest—until we really get the artform of what it means to create great MR experiences, then it can go to more places”.

“It’s not a shot at what anybody else is doing”, he said, diplomatically. “I love what we’re all try to go to. Actually the teams share a lot of learning—we’ve had the Sony team up, they’ve seen what we’re doing with HoloLens, we talk to the Valve guys all the time. I don’t think this is a time for us to be competitive in this space, it’s a time for us to share our learnings and try to get better, because the market is years away, but we want to be ready for it”.

“It’s great that as an industry we are investing, whether that’s PSVR, HoloLens, HTC, Oculus—this what the games industry should be about, investing in new technology. Our investment is on the Windows side right now.”

Spencer’s comments offer more detail to the statement Road to VR received from a Microsoft spokesperson following the keynote, saying “We believe that right now a Windows PC is the best platform for mixed reality as its open ecosystem and enormous installed base offer the best opportunity for developers, and Windows offers the most choices for consumers.”

Gerstmann asked about recent filing of a DirectReality trademark, and whether it was related to DirectX gaming APIs.

Microsoft says the Xbox One X has the power to do VR but we aren’t likely to see VR support as a feature at the console’s November 2017 launch | Photo captured by Road to VR

Spencer said, “You’re exactly right. When we focus on the Windows Mixed Reality API, I think it’s important that as the Windows platform company, we don’t start getting people tied into ‘well you’ve bought this HMD, sorry it’s not gonna work with these other things’. When I buy a great monitor and plug it into my PC, I’m not worried about whether Windows understands it and whether some games play on it and some games don’t. Windows as a platform has to natively support any HMD you plug in, and we’ve been getting good feedback from the Oculus and Valve teams about what we need to do on Windows 10.”

Spencer also offered some general thoughts about these early days of VR, where in some cases, there has been an unnecessary urgency to jump on the bandwagon, setting unrealistic expectations for what VR can deliver in its first generation.

“A couple of years ago I think we had maybe an over-exuberance on VR, where we put more interest in it than maybe the tech and experiences could deliver, and I think that’s a dangerous spot for us as an industry”, he said. “To me this isn’t something that’s gonna die, the experience is way too immersive, it is going to happen. You see it where venture capitalists are investing, where everybody’s gotta be ‘VR, VR, VR’, then a couple of people get their hands burned and everybody runs away. I think we have to moderate the temperature a bit in terms of where we are, and not try to tell everybody ‘this is the year of VR’, because then when it doesn’t happen you get [headlines like] ‘the biggest failure of E3’, and it’s neither one of those things.”

Hands-on: Acer VR Headset for Microsoft's Mixed Reality Platform

“So our focus is on the Windows platform, making sure HMD manufacturers can plug in,” he concludes. “We have four OEMs shipping good HMDs at really affordable prices this fall”, he says, referring to the upcoming Mixed Reality headsets for Windows 10, and perhaps hinting that the new designs from Dell and Asus will being joining Acer and HP’s HMDs at retail this year.

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The trial version of Microsoft’s Monster Truck Madness probably had something to do with it. And certainly the original Super Mario Kart and Gran Turismo. A car nut from an early age, Dominic was always drawn to racing games above all other genres. Now a seasoned driving simulation enthusiast, and former editor of Sim Racer magazine, Dominic has followed virtual reality developments with keen interest, as cockpit-based simulation is a perfect match for the technology. Conditions could hardly be more ideal, a scientist once said. Writing about simulators lead him to Road to VR, whose broad coverage of the industry revealed the bigger picture and limitless potential of the medium. Passionate about technology and a lifelong PC gamer, Dominic suffers from the ‘tweak for days’ PC gaming condition, where he plays the same section over and over at every possible combination of visual settings to find the right balance between fidelity and performance. Based within The Fens of Lincolnshire (it’s very flat), Dominic can sometimes be found marvelling at the real world’s ‘draw distance’, wishing virtual technologies would catch up.
  • John Collins

    Great interview.

  • It is an interesting game. Sony have been given a head start and get to take on all the risks, Obviously they will gain exclusives and developers will concentrate on what generates them the most income. If Sony release something amazing in VR and MS start to lose loyal customers then I think they will quickly enable support. I hope they do not lock in a certain headset though. It would be nice to have a standard that works on both PC and XBox.

    Also, I do not know anybody that uses their XBox as a living room hub. Most console owners I know play on their own, in their own room or when everybody else is not around. I must be wrong on that though because this is one of the reasons MS are holding back.

    • Kidnova78

      We use ours for streaming as well as gaming. I know quite a few people who do the same.

    • Andrew Jakobs

      It’s nice and all, but as long as Sony doesn’t support PC directly and the coming ‘mixed reality’ headsets do support the xbox and PC, then that be a blow to PSVR. I would want to buy a PSVR, but as it doesn’t (completely/natively) work on the PC, I won’t, I’m not gonna spend 400+ on a device which I can only connect to a console (and hoping the next incarnation will still support it).

