Xbox hasn't 'given up' on the console war — they already stopped taking part

Image of Blue and Green competitors in a boxing ring, pixelated style representing Sony vs Xbox
(Image credit: Future/Bing Image Creator)

Yesterday Phil Spencer, Xbox lead, took part in a candid interview with Kinda Funny Xcast, and alongside another cheeky shelf reveal where we saw the ASUS ROG Ally, he answered some pretty tough questions from the hosts and the Xbox Community.

Spencer didn't hold back when discussing his disappointment with the launch of Redfall, and the current state of Xbox when it comes to releasing high-quality games. Quite rightly, the community is questioning right now if Xbox has the ability to deliver games that deserve the inflated $70 price point. Redfall being the first exclusive out of the gate at this price hasn't filled them with confidence. In our Redfall review, we detailed how the game thoroughly failed to live up to the marketing cycle it generated, hiding glimmers of fun beneath 30 hours of drudgery.

There has already been heated debate over the past few weeks about how dedicated Xbox is to its console fanbase, given the focus we've seen on growing the cloud, and this being what Xbox has focused on in their regulatory dealings in their attempted acquisition of Activision Blizzard King. Some have interpreted Phil's comments as "giving up" on the console market race all together, but that's not the case, because Xbox has long been out of the race to win any so-called "console war."

Play anywhere, on anything you want.

Phil Spencer talks to Gary Whitta on Xcast

Cheeky ASUS ROG Ally stealing the focus from Phil (Image credit: Kinda Funny Xcast)

The outrage comes following a question asked to Spencer in the Q&A segment of the podcast, he was asked specifically if he felt that Xbox had lost focus in the console market, given the strides they have taken to improve the PC and Cloud experiences. Spencer replied, "We have a different vision you know, it's play the games you want, with the people you want, anywhere you want." He elaborated "We want Xbox to be something that people who buy our console can feel like they are a member, who are playing on PC, who are playing on [Xbox cloud], that they feel like they're full members of our ecosystem."

The following comment is what is causing much melodrama over on social media "We're not in the business of out-consoling Sony, or out-consoling Nintendo. There isn't really a great solution or win for us and I know that will upset a ton of people ..." he wasn't wrong, "but it's just the truth of the matter." He continued to talk about being third place in the console market to "strong" competitors Sony and Nintendo, then how best Xbox could compete and still ensure their console fanbase felt rewarded for their investment in the platform.

"Out there I see commentary that if you just build great games everything would turn around, it's just not true that if we go off and build great games all of a sudden you're going to see console share shift in some dramatic way. We lost the worst generation to lose in the Xbox One generation where everybody built their digital library of games."

Some people haven't appreciated Phil's honesty here and see it as admitting defeat, but Spencer is just laying out the reality of Microsoft's place in the gaming industry right now. Most gamers are already committed to a platform of their choice and have invested in this. Playstation has been the dominant console since its release in 1994, and since the doomed Xbox One generation, its lead is insurmountable. Spencer is describing how Xbox's focus needs to be on other avenues to compete and ultimately grow.

This is exactly what they are doing with PC, Cloud Gaming and Xbox Game Pass – competing but not in a market based solely on what plastic box is sitting by your television. Spencer said "There is no world where Starfield is 11/10 and people start selling their consoles," emphasizing the idea that people aren't going to suddenly switch their main console on the basis of a couple of games. 

Xbox Game Pass in 2023

(Image credit: Windows Central)

These words are being twisted to fit a narrative that Xbox doesn't care about its core console audience and shifting console units. But what Spencer said isn't new or shocking information, the goal for Xbox as a Play Anywhere system has been the vision for a long time now, repeated across several previous interviews. Spencer wasn't trying to write off Xbox's prospects of making great games, simply stating that the games alone wouldn't win some arbitrary war over console sales.

Xbox, Sony, and Nintendo are not sports teams like some hardcore fans seem to desire. All three are making waves in the gaming industry and catering to slightly different audiences, and most importantly, they are all making money. Whether one 'team' is first, second third in the race shouldn't be of any concern to the players, we should just play on the platform we enjoy. If you enjoy and can afford all three, well your cup runneth over with choice. 

We've already seen the other major players shift their ambitions to cater to specific niches. PlayStation threw in the towel with the PlayStation Vita, since it couldn't build the types of games that appealed to the dominant Nintendo 3DS crowd of the time. After the GameCube, we've seen Nintendo throw in the towel with high-end hardware, opting instead for a low-power, highly-disruptive handheld in the form of the Nintendo Switch. We're seeing similar from Microsoft over the past few years, evolving its strategy to bring the Xbox experience to a broader set of devices. The model looks to be a hybrid of Tencent's hardwareless multi-service approach while serving Microsoft's traditional Xbox audience in addition to, rather than in spite of.

