Xbox One X Has Enough Games And Won’t Be Held Back By Xbox One S, Microsoft Says
On the eve of the Xbox One X‘s launch, we spoke with Xbox Marketing Senior Director Albert Penello to get his perspective about what the $ 500 console represents and who it’s for. In our in-depth interview, Penello admits that he’s unsure whether we’ll move towards a quicker console cadence and attempts to debunk the notion that there aren’t enough exclusive games to play on the Xbox. The Microsoft exec also says that he doesn’t have a preference whether gamers choose an Xbox One S over the Xbox One X and claims that the X won’t be held back by support for the S.
GameSpot: With the release of the Xbox One X and the PS4 Pro, do you envision a quicker console cadence moving forward, where we’ll get mid-generational upgrades that perhaps release every three to four years that add incremental power, as opposed to the traditional five to seven year console cycle that we’ve been so long accustomed to?
Albert Penello: I think that’s going to be up to customers … We got a great story around compatibility between the consoles, and a large number of enhanced titles that are available. We are introducing kind of a new idea as you pointed out, a mid-cycle performance upgrade. I do think consumers these days are more used to more frequent performance in their devices, and tend to focus really on the compatibility of their games and the consistency of their library, which is clearly something we’ve invested in at Xbox. In terms of how it plays out in the future, that is gonna be up to customers. We’re gonna have to watch and see how this goes.
There’s more content to play than there is time to play it
Microsoft has stated that the Xbox One X is a part of the eighth generation of consoles, which is the same as the Xbox One before it. What do you have to say to people who might be waiting for Microsoft’s “ninth generation” of console?
I would say that we’re not talking about a next generation of consoles. We’re launching the Xbox One X. It’s a joke I’ve had because it’s funny that when it seems that as soon as you announce a new thing, people always ask about the next thing. I would say that we are really in the Xbox One ecosystem. We’re super committed to Xbox One. We’ve said that all games are compatible on both systems, that we’re not gonna do exclusives for Xbox One X, and that we’re gonna be supporting Xbox One X for a long time to come.
Like I said, I’m not sure what the future’s gonna hold in terms of how the hardware’s gonna roll out. We are super committed to game compatibility and making sure that people’s libraries and the titles and accessories that they have will continue to work. That’s really the energy that we’re putting into building up a really strong team and a lot of muscle on the software side around compatibility. That’s definitely a big area of adjustment for us.
One of the reasons I wanted to ask about the ninth generation, so to speak, is that there seems to be a perception out there that this mid-generational upgrade is not a very significant jump, like something that you would see moving from the Xbox 360 to the Xbox One. From what I’ve personally been hearing so far, I think a lot of people don’t fully grasp that the Xbox One X represents a pretty substantial hardware leap compared to older hardware refreshes.
It is a pretty big performance jump. It’s five-ish times more powerful than the Xbox One while maintaining 100 percent compatibility. It’s got significantly more memory bandwidth. It is a pretty big technological leap between the boxes. Being able to deliver that and deliver not only having your games work, but work better. I think it’s a pretty significant achievement and something which we’ve focused really hard on trying to deliver for fans. Technology’s changing as well, which is why it’s hard to say what the next step is gonna look like. …We’ve brought back OG titles. We’re upgrading 360 titles. Those types of things are really a testament to trying to preserve people’s libraries and the investments they’ve made in Xbox.
When Microsoft first unveiled the Xbox One X, the company revealed that the console would support VR. Here we are, nearly a year and a half later, and we haven’t heard much about VR support. Is VR support still coming?
Right now, as we’ve said, we really wanted to focus this year on launching the new console. We’ll talk about VR when we have something to announce around VR. Obviously from a Microsoft perspective, we’ve invested a lot in VR and AR. We’ve announced that we got first-party titles that are working. From a Microsoft perspective, VR is still something that is really important to us. From an Xbox perspective we just really… there’s so much about Xbox One X that’s really different. There’s so many things to communicate. You, yourself, just brought up that there’s still questions on people’s minds. It was really important for us right now that the focus is on Xbox One X, the focus for customers and the focus for developers is on Xbox One X. When we have something to announce around VR then we will.
