Phil Spencer discusses Halo 5, Windows Gaming, and HoloLens

Kellogg Brengel

Gamespot’s Randolph Ramsay recently had the chance to speak with Phil Spencer, head of Microsoft’s Xbox, at a press event where he was showing off the latest build of Halo 5: Guardians. The conversation of course focused on the upcoming release of the 5th installment in the Halo franchise. But Spencer also touched upon gaming with Windows 10, the future of gaming with innovations like Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Realty (AR), and his general nice guy approach to speaking about the gaming industry and his competitors.
When speaking about the upcoming release, Spencer says that is very confident the latest Halo installment, Halo 5: Guardians, by 343 Industries is a great addition to the franchise. He also reveals (not so surprisingly) that the Xbox team is looking to make a big entertainment moment with their marketing of Halo 5, the same way they have done with the releases for Halo 2, 3 and. Spencer says:

“…these were big entertainment moments, so we’re going to do the same thing here, because it is a franchise that I think can support that level of notoriety and exposure.”

Spencer also noted that with games today, including shooters, there is an expectation to raise the bar with a game’s replay-ability and expanded content. Spencer admits that while Halo 4 had strong initial success, “we didn’t retain as many of the customers, of the players as we wanted to.”
Halo 5 Guardians
He thinks this will be different with Halo 5, because

“The team’s really taken a big focus on how we build out multiplayer engagements; it’s why you see things like Warzone, Arena’s obviously always going to be critical to what Halo’s about, and even the co-op single-player campaigns allowing you and I to go play together and kind of play at multiple difficulty levels.”

Gamespot’s Ramsay also asked Spencer what he thought of games like Destiny, and if there is anything in that model which could influence Halo. Spencer replied by talking about how he personally enjoys co-op gameplay and the experience of playing right alongside your friend. He then continued to say that he loves “…seeing in Halo 5 the co-op nature of the campaign.” He even states that Halo 5’s new Warzone PvP mode feels “less about PVP, because the teams are so big and the spaces are so big, and there are PVE things that we can go do in the environment.”
However, Ramsay quickly followed up with his next question to confirm that in Halo 5 there is no local co-op option and that it will only take place over Xbox Live. Spencer explains the decision was ultimately a trade-off to allow for greater complexity of what they can do on a single console and that the decision was based “on what they see happening in the market today and what they wanted to do with their game.”

Spencer also insists that most co-op multiplayer happens over Xbox Live anyways. But still for some diehard fans of the series that grew up playing split screen Halo on the couch with their friends, it is a loss and potential detriment. Possibly a detriment to the longevity of the game that Spencer alludes to earlier in the interview, as now with Halo 5 there isn’t a direct social element of playing in same room on the same console.
Ramsay also took the opportunity to get Spencer’s take on future Windows gaming, as well as AR and VR with devices like Oculus Rift and HoloLens. Spencer states upfront there are no plans for Halo 5 on the PC, other than being able to stream it from your Xbox One to a Windows 10 device; which he clearly recognizes isn’t real Windows gaming. He adds that 100% of their focus is on making Halo 5 a great release on Xbox One.
But Spencer did speak a little about the future of Windows and Xbox gaming integrations in a hopeful way that he and his team fully intend to embrace. Spencer goes on to say:

“Us though, when we look at Windows and making sure that our first-party franchises show up and start to create a joint environment for Xbox Live customers across Xbox and Windows is important to us. That’s why as teams, when they’re starting projects and you look out and both of those play environments, both PC and console make sense, I plan that we’re going to embrace that. I want to make that part of what we’re doing.”

He further adds that we’ll “hear more and more of us announcing games where we look at the environment in Windows, and we look at the environment on console, and we think the game will play well in both places.”
When speaking about AR and HoloLens, Spencer clarifies that the E3 demos of “Halo Lens” and Minecraft were just demos. That the device itself is still a ways off from broad commercialization and that Xbox team and developers are “still really in that ideation phase of what might happen, what could be possible.”

He also interestingly says that he hopes VR and AR are not the dominant path where games are going for the sake of social gaming. He thinks these technologies will have great experiences to offer and possibly exceptional genre specific cases for them. But Spencer says he hopes that the living room experience of playing together, which he enjoys with his own family, isn’t pushed aside by new the new gaming technology.
In hindsight, it is somewhat ironic statement since earlier in the interview he talked about his team’s decision to go with the trade-off of killing local multiplayer in Halo 5 for the sake of added complexity in game features. In fact the trade-off made in Halo 5 is a direct example of what Spencer hopes AR and VR will never do, kill off the local – playing together from the couch together – experience.
The interview concludes with a focus on Spencer’s nice-guy attitude that he has built up with his frequent positive references to the competition. Spencer states “I don’t see any reason to go after and be pithy towards somebody who’s just trying to do a good job with the product that they’re building.”
Undoubtedly, Spencer’s more positive take on the industry, and the absence of vitriol about console wars and which platform is better, is a welcome breath of fresh air.
With just a little over a month to go until the October 27th release date of Halo 5: Guardians, expect more discussions by Phil Spencer, his team, and 343 Industries about the latest installment in the Halo franchise. And stay tuned to WinBeta for more Halo news as we get closer to the launch date.