Skip to main content

Xbox Podcast - everything announced at the Future of Xbox event

Xbox's got some news about hardware, exclusivity, and more

Xbox logo amid abstract flower forms, shapes and textures from a recent new dynamic background
(Image: © Microsoft)

And there you have it! Microsoft has dropped a special edition of the Official Xbox Podcast with an update on the business strategy for Xbox in general. While initial thoughts were that it could be one biggest Xbox events in quite some time, the actual podcast itself didn't quite go so far as to drop all exclusivity or anything of the like. 

That said, there's definitely some exclusivity going the way of the dinosaur here, and it's certainly a change of pace for Xbox regardless of how often the leadership team says that this is a natural extension of what they've been doing for the last decade.

Everything announced at the Future of Xbox event


In the few hours until the event, let's take a look at what's been said, and what rumors are circulating shall we?

Let's get caught up with what all this is about, shall we? Earlier this month, multiple reports suggested that Microsoft was looking into a multiplatform future for some of its biggest games. Those included potential PS5 releases for Starfield, Indiana Jones and the Great Circle, and more.

Obviously, that would mark the biggest shift in Xbox's strategy since the console's inception, and it's thrown fans into something of a frenzy.

That frenzy led to Xbox announcing an update on "the future of Xbox" for this week. In a message on Twitter, console chief Phil Spencer told concerned fans that "we're listening and we hear you," and promised "a business update event [...] where we look forward to sharing more details with you about our vision for the future."

That's tonight's event, if that wasn't clear - Spencer will be sitting down with fellow execs Matt Booty and Sarah Bond to share that vision, in roughly three hours from now as I'm writing this.

Even with that attempt at a clarification, however, rumors and general uncertainty have abounded. At around the same time as Spencer was announcing his update, Halo developer 343 Industries was busy suggesting (via a job advert) that future games in the series would be "for all players, on all platforms". While that seems to be to be more likely to mean all Xbox platforms than all platforms, period, it does seem to be exactly the kind of slightly unclear statement that has us wondering what we're likely to see this afternoon.

Since then, Phil Spencer and co have clearly been trying to rein in the messaging around the event. One report suggests that Spencer told Xbox colleagues that Microsoft was not done making consoles amid rumors to the contrary - the thinking being that if Microsoft wasn't going to be a console-exclusive publisher anymore, it wouldn't need to make consoles anymore.

More recently, Sarah Bond is also said to have told colleagues that "every screen is an Xbox" amid sentiments of a desire to be the leading cross-platform gaming company.

So what does that actually mean? 

According to one recent report, it means that Hi-Fi Rush and Pentiment will be two of the first first-party Xbox titles to make the jump to other consoles. Sea of Thieves might follow later this year, with questions marks over the likes of Starfield and other new releases. There's no word in that report about Halo, or the likes of Gears of War, but the suggestion is that those games that do make it to new platforms will be decided, broadly, on a case-by-case basis.

For my two cents, if that report proves correct, it could be a smart move from Microsoft. Hi-Fi Rush and Pentiment are both well-received, smaller games that supply a niche very effectively, but are unlikely to appeal to a broader audience. They also stem from some of Xbox's smaller studios - Tango Gameworks and Obsidian, respectively.

If these games are the vanguard of a new strategy for Xbox, they're likely to be pretty well-received - picked up by a smallish contingent of relatively passionate Switch or PlayStation fans, all while rocking the boat of passionate Xbox fans as little as possible. Similarly, Sea of Thieves is now more than half a decade old, and is another example of the kind of game that doesn't have mainstream appeal. A move to new consoles is likely to help keep the game alive, keep developer Rare's bottom line healthy, and not remove a reason for prospective players of games like Avowed or Everwild to buy a Microsoft system in the first place.

If you don't have any faith in what I have to tell you, then you can ask Ubisoft CEO, Yves Guillemot. During his company's recent investor briefing, he was asked what he made of rumors of a multiplatform future for Xbox.

"They are going to decide what is best for them," he said. "What you have to look at is that Activision Blizzard used to be multiplatform, so it would have an impact, but not a huge impact on the industry."

Presumably, Guillemot's suggestion is that Microsoft, having recently bought up a slew of studios across the industry, including Activision-Blizzard, could be about to take some of those studios back to their status quo. Longer-running studios, like Halo's 343 Industries, Gears of War's The Coalition, Forza's Turn 10 Studios, or indeed Rare, might stay firmly under the Xbox umbrella, but the likes of Obsidian, Ninja Theory, and Playground Games might not.

