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Xbox Boss Admits Company Can't Really Catch Up To Nintendo Or PlayStation

Xbox is having a pretty difficult week, thanks to the underwhelming launch of Arkane Studios' "Redfall." Reviews began to trickle in around launch day, painting an unflattering picture of the new game from the studio that previously delivered unquestionable successes such as "Deathloop" and the "Dishonored" series. "Redfall" has been slammed by critics and audiences alike, with particular vitriol aimed at its litany of bugs and major performance issues. Phil Spencer, CEO of Xbox Game Studios, recently appeared on Kinda Funny's "Xcast" to discuss the issues with "Redfall" and Xbox's current state of affairs, which ended up turning into a very illuminating chat.

According to Spencer, recent failures like "Redfall" aren't the only missteps he feels the company has made in the last several years. In fact, Spencer explained, it's quite possible that Xbox will never be able to properly catch up with its competitors, no matter how many great games the company releases for its consoles. This obviously came as a shock to the hosts and audience, as MIcrosoft has been acquiring development studios left and right. The company is currently battling to close a big merger deal with Activision Blizzard. Meanwhile, "Redfall" marks the first of a couple of Xbox and PC-exclusive games on Bethesda Softworks' docket for 2023, the other notable title being the massive spacebound RPG "Starfield."

Game exclusivity might not be enough to tip the scales in Xbox's favor, however. As Spencer bluntly put it, "There is no world where 'Starfield' is an 11 out of 10 and people start selling their PS5s. That's not going to happen." So what's the plan?

Xbox fell behind with Xbox One

Throughout the interview, Phil Spencer apologized profusely for the final state of "Redfall," noting that he felt terrible for disappointing the Xbox and PC playerbase who were let down by the game on day one. He also reiterated his belief in allowing developers the time and space to make the games they want to make. However, "Redfall" isn't the only reason Xbox's brand is lagging behind some of the competition these days. To hear Spencer tell it, Xbox's biggest fumble arrived during the previous console generation.

"We lost the worst generation to lose in the Xbox One generation, where everybody built their digital library of games." He added, "Like 90 percent of the people every year who walk into a retailer to buy a console are already a member of one of the three ecosystems, and their digital library is there." And because so many of the biggest games of this current generation — Spencer specifically mentioned titles like "Fortnite" and "Roblox" — are holdovers from the previous gen, it puts Xbox in a precarious position of playing catch-up a lot of the time. It also means that simply releasing the best new game isn't the only way to get ahead. Due to the advent of digital libraries, it's nearly impossible these days to refresh the console market with each new generation.

At the end of the day, Spencer also said, "We're not in the business of out-consoling Sony or out-consoling Nintendo," acknowledging that Xbox is squarely in third place when it comes to the console market. Instead, Xbox has had to seriously change its business model and how it approaches growing its user-base. 

Xbox looks to the future after Redfall

So what's next for Xbox? According to Phil Spencer, the most important directive for the company is to continue doing what it does best. Spencer explained that the impending merger with Activision Blizzard is just one piece of the puzzle, and that Xbox wants to continue to put the players first. "Starfield" is certainly an exciting title, and fans will get to see more of it during this June's Xbox Games Showcase livestream, but it's not the end-all-be-all of the Xbox name.

Spencer touched once more on why he feels like the Xbox ecosystem itself should be the company's focus, rather than counting on any one game to turn things around for the Xbox brand. "I'm just going to say, there's not a win for Xbox in staying in the wake of somebody else," he explained. "We have to go off and do our own thing, with Game Pass, with the stuff we do with xCloud and the way we build our games."

Going forward, Spencer explained that Xbox would continue to push harder for better quality experiences for players, all built around the company's unique user interface and subscription offerings. Even if Xbox can't keep up with Nintendo and Sony on all fronts, Phil Spencer ultimately sees the failings of "Redfall" and the previous console generation as learning experiences — ones that will hopefully benefit Xbox loyalists in the long run.