Xboxs Phil Spencer doesnt think VR is a now thing

With all the VR news from GDC as Project Morpheus, HTC Vive and Oculus Rift went head to head - headset to headset? - 2015 certainly looks like the year that the virtual reality revolution finally takes place. However, Microsoft has stayed very quiet on the matter. Interviewed in the new issue of Edge Magazine, Head of Xbox Phil Spencer explains why he doesn’t think virtual reality is a ‘now thing.’

When asked about PS4's Project Morpheus headset and Xbox’s lack of anything to rival it in terms of VR, Spencer is honest about the time frame for the technology. “It’s more of an announcement than anybody really having any VR stuff right now – and that’s not a shot at Sony. I mean, it’s hard tech, and I think it’s great what they’re doing with Morpheus. But they’ve announced [it for] the first half of 2016, so a little over a year from now.”

Spencer is keen to point out that what Microsoft does have is the potential of its HoloLens platform as well as a slew of opportunities that could come from the PC side of things. “I look at VR as an interesting space. It’s certainly different to the mixed reality we do with HoloLens, but there’s nothing that precludes us from doing something in the VR space,” he says.

“As you say, there are partners out there, and while these guys are PC-based today, if we want to do something with Xbox... Right now, it’s just been about technologies and things that I think we need to do on Xbox One to make the experience better, and that’s where our focus has been. And I don’t think VR is a now thing. I’m not saying it’s five years from now, but it’s not really a now now thing. Valve’s got their VR thing, which I think is great; Samsung has GearVR, too.” Here, Spencer dangles the tease of a certain blocky title. “Funnily enough, they are very interested in Minecraft and how it could work in those VR spaces,” he says tantalisingly. “So even from a content perspective there are a lot of conversations about VR, and I think it’s a very interesting tech for us to watch on the console side as well as the PC side.”

When it comes to the reality blurring Hololens technology, Spencer isn’t ruling out the prospect of it working as an Xbox peripheral but Microsoft is currently focussing on the device stand alone. “Well, we haven’t announced it as an Xbox accessory. But it sits within one team, and we have the conversations. Right now, we want to focus on a standalone, untethered device and make sure that we can prove out that scenario. That’s where we started, and that’s what we announced in January: the first fully self-contained headset.”

“The tethered scenarios around VR I think are interesting, but we were going for something different. Not being tethered to either a PC, Xbox or a phone as part of the solution was one of our design challenges for HoloLens, and we did that. Now we can say, “Well, OK, if I do have an Xbox or a PC, what are those scenarios?” We haven’t publicly talked about what those are, but you can imagine, as we continue to drive and get success with HoloLens, those scenarios will become obvious and developers will take advantage of them.”

You can read the full interview and lots more in the new issue of Edge Magazine out on Thursday the 9th of April. Also featured in the magazine is an exclusive look at Splatoon and an interview with Street Fighter’s Yoshinori Ono. Download the issue digitally here on Thursday or subscribe to future issues.

Louise Blain

Louise Blain is a journalist and broadcaster specialising in gaming, technology, and entertainment. She is the presenter of BBC Radio 3’s monthly Sound of Gaming show and has a weekly consumer tech slot on BBC Radio Scotland. She can also be found on BBC Radio 4, BBC Five Live, Netflix UK's YouTube Channel, and on The Evolution of Horror podcast. As well as her work on GamesRadar, Louise writes for NME, T3, and TechRadar. When she’s not working, you can probably find her watching horror movies or playing an Assassin’s Creed game and getting distracted by Photo Mode.