We waited with bated breath for news on Xbox Project Scarlett (now officially known as Xbox Series X) at X019. After all, Microsoft had already spilled some details on its next generation hardware earlier in the year, including a release window, so Xbox’s annual event would be the perfect time to follow-up with a full reveal, right? Apparently not.
There’s been little to no mention of Xbox Project Scarlett at X019, instead we've had announcements of new IPs, updates on Project xCloud and the expected reveal of Xbox's Black Friday deals.
While we may be disappointing at the lack of next-generation news, according to Microsoft Game Studios head Matt Booty, there's plenty to look forward to on the horizon.
We sat down with the Xbox exec at X019 in London to discuss Xbox Scarlett's absence and what Microsoft Game Studios is focusing on when it comes to Xbox Project Scarlett games.
Where's Project Scarlett?
"We will have other beats throughout the year and other beats between now and the launch of Scarlett, where I think obviously we'll be sharing more news," Booty tells TechRadar, when we ask about the absence of Xbox Project Scarlett at X019. "But we really want the focus of X019 to be about engaging with the fans."
That means a focus on games, and Xbox certainly had plenty of news to share on that front: New IPs from Sea of Thieves developer Rare and Obsidian Entertainment, not to mention a truckload of games coming to Xbox Game Pass, led X019's announcements. But Microsoft is still very much holding its cards to its chest.
"We have things that we haven't talked about yet," Booty teases. "Some things we'll be talking about before the end of the year and then, headed into 2020, we have got one of the most dense lineup of games that I can remember in recent history in terms of first party."
Despite not explicitly discussing Xbox Project Scarlett, Xbox’s upcoming game lineup does give us a pretty good taste of what to expect when it comes to next generation Xbox games.
Xbox isn't holding these games for Scarlett's release, a move that would - on paper - make much more sense. Instead, Microsoft wants to emphasize that the leap to Scarlett doesn’t mean other consoles in the Xbox family (or their owners) are being left in the dust. The future of Xbox aims to include the whole family, suggesting that the newly released titles the company has announced today - and plan to reveal in the near future - will be cross-generation, compatible with both Xbox Scarlett and Xbox one.
"Perhaps we feel confident about our content pipeline so that we feel like we don't have to save everything up for [Scarlett]," Booty tells us. "But then I will also say that, really for any device these days, when you launch a new device you are not eliminating all of the devices in that family.
"When Scarlett launches there will still be the Xbox One S out there, there will still be Xbox One X, and we really need to approach that family of devices, the same way we approach PC - content scales to meet the device. I think that's going to be the case for anybody. We will absolutely lean in on the power of Scarlett, we think is going to be the best way to play and it will be the best thing you can put in your living room, but we also want to understand that there will be a family of Xbox devices out there."
It's an approach that could give Microsoft leverage over Sony in the future, helping it to both retain and build a community over the entire Xbox family. Especially when we take into account Sony is aiming to quickly transition its PS4 player base to PS5.
"I think we are really focused on delivering on that promise," Booty tells us. "Knowing that if a player invested in Xbox, if they invest in Scarlett, then they can make that investment and feel good about being an Xbox owner and knowing that we're going to bring content going forward, which is going to range all the way from existing big franchises to announcements about big IPs."
But, of course, Microsoft games are no longer beholden to one console. Xbox Game Pass has proved a roaring success across console and PC, allowing the company to publish games that perhaps were never on its radar, and giving Microsoft's in-house developers more room to experiment.
"It just allows our game creators to do what they do best, which is make a game," Booty explains. "Now whether that's The Outer Worlds, where it's a standalone single player game that's about 25 hours long, or a game like Bleeding Edge, which structurally looks closer to a free-to-play a game, it can go into Game Pass and it has room to live there.
"It has really freed us up from having to think about designing around a service or around a business model, and being able to just design the games that the team wants to work on."
More room for a larger variety of games could potentially reduce the quality of the titles. However, Microsoft is acutely aware of keeping Game Pass' library from merely becoming a menagerie of any and all Xbox games.
"I don't want Game Pass to become the place where half finished or lower quality games end up," Booty tells us. "It's not at all our intention. Given particularly some of the challenges that we've had recently with some things coming out of the Xbox Game Studios, that may not have been at the quality level that we want, I think for the the time being, we're going to stay very focused on improving our execution and improving the quality of games that we make."
And that high quality is something which will be a key factor in Xbox Project Scarlett's game offering. That, and creating something which will last. When it comes to late 2020's console wars, the technology may be neck and neck, so what can Xbox do to set it apart from Sony?
"When the technology becomes sufficiently advanced, you can almost do anything," Booty tells us. "I think what becomes important is to focus on 'what are the things that will endure' and those are stories and characters. I think it's our job to create those and then use the technology that's in hand to bring them to life. We never want to go out and make a game that's designed around a piece of technology, I think we would rather say 'look this is the world that I envision, this is the thing I want to bring to life, what technology is available to me that can do that the best?'"
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