      • Aye, I have several bits of gear that work on one console but not on the other (steering wheels, headsets etc). I know they often have multiple connections these days but it still happens. Like the Rift touch controllers only working on the rift. Vive owners would probably love to use them as well and I am not sure there is any reason other than exclusivity from allowing that to happen.

        • Andrew Jakobs

          the only reason it’s allowing to happen is because the touch controllers require a completely different tracking system than the vive is using.

  • Tommel

    Seems to be a reasonable guy. However, I don’t get why they are so hesitant about the first generation of VR. Sure, it’s far from being perfect, but the hardware is there and the only thing that is missing are better games and experiences.

    • xBOX 4K is not perfect at 30fps on Destiny and many other games. That doesn’t stop them from releasing it.

      • hyperskyper

        How do you know that? Many of the games are perfect at 4k 60fps so I don’t see why “Destiny and many other games” would struggle with 30 fps.

        • Al Robins

          The lack of Destiny not at 4K and 60FPS on the Xbox One X appears to be more of an issue with Bungie and its licensing agreements as a 3rd party developer (as in keeping all parties happy, Sony included) and not the limitations of the Xbox One X hardware. Agreements can change in time.

        • They literally said officially at E3 that destiny will run at 30fps.

          I’m not sure I understood your comment correctly. I was suggesting that the console isn’t perfect if it runs a game at 30fps just like it wouldn’t be perfect for VR. Therefore that should not stop them from supporting VR games.

        • nebošlo

          The point is that 30 fps is far from ideal (ie not perfect), not that it can’t do 30 fps perfectly.

    • CMcD

      They aren’t hesisitant, it comes down to licensing. They can’t force valve or oculus to allow their steam/oculus storefronts to be accessible on xboxx. Based on 2016 Todd Howard speaking of fallout vr at Xbox press conference this was clearly a goal of Phil Spencer’s and valve said “nope, keeping steam on pc, you can’t take a cut of our profits on your console”. Meanwhile fallout vr is still coming to steam.

    • CMcD

      They aren’t hesisitant, it comes down to licensing. They can’t force valve or oculus to allow their steam/oculus storefronts to be accessible on xboxx. Based on 2016 Todd Howard speaking of fallout vr at Xbox press conference this was clearly a goal of Phil Spencer’s and valve said “nope, keeping steam on pc, you can’t take a cut of our profits on your console”. Meanwhile fallout vr is still coming to steam.

  • VRgameDevGirl

    HUH I was sure this system was going to release with VR, with how they spoke about it when it was first talked about. Oh well.

    • CMcD

      Welp glad I built a pc last year for vr. Had I waited in the hopes that xboxx would run vr I would be sorely disappointed right now. If you read between the lines he is complaining that Htc vive is “exclusive to steam” and rift has their “oculus storefront” and perhaps neither felt they wanted to allow xboxx access. Essentially steam isn’t on a console and so they keep ALL their earnings. He is complaining that each vr headset is “exclusive” to their own pc storefront and until each headset thinks of itself as a monitor (aka works with everything) xboxx is forced to make their own vr headset or just play the waiting game.

  • Well, they’re committed in doing something else, makes sense. They already said some months ago that Xbox Scorpio would have supported Windows 10 headset in 2018…

  • Lucidfeuer

    They just scrapped all their fucking plans for some reasons. Terrible decisions that they’ll pay as soon as Sony release some new hardware in 2018.

    • Andrew Jakobs

      what new hardware would sony release in 2018?

      • Master E

        He’s probably talking about the rumored PS5… It’s also safe to assume a new HMD from Sony in the next two years that is way better than this current one.

        They are a stellar Display company. I’d imagine they are hard at work at their next gen HMD

        • Lucidfeuer

          I don’t believe in a PS5 at all, they have no reason to release one, in fact they probably extend the lifespan of the PS4 as much as they can. As for the PSVR2 depends on how much they’re committed and confident in capturing the VR market.

          Yeah…maybe not 2018 but rather 2019 given that Xbox X is underwhelming and the VR market hasn’t taken-off.

      • Lucidfeuer

        Purportedly, it would make sense to release a new PS4 hardware after the PS Slim/Pro let-down fragmentation fiasco, the Xbox One X although obviously is not going that much of a threat, and to accompany a new PSVR version in the face of Vive 2.

        Maybe that’s too early, or maybe the sooner the better strategically, I didn’t work on that prospective yet.

        • Andrew Jakobs

          what PS Slim/Pro let-down fragmentation fiasco? Also don’t count on a complete new PSVR version any time soon..
          Only let down I see is the exclusion of a UHD bluray drive, that’s what they need to add to the next iteration of the PS4. (not that I would use it, but the xbox one S has it and so will the X)

  • John Collins

    Sony may have the head start but with the merging of Xbox and Win10, it would be nice to have a headset that can play Steam games and also transfer to the Xbox/Living room. And I also use it as my main hub and IR blaster. My PC for Rift is in another room just dedicated to PC. I see how it would be better to jump in now before it gets to late but with each hardware maker searching for wireless solutions and the right tracking.