Alternatively, turn to The Witcher and Cyberpunk 2077 studio CD Projekt Red. In a recent tweet, their CEO, Michał Nowakowski, said that their games would remain proudly multiplatform. That's probably good news for The Witcher 4 fans, but it was never really in doubt - until such a time that CDPR gets acquired (a fate quite unlikely for the (eventual) creator of two of the best RPGs of the past decade), I'd imagine its games will show up everywhere the studio can put them. Hey, if The Witcher 3 can fit onto the Nintendo Switch, anything is possible.

Despite all of this sound and fury, it does seem like Xbox Game Pass (in whatever form that takes, with or without "Xbox" at the front of the name) will continue to be a Big Deal™ for the company.

The whole thing where all of Xbox's first-party titles end up on Game Pass the day of release is, has been, and will remain wild. Though we made our predictions about what to expect from Xbox in 2024 back in January prior to the latest reports, this part remains as true now as it was then. And even money there's some kind of hardware this year, even if it's maybe not a traditional console.

Speaking of Game Pass, now might be a good time to take advantage of the meditation app perk that was added this week for subscribers. This is not a bit or a joke; a three-month trial to Calm Premium is up for grabs.

You know, just in case there's anything stressful happening today (or any other day) that a little meditation might be able to help out with. I'm not saying it's necessary to have right now, but it couldn't hurt. Especially if you're the sort of person to, say, really care about console exclusivity.

Without knowing what Spencer plans to talk about, it's tricky to really measure the impact of a multiplatform push. But in the context of recent months, it does seem a little strange.

Microsoft's purchase of Activision-Blizzard, ostensibly all about shoring up Xbox's multiplatform potential, only completed in the latter months of 2023. And Xbox leads of all stripes made a lot of noise about the fact that Starfield was coming to Xbox Series consoles and PC, and nothing else. Even if Starfield isn't one of the first games to come to a new platform, those statements will ring substantially more hollow if Spencer announces ports of Pentiment and Hi-Fi Rush.

Of course, Sony has also been making plenty of noise about the future of PC offerings. God of War, Horizon Zero Dawn and Forbidden West, Marvel's Spider-Man, Returnal, and The Last of Us Part 1 are among some of PlayStation's very biggest exclusives, but all of them have made their way to PC since 2020. And with news that Sony plans to be more "aggressive" about releasing on other platforms, maybe this is all a moot point.

There's been plenty of armchair analysis about today's proceedings, and obviously we'll really just have to wait until Spencer says whatever he has to say before we can really start digging in to what it means.

Until then, we can take some joy in the fact that Xbox's own studios seem to be making fun of the entire situation. The official Sea of Thieves account talking about rowboats being Red, Blue, Green, or White sure sounds like a thinly-veiled nod to Nintendo, Sony, Xbox, and PC - Rare followed up to say they were just talking about rowboats, but personally, I don't buy it.

One peculiar chapter in the past few days has been the uneasy rumblings of a Nintendo Direct. The developer often pushes two showcases in the early part of the year, with on dedicated to Pokemon Day on February 27, but it's stayed pretty quiet in recent days.

According to Jeff Grubb, that's because of the noise that Xbox has been making about today's show. In a tweet today, he said that the decision to move an incoming Direct had been made because of Microsoft's podcast, in a manner not entirely different to the decision to delay the reveal of The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom in the wake of the death of the UK's monarch in 2022.

Quite what that means for the future of Xbox, I couldn't tell you, but that anecdote remains worth sharing.

We're inside 30 minutes away from tonight' It's worth noting that this is being released as a podcast, rather than a stream, and that's somewhat unlike most ways in which developers choose to talk to players at the moment. Just don't go in expect to Tier 3 Sub to Phil Spencer and you should be fine.

For the moment, there's not a huge amount more to say - I can't really stress enough that beyond that report about Pentiment and Hi-Fi Rush I mentioned earlier, there's very little information about what to expect going around tonight. The sentiment does seem to be that we're waiting to see which games are going multiplatform, rather than whether any games will make the jump, but ultimately, we won't know that for certain until the podcast starts in just over 20 minutes' time.

Well, I didn't think we'd hear much before the premiere, but here we are, with a little tease from long-time Xbox personality, Larry Hryb.

