Xbox at E3 2018 showed a fire and passion I'd love to see from Microsoft in general

E3 (Image credit: Windows Central)

One of the big conversations we often have among Microsoft fans is, "Is Redmond really pro-consumer?" At least one division showed that passion at E3 2018, as the Xbox team led by Phil Spencer showcased a huge investment roadmap in new Xbox hardware, new Xbox technology and features, and new Xbox software in the form of games.

It was a flurry of fire and passion I haven't seen from Microsoft, well, frankly ever, since I've been following them as a blogger. The level of excitement from Xbox fans was immense, my DM notifications on Twitter went into rapid fire, and even commentators typically critical of Microsoft found it hard to find things to nitpick. It was just a great show.

So then, why can't the rest of Microsoft seem to showcase the passion and long-tail investment in its products that I know the company has?

Xbox is fans-first, but what about the rest of Microsoft?

The messaging at the Xbox E3 2018 showcase couldn't have been clearer; "we hear you." As a company that prides itself on user-collected feedback, the only part of Microsoft that I feel completely satisfies that mentality it Xbox, and thanks to the re-organization, Spencer can finally deliver what fans are asking for free of Microsoft's previous apparent lack of ambition.

Phil Spencer announced not one, but five new studios would be joining Microsoft's first-party game portfolio. Playground Games, Undead Labs, Compulsion Games, Ninja Theory, and a ground-up new studio called The Initiative. That's millions and millions of dollars worth of investment to address what fans have been asking for, which is high-quality exclusive games. It will take time, sure, but the feedback has finally been addressed and in a big way.

Microsoft also moved its showcase to the Microsoft Theatre, specifically so they could get more fans into the building. The energy from the crowd was immense, and while the live stream's audio does incredibly well to hide it, there are videos online that can give you an idea of the energy in that room.

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It's silly to suggest that marketing Windows or Surface should be similar to that of Xbox. It's a completely different market, different use cases, etc. But, truth be told, Surface, Windows, and beyond do have their fans, and nobody knows that better than us at Windows Central, where our awesome forum community remains one of the busiest places to discuss the ecosystem. Those fans are influential, too, and evangelize products and services they like, and obviously, talk down the stuff they don't like.

Windows and Surface fans have plenty of reasons to celebrate, but the engagement between those divisions and its users seems virtually non-existent when you compare them to what Microsoft is doing with Xbox.

Build is for devs, tho

During the Windows Phone era, Microsoft started treating Build a little differently than they had in the past, and even now. Build has always been a developer conference, where Microsoft's corporate partners and independent devs can learn, network, and ultimately grow. And for that, Build remains awesome. However, a few years ago, it felt like Build had become a celebration of all things Microsoft. We've seen Phil Spencer on stage at Build, demonstrating UWP features for game developers. We've seen insane HoloLens demonstrations, new features for Windows, whether it's on PCs, tablets, or phones (rest its soul).

We still get elements of that, but the surprises and excitement just isn't there anymore, and Build 2018 (and other recent years) firmly demonstrated that Microsoft wants to focus entirely on developmental software and strategies, featuring lengthy live code demonstrations with gratuitous use of the latest corporate tech world buzzwords. Which, of course, is fine, but I lament a time when the Microsoft ecosystem felt like a cohesive entity pulling together, delighting consumers and customers as well as devs.

Microsoft's Surface hardware announcements are scattered throughout the year, shown off to small amounts of press, live streamed if we're lucky. Surface marketing is very slick, but often low-key. Ultimately it serves a different market than Xbox, which is gunning for 2 billion gamers. Surface is a very niche product best used by a subset of people who might want all of its unique features in a single, pricy package. There are rumors that Microsoft is looking to bring more accessible, cheaper Surface devices in the future though, and its long-rumored Andromeda folding pocket table is sure to turn heads if it ever actually makes it to market.

Windows as a platform also has its hardcore fans, albeit diminished after Microsoft's very off-handed, anti-community handling of the death of Windows 10 Mobile. The way Microsoft let Windows 10 Mobile slide into obscurity while ignoring fan questions and feedback on the topic for years has created a bitterness that I think Redmond will carry with it to the announcement of Andromeda. And sure, while the core fanbase of Windows is very small, it needn't be.

