As gamescom kicked off, I had the chance for a quick sit down with our boss while we both visited Cologne. Phil is glad to be back – and he doesn’t just mean at gamescom.
“We’re back – in terms of the production, the game development and the cadence of the games that are coming out,” he tells me. “And it feels great to be at [events like gamescom], getting to show what the teams are working on.”
There is a lot to see – especially as this is his first in-person gamescom appearance since 2017. He’s fresh from introducing never-before-seen Starfield gameplay alongside director Todd Howard, and visiting Xbox’s 50,000 square foot booth. If there’s a single word to describe the vibe in the room, ‘exhilarated’ captures it:
“This is the biggest consumer game show that’s out there, [and it’s] been nice to see how gamescom has grown in importance. As a team, we looked at the opportunity: Starfield is coming out, Forza Motorsport’s following it, we have a lot of partners that wanted to have a presence, and we said, ‘Let’s go out, [have] 50,000 square feet for our booth.’ Make a statement: that Europe’s important; gaming is obviously important; and that we’re investing and we have a lot to show. I’m glad I got to come this year. And the response so far has been fantastic.”
This also feels like an inflection point – after reaffirming a commitment to releasing a first-party game every quarter just two months ago, we are making that promise a reality:
“As we look forward in 2023 and to 2024, we have a lot of confidence – and we have a lot of games coming. So not only Starfield and Forza Motorsport, which are obviously the two this fall, but I have to shout out that I love the drop of Age of Empires IV on console that we did at Opening Night Live – that’s a game I’m gonna play a ton of. But you know, Ara: History Untold is in the booth. Towerborne is in the booth. We’ve got games like Hellblade II and Avowed coming.”
The Age of Empires IV moment is Xbox’s third surprise launch of the year, after Hi-Fi Rush and the enhanced Quake II, both announced at other events. I ask if that’s a case of wanting to save surprises for shows outside of our Summer Xbox Games Showcase – but the answer is more simple:
“So we actually need multiple beats now, because not every game can have a 45 minute Starfield Direct as part of our Showcase. But we need to have time to actually give the creators the time to tell their story, and what they’re shooting for. For multiple moments around the year – from Directs to the Showcase to here at Gamescom – it’s going to be important that we make use of those.”
Before we finish our chat, Phil is particularly keen to point out a personal favorite at the Xbox booth this year. Having been made amid the context of the conflict in Ukraine, STALKER 2 is playable at gamescom – a triumph in itself:
“We’re at a big gaming show, I like to talk about video games, and then you go talk to that team in terms of what they’ve been through, and it makes the discussion about video games seem almost irrelevant,” says Spencer. “In terms of the life experience, what they’ve had to live through in Ukraine. So to spend a little bit of time with the team – hear where they’re at – are people safe? And not everybody is, or has been. And yet they’re here showing their game with pride.
“That kind of transcends what video games are about – it’s awesome that we’re here as part of it. I want STALKER 2 to come out, I want it to be great, but more than any of that I want that team to be safe. And I think building their game has created a rallying point for them, among other things […] With a lot of horrible stuff going on around them, they’ve had this thing – it could have been a video game, it could have been anything – but they’ve had this video game to kind of give them a center. We’ve tried to be a helpful part of their process, but it’s all been about them, and that conviction that they have. Having a STALKER 2 section in the booth, having it playable, having some of the team here – that’s pretty special.”
The lines to play STALKER 2 yesterday are testament to that fact. But the pleasure of having such a stacked line-up is that there’s something for everyone to try. Elsewhere on the booth, I’d point out the likes of the first ever playable build of action-RPG Towerborne – read our full preview on Xbox Wire – and the detailed overview to Ara: History Untold, a new take on grand strategy from many developers who worked on the Civilization series. And make sure to keep an eye on Don’t Nod’s Jusant, which blew me away with its complex, gorgeous climbing mechanics.
Gamescom continues today – but if you’ve not been at the show, you don’t have to miss out. Check out everything we have during our three-day stream event.