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Xbox Series X difference will be immersion more than visuals, Spencer says

Head of Xbox talks about what will separate Microsoft's next-gen experiences, says cell phone-like All Access payment program will be "critical" this generation

Microsoft's head of Xbox Phil Spencer is banking on immersion to make the Xbox Series X a must-buy for gamers, and he thinks the Xbox All Access cell phone-like payment plan will help them afford it.

In a Game Lab Live keynote today, Spencer answered a question from interviewer Seth Schiesel about what kinds of experiences he expected to highlight the power of the Xbox Series X.

"This is always a difficult question because I know people are looking for the one, two or three tech that only show up on a certain platform or is only made possible on a certain platform," Spencer said. "And I think it's just a matter of degrees. It has been for a while."

There were clearer differences to the sort of games that could be created by new hardware in previous generational shifts, Spencer said, pointing to the jump from 2D games to 3D games as an obvious difference for players.

"We're at a point now -- with immersion, with the tools we have and the compute capability -- that the deltas will be smaller from a visual impact..."

"I think we're at a point now -- with immersion, with the tools we have and the compute capability -- that the deltas will be smaller from a visual impact, or that feature X was never possible before and now it is. And that might sound depressing to some, but what I would say is the advantage side of what I'm seeing now is really the immersive nature of the content that's getting created."

Spencer said that the benefits will be felt most clearly in the mitigation of long load times and low or inconsistent frame rates that he believes hurt player immersion.

"We're able to get to almost lifelike graphics today, even on current gen in certain instances," Spencer said. "But when you take that and you mix it with a very high frame rate, solid frame rate, very little latency in input, and the ability for game storytellers to really push the emotion and the story they're trying to get through their game, through the screen, through the controller and into you? That is something I'm feeling in the games now that is a dramatic step up.

"I don't know that it goes from X to Y in terms of feature capability, but definitely in terms of the feeling of immersion in the content that's being created right now, I think we're going to come to a really great future where stories will have even more feeling and impact."

Of course, that immersion will come at a cost. And while Microsoft hasn't announced a price for the Xbox Series X yet, at least one analyst expects it to be in the $450 to $500 range .

"Xbox All Access is going to be critical to both our launch for Xbox Series X as well as just the overall generation"

In light of that high cost of entry, Schiesel asked Spencer about plans for the Xbox All Access payment program, which mirrors that of many cell phone makers. Microsoft rolled out the plan in 2018, offering players an Xbox One S or Xbox One X console and Xbox Game Pass and Live Gold with no upfront cost but on a two-year subscription term.

While Microsoft has expanded its trials of the All Access program, it isn't available globally and hasn't been a focus of Microsoft's in the same way Game Pass itself has been. Going by Spencer's remarks, that could soon change.

"Xbox All Access is going to be critical to both our launch for Xbox Series X as well as just the overall generation," Spencer said.

He added, "The response that we've seen where we've tested All Access has been great, but as you said, it's been limited in terms of the market. So you're going to see a much broader market and retailer support for All Access. And as you said, it matches a model customers use for many other devices they buy. And if you have services attached to those devices that people love, it just becomes an easier way to bring a great product to customers."

With unemployment rates soaring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there may also be fewer people with the wherewithal to buy a console, games, and accessories in the traditional manner.

"We should also understand the global economic situation we're going to see this year," Spencer said. "We're seeing it today. And I think having more pricing options for consumers is frankly just a thoughtful thing for us as industry to think about."

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Brendan Sinclair

Managing Editor

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