Where's the fire, Microsoft?

Xbox has shown that it can galvanize, celebrate, and delight its fans with its E3 2018 showcase. Giving us a glimpse at a roadmap that extends years, not months, while impressing the huge amount of investment Microsoft is putting into the division to rectify key feedback points. Xbox's social presence is huge, with many execs frequently talking to fans directly on Twitter, being frank and honest, addressing questions directly.

Meanwhile, Surface and Windows' social presence feels limited and stand-offish by comparison. There are no annual shows for Surface or Windows that are consumer-centric, and Microsoft has this tendency to aggressively hide its roadmap for Windows, emitting virtual radio silence while apps and services are neglected, often on the road to outright cancelation.

As a fan of the Microsoft ecosystem, I wish I could have the same confidence about Windows, the Microsoft Store, Skype, Surface, and various other products that I do for Xbox. I love Windows 10, and I love my Surface Book 2, but the gulf in communication between Xbox and those other divisions is massive. Maybe the audience just isn't there, but I suspect the audience isn't there because Microsoft doesn't want to try and find it.

Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

  • Panos presents Surface Box the portable gaming system! Anyway. Good job Xbox team keep that momentum going.
  • Microsoft sent a clear message, in my opinion, that they’re very serious about gaming, at this E3, and I loved it!
  • Yet another "Microsoft, you're doing it all wrong" article. You'd think that eventually the execs would start noticing such articles and actually respond to the feedback. And when I say "respond" I mean, start changing the way they do business and in particular the consumer business. Eventually the message has go to get through to them. Doesn't it? Surely they can't be this dense. Can they?
  • Silly rabbit. This E3 WAS Microsoft's response to the feedback haha. Microsoft was getting hit hard in the gaming space for its lack of investment, passion and fan service. The gushing done by Jez here is a result of Microsoft listening to and doing something about those issues...
  • I'm not a gamer, but, It's good to hear words like fire and passion applied to Microsoft. I hope other departments/products earn that excitement and enthusiasm from consumers.
  • Satya Nadella and "his vision". That's why.
  • What a great article Jez. Loved your coverage over E3 and agree to some extent here. Would love to see MS leverage or learn from this passion with Xbox.
  • Spot on article, Xbox is the only consumer division at MS I have ABNY confidence in. The way MS handled mobile should be criminal and MS needs to really leanr from the engagement the Xbox Team puts fourth.
  • Great article as always Jez! Hopefully we see a new sort of passion and fire when/if Andromeda comes out. I really hope they give us consumers a reason to cheer.
  • Microsoft knows more then any other company that domination starts with the consumer. They never approached the Solaris, Unix, Vax, AS400 admins to buy dos or windows on an "IBM compatible" back in the day. The generations growing up with iOS or Android will bring it to their enterprises when they enter the workforce. Just like I and many others did for Windows. I remember being told that PCs were just toys by the old guys and I was taking a big risk using them. The consumer side will always win because that is where the visible innovation is and the boss doesn't want to be on the wrong side of innovation. The young person will be able to rattle of 10 new features their stuff and be excited about it. While I, the old Windows guy, will be able to stand up and say they are removing Paint and Cortana and probably adding bunch of stuff like visual effects (Fluent) and maybe finish unifying the UI in Windows. A new device from from 2 years ago might come out next year or be canceled. They worked hard to add linux subsystems, while canceling a more forward looking Android subsystem. It is really hard for us Windows old guys to create our own messaging on the spot absent any from Microsoft. However , I did buy 3 game pass cards on sale so I'm good to go until 2020 and I'm also a hero to my kids. The play anywhere titles from game pass also work on Windows 10. No word from MS about that perk
  • While I agree there was more fire and passion this year by MS compared to previous years, and while I'm really happy about them building one brand new studio, I wouldn't call their conference amazing.
    They spent most of their time showcasing multiplatforms. We probably knew that they were working on Halo, Gears and Forza sequels, but battletoads was a good addition.
    Overall, I'll say they did something right but it was still a disappointing conference for me...
  • Great article Jez. I would love to see Surface go mainstream as well.
