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”.
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.
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.”
“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.