As a part of your Xbox Play Anywhere program, you’re allowing PC users to purchase and download Xbox games to play on their PCs. While I’m sure many PC gamers are happy about this, is there any concern internally that this might hurt the company’s Xbox division in the long run?
No, not at all. I think that in this day and age people play on multiple devices. When I was growing up, the platform that you were on is how you defined yourself. You were a console gamer because that was the only thing you had. You were a PC gamer because that was the only thing you had. Nowadays you define yourself more by your preferences. People play on multiple devices. People that want console games, they want that console experience. They want that living room experience. People that want PCs, they want that customizability. They want the versatility of a PC. They want the control. They’re two different user behaviors.
I’m not sure what the future’s gonna hold in terms of how the hardware’s gonna roll out.
I think on the internet, it becomes an interesting debate about what it means to ship on PCs, but in reality, it’s just extra value for customers because many people have both systems. Giving them the extra value of being able to own that game on both a PC and a console at the same time is absolutely a net positive. We’ll be seeing over time more and more people understanding the value they get with playing anywhere. Outside of the internet discussion, I don’t think real customers think about it as anything other than a net positive to get more value out of their dollar.
Some gamers are saying that it doesn’t matter how powerful the Xbox One X is, if Microsoft isn’t able to offer more compelling, exclusive games moving forward. What do you have to say to some of these critics?
I would say that there’s more content to play than there is time to play it. We have a great exclusive line that we ship, we shipped Cuphead, we shipped Forza 7, we’ve got PUBG coming out, which is the biggest thing in gaming right now. We are going to open up that title to millions of new people who aren’t playing on PCs that are going to experience it on console…
I look at things like Game Pass, and Play Anywhere, OG back compat, and 360 games getting upgraded. There’s over thirteen hundred titles on Xbox One, there’s over two hundred exclusives, there’s just so much content to play. Again, I think it’s a thing that gets discussed within the industry. The funny thing is, I talk to my friends, and even myself, I’ve got way more stuff to play than I can possibly get through. So, there’s plenty of content to play on Xbox.
With the Xbox One X, you are leaving it in the hands of gaming developers to see how they want to use the consoles extra processing power. Is Microsoft doing anything to make clear what games will be enhanced and how exactly they will be enhanced?
That’s a great question. So we have a bunch of things that we’re doing. Because of the nature of game development, and how many different ways there are to build game engines, and to build graphical engines, keeping track of a very specific level details of enhancements is something that we have to put in the hands of the game developers and the publishers of those games.
It’s really not any different than it is…even without Xbox One X, if you still do get Xbox One today, the specific resolution, the frame-rate, and graphical features aren’t really highlighted on the package. For the people that care about those subtle details, that information is easily accessible today.
We do know that people want to know what games are taking advantage of the power of their box, which is why we have Xbox One X in hand. There’s three things that we do track for customers. We track Xbox One X enhanced, we track 4K, and we track HDR. All three of those are available through a source in our store, so if you go to Xbox.com, or the Microsoft store, or the store on your console, you can sort games by those features.
We have Xbox One X enhanced filters on both Xbox One X and Xbox One S. So this way users can actually look in their library and see what games are going to be taking advantage if they should choose to upgrade to an Xbox One X. We have a website, Xbox.com/enhanced, where we are trying our best to keep a running list of all the titles, and which of those three features they support.
So Xbox One X enhanced, 4K, HDR, those are the things that we track, and those are the things that we think are important to customers that we make sortable and searchable for purchase. Beyond that because there’s just so many games, doing things so differently, we encourage users to sort of check with us, the developers, and the publishers to see what specifically they’re doing.