    Needless to say Windows 10 has fans worldwide. And I think it's silly of them not to take advantage of that and marketing the product. OEMs cannot save windows, surface can.
    Unleash the surface and see Windows grow again. Or stop surface and let Android and IOS takeover. That's the choice Microsoft has to make right now.
  • Jez, your article was timely given E3 just ending, but may be it was also premature. This event occurred after gaming was removed from control of Terry Meyerson. Let's see now that he is no longer in control of Windows either, if there is a change in the way they release Surface devices or talk about Windows. I think refocusing Build to be about developers alone was the right call and not the place for consumer product announcements. Revisit your premise in a few months after we have a chance to see if there are more changes as a result of the re-org.
  • We must have watched difference keynotes... Yeah, it wasn't the snoozefest that the Sony keynote was (good God, I still don't understand what the hell was Sony thinking), but any Surface presentation is BY FAR much more enthusiastic. Microsoft's conference was more "Hey look, we bought 5 studios to make games... bla bla bla... Here's the 199478th Halo game, here's the 7365th Forza game, here's the 7356th Gears of War game.... Bla bla bla... AI and cloud computing... Bla bla bla Trailer trailer trailer... And we're done".
  • I think you could sum up most of E3 like that. I don't get the level of cynicism that exists around gaming these days. People enjoy sequals and reboots as it let's them revisit familiar worlds, with expanded universes and/or narratives and improved/updated visuals and mechanics. When done well there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. MS Xbox briefing, if nothing else, responded to and squashed any doubt about their commitment to gaming. Investment in studios is a direct acknowledgement that exclusive content helps define your platform. The brief announcement that the next console is in development was just a 'Yep we're still doing hardware too' statement. They also rammed home the value of game pass. I'm not sure what else I could of realistically wanted them to do, maybe a sneaky announcement of the Fable reboot, but outside of that not much springs to mind. It weirdly made me excited about next year's event. As for Sony I think, while the pacing was odd, their event was a nice juxtaposition to the Xbox one. MS was selling the fact that Xbox will have lots of games across all genres regardless their limited diversity in first party titles. Sony on the other hand focused on their point of differentation 'We've got these unique experiences that Playstation fans care about.' How well that resonates with fans has yet to be seen. But market dominance does strange things to companies. For me this was the first time I think the Nintendo Direct missed the mark. It seemed to lack any of their usual style and quirkiness. I personally would have loved to see something that improved the versatility of the Switch software. Also there was nothing about the next phase of Labo, animal crossing or their online services. Of course I've downloaded fortnite and fallout shelter, but damn it feels off that my son enjoys way more functionality using my old wiiU than I get using the Switch.
  • Excellent piece, I can't disagree with any of it. Apple are good at showing passion for their products and that's one major reason the iPhone got a head start in the smartphone market. Let's hope sooner or later someone at Microsoft with influence reads articles like this and does something about it.
  • Panos presentations = fire and passion.
  • Fantastic article Jez! Would love to see more major announcements Build. Would love to see them put on a bit of a show that first day! Just like Phil's done with 1st party and XBox many devs would love to see some clear vision from MS on devices and 1st party UWP apps for the Store. Speaking of 1st party UWP, here's just a couple of titles they could resurrect with a modern twist... Encarta for HoloLens, and MS Money bundled with Office 365. If MS put their minds to it it's possible to have those ready by Build 2019. Pretty sure every school on the planet would fork out for HoloLens, even at $2000 a pop, if they could render a life-sized 3D dinosaur in their playground! Not to mention millions of parents who would do the same for the sake of their child's education. And pretty sure hundreds of thousands of small business owners, and perhaps millions of families would finally pony up the $9.99 a month for an Office 365 subscription if it included a great personal finance app bundled with an already great Office suite and OneDrive/Skype services. Sure... you can still have all your Azure, AI, IOT, Intelligent Edge speak... but show developers that you yourselves are committed to your own ecosystem by building some quality 1st party software. Bottom line... LEAD BY EXAMPLE MS! Show developers that you yourselves are committed to your own ecosystem and I know devs will follow.