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Microsoft's Phil Spencer: Xbox Gamers Should "Have a Voice" in Game Funding

Also confirmed: Microsoft is interested in VR, and will focus more on PC gaming in the future.

Gaming consoles are the “last bastion of huge AAA games” with big marketing budgets, said Phil Spencer, Microsoft Game Studios corporate vice president, in an onstage interview today at the Game Developers Conference. However, Microsoft still wants independent developers on its side and is learning how best to cater to their needs.

“In order for great, diverse content to exist, and not just turn into consumable small games, it’s important to think about how you let gamers invest in what they want to see built, so developers have the funds to bring those games to market,” Spencer said. “Paid alpha is one of those methods.”

By “paid alpha,” he means a model that has gained some recent traction through Valve’s PC gaming store, Steam, with unfinished games like Rust and DayZ each selling more than a million copies while the games were still a long way off from being completed. The model is best associated, though, with Mojang’s megahit Minecraft, which started as a paid alpha on PC and later came to Xbox 360 and mobile devices in platform-specific adaptations.

But that may not be the only way: Letting the Xbox Live community “have a voice” in game funding might continue to happen on Kickstarter or emerge from the game-making tools in the new Xbox and Windows title Project Spark, Spencer said.

He added that the Xbox team has learned much from its relationships with Mojang and Wargaming, maker of the free-to-play game World of Tanks, which also started on PC before coming to the 360 last month. Even though another cash cow on the scale of Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition would doubtless be welcome, Spencer said consoles aren’t Microsoft’s only focus right now.

When interviewer Kris Graft of Gamasutra asked him about Valve entering the living room with its forthcoming Steam Machines, Spencer had only nice things to say.

“I think Valve’s an incredible company,” he said. “They’ve been the backbone of PC gaming for the last decade. … In many ways, they’ve focused more on PC gaming than we have. I was talking to [executive vice president of operating systems] Terry Myerson just yesterday. A renewed focus on Windows and PC gaming inside Microsoft is definitely happening.”

PC developers generally attributed Microsoft’s focus on the Xbox over the PC in the past decade to ex-Microsoftie Don Mattrick, who left Xbox last year for Zynga. As evidence of a change in priorities, Spencer pointed to yesterday’s introduction of its graphics API DirectX 12.

And, as has become mandatory at this year’s GDC, Spencer confirmed that Microsoft is also interested in virtual reality, even though it has not yet announced any plans to enter VR a la Sony’s hyped-and-prototyped Project Morpheus. The lab that developed the Kinect, among other Xbox innovations, has been “looking at things like Oculus and Morpheus,” and has found two scenarios where VR clicks.

The first is using a VR-style headset with traditional games to offer a big-screen experience to someone who doesn’t have room for a big-screen TV, like a student in a dorm room or anyone in a small apartment. However, immersive made-for-virtual-reality games could also be “really compelling,” Spencer said.

“Will it ever become mainstream?” he asked. Good question!

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