All right, folks. It's a straight-up video and not a stream. Let's get into it, yeah?

Phil Spencer, Sarah Bond, and Matt Booty are being interviewed by Tina Amini.

Diving right into the exclusivity question. "We made the decision that we're gonna take four games to the other consoles," says Spencer. "Just four games; not a change to our kind of fundamental exclusive strategy."

Spencer cites "some specific reasons" for why the company is doing this. Says it's all about long-term health and the leadership team is always looking to learn and grow.

Declines to actually say which four games are coming to other platforms, but previous reports claimed Pentiment and Hi-Fi Rush were coming elsewhere. Does say: not Starfield, not Indiana Jones.

"I do have a fundamental belief that over the next 5 or 10 years, exclusive games -- games that are exclusive to one piece of hardware -- are going to be a smaller and smaller part of the game industry," adds Spencer.

Spencer continuing to say that Xbox wants to be a great platform for creators, but that basically admits success even in the present is regularly multiplatform.

Spencer talks a little bit about the four games coming to other platforms. Two seem to be live service titles, but two are smaller titles. Sea of Thieves and Grounded for the first two, maybe, with Pentiment and Hi-Fi Rush for the latter? Sure does sound like it.

Continued talk about growing Xbox as a platform for games and creators and as a publisher while the strategy is reaching more players in more places. Not a lot of detail about what that means.

Matt Booty citing Fortnite and Roblox as examples of multiplatform titles that really do benefit from being that way. Commits to the idea that there will still be games you can play only on Xbox, echoing Spencer saying that just because there are four games coming to other platforms there need be no expectation for others to also come.

Kind of sounds like: just because this is happening, don't assume Halo is coming to PlayStation.

Booty and Sarah Bond also doubling down on the idea of first-party Xbox titles coming first and foremost to Game Pass day and date of release. Bond announces that Activision Blizzard titles are, in fact, coming to Game Pass -- starting with Diablo 4.

Spencer goes back to tooting the horn of Game Pass in general. How this "new" strategy is really just a continuance of Xbox's strategy historically. It's all about expanding the reach of the platform, through various taglines over the last decade. Seems a little revisionist, but I'll let him have this one.

There's a trailer for Diablo 4 coming to "Game Pass" even. Not Xbox Game Pass. "Game Pass."

March 28!

Spencer addresses the fact that Xbox has shipped on other platforms before, and frequently.

"If you look, with the addition of Activision and Blizzard and ZeniMax, we're one of the largest game publishers on PlayStation," he says, "we're one of the largest publishers on the Nintendo Switch, especially when you put Minecraft into the equation as well."

"And now, we're one of the largest publishers on mobile platforms as well," Spencer adds. "And that's not something that we want to back away from."

Spencer continues talking about Xbox growth overall. Constantly talking about the health of players, creators, and business. Says that hardware is "a critical component" of this strategy overall.

Notes that not everybody is going to play on Xbox hardware, though. "We fully accepted that we're going to have Xbox players across all kinds of devices," he says.

Tina Amini kind of sidling into addressing but not really addressing Xbox's arguably rough 2023. Spencer addresses lack of growth, but for the entire industry in general. Wants people to feel like they're part of somewhere successful, somewhere growing.

Spencer talks about how no matter how good a game is, it's still about overall growth. "I think there's an amazing set of games coming in 2024," says Spencer, "but if we don't get to growing as an industry, the industry will struggle."

"And today," he continues, "there's really two choices on how do you grow the industry. Do you say, 'I have a fixed number of players, the players that we have today, and do I find new ways to monetize those players to get more money from the players that I have?'"

"Or do you think about, 'how do I expand the business I have by finding new players and adding those to the base of players that already play?'"

Spencer claims that the focus at Xbox has been the latter. I'm not sure that's accurate, but it's certainly something he's now said!

Matt Booty back up to talk about player communities and how Xbox supports that. Call of Duty and Minecraft cited as examples of being driven by communities, and that people play with where their friends are playing and where players have historically invested.

I... feel like I'm not really understanding what Booty is talking about here. Literally everything he's saying seems to be true for largely all of the Big Three? Notes that developers want to find the biggest audience possible, to have people enjoy and participate in what they've made.

"I think we're in a unique position to deliver on that, just because we are the platform -- we build hardware," says Booty. "We've got a first-party games group. And then we've got a system that ties that together that brings together your friends, your progression, your achievements, all of that."