Phil Spencer already echoed very similar comments in his interview in 2020 with The Washington Post on how Xbox was moving away from the traditional console war mentality to focus on delivering games and services across multiple platforms. This doesn't translate into not caring about console sales, merely expanding into other avenues as just focusing on console won't set them apart from the competition.

Starfield and shifting units 


(Image credit: Bethesda Softworks)

With Redfall not living up to expectations, the pressure on Starfield to deliver on the AAA games front is heavier than ever. I myself have spouted on Twitter about Starfield having the ability to move consoles if marketed right, but you won't actually need a console to play it. Starfield will be on PC, on cloud devices. It probably doesn't matter to Xbox if it shifts consoles or not, but that shouldn't affect your own personal enjoyment of the game. If the game is amazing, and we certainly hope it will be, it won't be a slam dunk on Sony, players that are genuinely interested in the game and already have a Playstation may just play on another device. Whether you play the game on an Xbox via the cloud, on Windows or PC Game Pass, or Steam, Microsoft's investments in this agnostic approach mean you can play it where you want, and that's the beauty of the Xbox ecosystem. Nobody asks Tencent, the industry's biggest player, where its hardware sales are. 

It's not all about consoles, and it hasn't been for years.  

Jennifer Young

Jen is a News Writer for Windows Central, focused on all things gaming and Microsoft. Anything slaying monsters with magical weapons will get a thumbs up such as Dark Souls, Dragon Age, Diablo, and Monster Hunter. When not playing games, she'll be watching a horror or trash reality TV show, she hasn't decided which of those categories the Kardashians fit into. You can follow Jen on Twitter @Jenbox360 for more Diablo fangirling and general moaning about British weather. 

  • NoLifeDGenerate
    "Play the games you want..." unless you want Earth Defense Force, which used to be on Xbox 360 but no longer gets ported to spite of being ported to literally every other platform. We all know Sony has their hand up Squaresoft's ass, but what's going on with D3Publisher/Namco??? Porting is easier than it's ever been and physical releases aren't even required, so what's it going to take to get EDF games back on Xbox?
    I enjoy interviews like that because the reaction tells me who I should bother subbing to or paying attention to. Yong Yea (however you spell it) chose to go with the moronic take (which requires obviously going well out of context) and he lost a longtime fan. He was never perfect, but its like he chose to undo what he earned with that Jason S discussion.

    I dont REALLY care about the xbox console - I wouldn't care one bit if MS cancelled it went ALL IN on Windows gaming, but anyone reading it thinking they dont care about making great games when they are going to have new Forza, SF and now likely HB2 out starting immediately after the summer (and plenty of games in the works elsewhere) is someone that is either WANTING to believe that or just someone very out of touch with reality in general.

    The worst you can say is that they do get games out and they do get good/great games out, they just dont do it as consistently as a first party really aught to. We shall see if the rest of the year proves to be the end or mostly the end of that. Good for them if so, but I aint cancelling my PC GP sub either way - half of my backlog of icons on the desktop, leering at me, are from GP.
  • Luuthian
    I agree with the article... But, and this is the but that is worrisome, the primary concern doesn't appear to be console sales imo but will people using Xbox services of any kind finally get some good food?

    The problem right now is the perception surrounding xbox is one of a cheap buffet: You can go to one and eat a pretty decent variety of food but, even though some of the food can occasionally be really good, the buffet has no specific speciality or unique offering that sets it apart from anywhere else. There's no hook.
    As a group everyone who bought in to xbox as a service wants to be reassured they'll get something that makes the investment seem worthwhile. They want to feel that the platform is special. Assassin's Creed on gamepass is not making anyone feel special, you can get that experience elsewhere. The price you pay to access Assassin's Creed sure is special though, totally agree and love what Gamepass does there. But if I don't use Gamepass or just want to take my hard earned money and buy a videogame outright I want to get something really cool and unique to my system of choice... Xbox isn't offering anywhere near frequently enough right now and has struggled to do so for many, many years. We're actively at the point where the platform is being passed over by beloved franchises. It feels like Xbox is a cheap service, not a home for my games that I can rely on. And that's the problem.

    Until Xbox can resolve that the platform will continue to face scrutiny and an air of uncertainty will continue to hover over it