What incentive do developers have to spend additional time and resources to enhance their games for Xbox One X, if any?
The support for Xbox One X has been amazing. There aren’t any [monetary] incentives other than rebuild a system that is extremely powerful and very easy to develop for. We built a bespoke dev kit for Xbox One X, just for Project Scorpio that allowed them to easily get their PC content and their Xbox One engines up and running. So we had a really strong focus on the developer and making the profit for upgrading easy.
No one has to feel like we’re forcing or requiring anyone to upgrade
In fact, the way we built the box was based on real game engines, so by profiling existing titles and existing game engines, and seeing how much power we needed to drive 4K displays, to bring HDR and wide color, to bring those 4K PC textures. Every spec in the box was built to deliver on the promise of the box itself. That makes it very easy for developers to support it. We have over 160 enhanced games announced. Depending on how they go, we’ll have somewhere between 50 and 70 titles within the first two weeks. Which is more titles taking advantage of a new box than any new console launch ever. Typically, you’re in the neighborhood of 20 some odd titles that take advantage of a new console when it launches, and we’ll be in the 50 to 70 range.
What do you have to say to the user who might be concerned that only a small percentage of games will feature Xbox One X enhancements?
Yeah, you know, the 160 is not only inclusive it’s… the 160 is actually mostly games that have yet to ship. There are games that from the last year that are getting updates. All the major publishers have announced Xbox One X-enhanced titles, and like I said, it’s really easy.
Anybody that’s building a game on PC, which is almost everyone today… is already building these 4K assets for the PC. So I think we’re going to see extremely strong developer support. And even if they don’t, there is hard work in the box that makes unpatched games run better. So even these titles that don’t have any Xbox One X enhancements will see better texture filtering, faster load times. If they are built with variable frame rate or variable resolution, they will run at their highest level. So even games that aren’t built specifically for Xbox One X will see performance improvements over the Xbox One versions.
The Xbox One X is significantly more powerful than the Xbox One before it. What do you have to say to users who think that the performance might be held back by the original console?
Well, I would say that we built the box to be 100 percent compatible. It is the same console. It is the same family of devices. They run the same engine. Today, I like to use the analogy on PC. You never see people say, “Wow, you still have Intel integrated graphics chips,” because the 1080 Ti dual SLI versions of the game were held back. Game engines, by nature, today are highly scalable. Regardless of Xbox One X or PlayStation  Pro, the games are already built to take advantage of a wide variety of performances. So it’s no different. When you build an Xbox One S game, you get an Xbox One X version, and vice versa. Even today, we only had development kits for Xbox One X out since E3, and you will already see pretty dramatic upgrades from any other titles that are on the market, and that’s only with a few months of development. I think there’s a lot of head room in Xbox One X, and Xbox One S doesn’t hold back the Xbox One X potential in the slightest.
Will there ever be any exclusive games with the Xbox One X or will you will always making it an onus for developers to support both SKUs?
There will always be versions for both consoles. It is the same family of consoles.
What are you most proud of in regards to the Xbox One X?
This is going to be a silly answer, I am proud of the keen attention to detail. It’s the little flourishes and the little things that we did like the port locations and the power cable being the same. It doesn’t seem like something big, but the fact that we were able to build a console significantly more powerful and make it smaller and use the same cables as the existing box, so that upgrading is easy and moving back and forth is simple. That level of attention to detail is something in the craftsmanship that we put into the hardware is something I’m really proud of.
Is there anything that you would like to say to our readers about the Xbox One X or about the Xbox One family in general?
What I really want to say is that no one has to feel like we’re forcing or requiring anyone to upgrade. There is not a bad choice in buying either an Xbox One S or an Xbox One X. We’re gonna support both consoles. We’re gonna make games for both consoles. The investment in games that you’re making are gonna carry forward. If you are ready to upgrade later to an Xbox One X, that’s awesome. If not, we are going to continue to support both consoles well into the future.