I am having trouble determining how that's any different from PlayStation or Nintendo, but maybe that's just me. It feels like all of that's true for the communities on other platforms already.

Bond back up talking about how investments are all about making bigger and bigger games. "How do we actually give more options to game creators so they can have the greatest success?" says Bond.

And there it is, Bond has cited Palworld's success after launching into Game Pass and PC simultaneously. "They were a game preview, they launched in Game Pass. They also simultaneously launched in Steam," says Bond.

She claims that it's the combination of these things that led to the outsized success for developer Pocketpair. That's all just... true, actually. Not much to find umbrage with.

"It was the largest third-party Game Pass launch ever," says Bond. Good for them! Genuinely.

Bond continues, saying that it's all about the options Xbox brings to the table, and that the team can see it working.

"We're at the highest level of users on console, the highest level of users on PC, the highest level of users on cloud ever," says Bond. "We have double-digit growth rate on PC and cloud, places where we're enabling creators to actually reach new players beyond the console ecosystem."

Here we go. What role does hardware play for Xbox? A big question for folks heading into this business update.

"When we look at our hardware, it really is, and Phil said this earlier, it's where you get the most flagship, seminal experience of Xbox," says Bond. True! When you're playing an Xbox, you're definitely playing an Xbox.

Bond goes on to note the Xbox hardware specs also serve as a handy developer target. I'm not going to get into the whole apparent headache that is targeting for the Series S, and seemingly neither is Bond.

Talks up investments and giving creators "an easy way to access as many players as possible." Says there's more creators building for Xbox "than ever before, thousands of them," due to these investments.

Kind of a weird way to say Xbox bought a ton of studios and now they're working on games for Xbox, but technically true! I won't speculate whether that includes third-party studios in that number, but "creators" is a broad enough category to include a lot of folks.

Here we go! Bond says there's exciting stuff to share about hardware "this holiday." Console refresh? Handheld? Both? Neither? She doesn't say, but it does at least sound like there's... something on the horizon. 

"We're also invested in the next-generation roadmap," Bond continues. "And what we're really focused on there is delivering the largest technical leap you will have ever seen in a hardware generation."

OK, Sarah Bond. I'm into it. I do want to see the largest technical leap I've ever seen in a hardware generation.

Now talking about the game library and preservation. Spencer notes he enjoyed announcing back compat back when. "People were reading the teleprompter before I could it -- I'm a slow reader," he says.

Spencer says that Xbox looks at how Windows has maintained software compatibility and the ability to play older games on current software. Says they try to bring that view to consoles, but it's more difficult overall.

"It's harder in console, because the line between what the hardware is and what the game is in consoles is traditionally tighter," says Spencer, "which makes compatibility... you end up doing these generational compatibilities that we've built."

"But I will say compatibility," he continues, "the ability to not only play the games, but my saves are still there with our cloud save systems, to try to keep the services up as long as we can so that people can play, is a tenet of what we are as Xbox. It's our foundation."

Spencer once again hyping up the fact that there are "entitlements" across devices when you buy from Xbox or Windows. He... calls this a furthering of game compatibility, which, I mean, I guess? I'm not sure I'd call it that, but Phil Spencer certainly has.

And we have finally arrived at the final segment: What does Xbox stand for today? I have zero idea what to expect from this.

"When you play on Xbox," says Bond, "what we're saying is you're playing on a platform where you know the biggest games in the world are always going to be. You're playing on a platform where you get to access Game Pass. And all of the games from our incredible range of studios will always launch in Game Pass day one."

Bond talks about crossplay and save and progression, backwards compatibility, cloud gaming. Xbox stands for these things, apparently.

"I think most importantly," adds Bond, "Xbox is a place where you know when you're investing in Xbox, you're investing somewhere that is dedicated to making games more successful and creators more successful, so that they can invest more to bring even better experiences to you all of the time."

Bond calling that the most important bit of what Xbox stands for is certainly a choice. What it actually means in practice is hard to parse. It feels designed by a committee to wrap saying not much in a constant tone of positivity.

Matt Booty back up to talk about how big Xbox is now due to buying a bunch of other folks, hyping releases of Hellblade 2, Avowed, and more. Booty also seems to 100% confirm a June showcase, which I think is new as far as definitive announcements go.

Oh. That's it! That's the end. The "podcast" is done with a final farewell about seeing folks in June.