    • Master E

      I was really hoping, and still hoping for, some sort of Windows 10 emulation app on the Xbox X that would open up a majority of pc gaming and peripherals.

      In fact… I’d like to know why this hasn’t happened yet? It seems like such a no brainer power move if they did something like that.

  • flamaest

    Idiots. Sony PSVR here I come.

    • CMcD

      It’s cool man and if you get the itch you can build a pretty affordable vr capable pc and upgrade to vive or rift.

      • MaeseDude

        They are great, but they lack the Aim controller…

    • CMcD

      It’s cool man and if you get the itch you can build a pretty affordable vr capable pc and upgrade to vive or rift.

  • Master E

    Microsoft sure has to clarify a lot of things as of late.. ie. what was actually running their tech demos for some games at E3, wether or not VR will be supported (since they really made it seem like it was on its way prior to E3), the definition of “Launch title” , and what exactly is their version of 4K.

    That all being said… I applaud the wait for more perfected technology, just expected this to be a major reason I go get an Xbox X… that reason is gone for the foreseeable future.

  • Nadim Alam

    What a jackass, they just want to sit on there asses and let everyone else do the work and then probably just jump on board when they see it picking up.

    They should be instead trying to help better the vr market, allowing customers to plug in oculus rift atleast to the new xbox1x would have helped push vr a long long way forward!! If everyone started doing what these guys are doing and waiting on others then the vr market would be dead pretty quickly.

    This is a huge blow to the vr market because of these lazy gits! Just imagine the amount of development possibility that would have opened up in VR if oculus rift worked on the Xbox. So many more big Dev companies would have also jumped on board and we would have had so many more AAA VR titles release, it would have helped everyone!!!

    • Tenka

      I agree with everything you said except the part where its supposedly a “huge blow” to the VR Market. If anything its a blow to the Xbox One X console as its just one less reason to buy the thing.

      Lacking VR support will not hinder PC VR in anyway and it will only let Playstation get further ahead with PSVR.

      • Nadim Alam

        The reason it’s a huge blow I think is because oculus rift many people already own so the user base was already there. They just had to enable it on the console. Plus with the PS4vr people still need to buy a separate headset for the console and another for the pc. But the Xbox could have enabled the same headset for both pc and console, this would have made the user base reach much higher!

        • Tenka

          It’s not that simple, Microsoft and HTC or Oculus/Facebook are different companies. In order for the Xbox to support Oculus or Vive, those companies need to come to an agreement, usually a licensing agreement, one that would require money to be paid or % profits to be shared or some sort of effect. On top of that HTC/Oculus would then need to develop a SteamVR/Oculus Home platform specifically for the Xbox.

          No, the easiest way for Xbox to support a VR HMD is to have one designed for it (like PSVR) or at least for it to support the upcoming Asus/Microsoft HMD (Which I think it still might in the future).

      • MaeseDude

        You have a point, as I have an Xbox One S, and one of the few reasons (I have no 4k tv/beamer) for me for upgrading to the new one would indeed be VR. But as it stands, I will keep doing that with PSVR.

    • Jason Mercieca

      The VR market wont suffer a bit if the new Xbox has no VR, instead it will be the Xbox sales which will suffer.
      The guy just said “forget vr for the new xbox” in the nicest manner haha.
      Anyways i never been keen on game consoles cause i really want the best graphics and performance available to tech and no game console ever delivered that, not putting game consoles down but well its logical i guess, just the graphics card of a PC is more expensive than the entire console so its to be expected.
      Get a PC with a 1070/1080 and htc vive if u really want good VR, just an advice you be glad u followed…

  • Yeah, the current VR solutions aren’t exactly perfect for the typical living room experience at this point in time (there’s just a lot of hassle involved), but I’m still very happy at least a few companies have jumped into VR sooner rather than later.

  • RipVoid

    Typical Microsoft, they always lag in innovation and let others lead the way. My interest in the new xbox is now zero. They might as well call it the xbox zero x.

  • trekkie

    I think what we are really waiting for are smartglasses. Thats the platform which will bring MR in a practical manner to the masses. VR I guess will always remain a nerdy thing and the high end PC + Vive/Rift is perfect as it stands now. But consoles+VR is a stupid idea. Its just a gimmick.

  • David D. Taylor

    As a fan of xbox, I am disappointed with the news that it’s not coming soon. BUT, I do understand why. Don’t boo Microsoft, when they are working hard to create a mainstream PC VR ecosystem. That is ambitious, and is a good goal that would help the VR industry greatly by making PC VR accessible to the masses.

    On top of that… even though I don’t agree with Phil… I do understand his thoughts that wireless VR is the best case scenario, a goal to work towards, for console based VR. To have to run a cord across the room to your couch would be a pain. His idea is correct, but I think they shouldn’t wait to get into the VR market for the xbox.

  • tommywarpspeed

    In my opinion the resolutions in the vive, rift, and psvr could use a LOT of improvement!. What I am excited about is the 8k vr headsets (4k per eye).