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Platform holders will foster new funding alternatives - Phil Spencer

Microsoft Studios head addresses possible alpha funding of Xbox One games, an iOS App Store approach to certification, and the potential of VR

One of the last big sessions of GDC was a "fireside chat" session where Microsoft Studios head Phil Spencer fielded questions from Gamasutra editor-in-chief Kris Graft. While the pair touched on a bit of the Xbox One's performance to date, much of the discussion was focused on the platform's future, and how Microsoft was planning to keep it abreast of current trends.

One such trend was the rise of alternative funding measures, specifically the alpha funding process that is at the heart of Steam Early Access hits like Day Z or Rust. Spencer noted the traditional console business model didn't allow for such efforts, but said the "walled garden" approach that was built around a purely retail sales environment has been changing.

"I think there's an area of evolution that us as platform holders will go through in this generation of helping developers fund their games socially as well," Spencer said. "We don't really have that in place on console today; you do in some other places. In order for great, diverse content to exist and it not turn into simply a bunch of consumable, small games, it's going to be important that us as platform holders to think about how you let gamers invest in things they want to see built so that developers have the funds to bring those things to market."

It's not something Microsoft has a firm plan for today, Spencer said, but it's an area he expects to evolve over the course of this console generation. That won't be the only thing changing over the course of the Xbox One's lifespan. When asked about the idea of opening up developer access to the system's online storefront to mirror the checklist certification of the iOS App Store, Spencer was clearly open to the idea.

"The free store where anything lands and you compete based on quality is fundamentally a good thing," Spencer said. "That's capitalism, an open marketplace, and it leads to great things happening. For us, over the generation, we want to get to the point where we support that."

That said, he recognized that there are some benefits to a consistent, curated experience, saying consumers don't need "1,000 iFart apps" to show up on their TVs when they launch the store.

"There aren't any barriers to what we would entertain, but we want to make sure that if we do it, that we do it well for both the gamer and the developer," Spencer said.

Finally, Spencer touched on one of the big trends of GDC: new virtual reality technologies. He said VR is cool technology, but doesn't expect it to replace the existing game-playing paradigms.

"When I think about VR and the uses of it in gaming, I think there's a real there, there," Spencer said. "I don't think every game requires me to put goggles on my face to go play it."

However, he envisions multiple uses for the technology. Beyond the fully immersive applications VR advocates are promising for the future, Spencer suggested other scenarios where the tech would be welcome, such as for a college student whose dorm room doesn't have space for a 60-inch plasma TV. He's also interested in seeing what audiences wind up gravitating toward VR, whether it proves more appealing for hardcore gamers or more casual players.

"The big hump will be in the middle, or even closer to the casual side in terms of real usage, but I think the technology is really interesting and it's definitely something we've been playing with for quite a while," Spencer said.

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Brendan Sinclair avatar

Brendan Sinclair

Managing Editor

Brendan joined in 2012. Based in Toronto, Ontario, he was previously senior news editor at GameSpot in the US.