Phil Spencer Talks Microsoft’s E3 2019, And Tells Us Why He Was Apprehensive About Keanu Reeves’ Surprise Appearance

GAMING

In an in-depth interview with GameSpot, Xbox boss Phil Spencer spoke at length about Microsoft's past, present, and future in gaming. During the conversation, he addressed E3 2019, and one of the topics he discussed was the added pressure to succeed in the wake of Sony not holding its traditional press conference.

"Normally what would happen is, on Sunday, we'd do our show and then Sony would go on Monday and then Nintendo on Monday or Tuesday," Spencer said. "With Sony not in the middle, our show kind of sat on its own, which I think was kind of a positive and a challenge in some ways because there was nothing for it to reflect against." E3 2019 was the last show before Microsoft really starts marketing its next platform, codenamed Scarlett, he explained, so it was especially important to let fans know that there's still plenty to expect on Xbox One–years' worth of releases–before the generation closes out.

This is largely why the Scarlett reveal was at the end of Microsoft's press conference, instead of being a focus at the beginning of the show, like previous console reveals at E3. Though the next-generation Xbox is on the way, it's still a way out and so the majority of the games announced at Microsoft's E3 2019 conference were focused on its current platform. Microsoft also just didn't have answers to many questions about Scarlett. The hardware's appearance, official name, cost, and day one game line-up are all still up in the air.

When it came to the objective of ensuring the focus was still on Xbox One, Spencer said he feels like Microsoft largely succeeded–especially since the company mostly announced games or expansions that had a foreseeable release date, so viewers could make concrete plans for them. "The Lego stuff is a good example," Spencer said. "On Lego Forza, you just saw it's coming to your console that week. Some of the things were literally launching right as we [announced] it, like the State of Decay stuff."

"Of the 14 first-party games that we showed, I think 12 or 13 of them are shipping before the next E3," Spencer continued. "When you're thinking about all this, we had a huge show. It was higher social engagement than last year, higher ratings for us than last year. The fact that we got to open with four first-party games in a row–[something] we've never done before–those were cool to see, even for our own teams, as a worthwhile milestone for us. We could actually open a show with four first-party games and they were all received very well and did very well. That's, I think, what we aspire to."

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Because of the importance of making a good impression with Xbox One's upcoming game line-up, Spencer was actually apprehensive of agreeing to CD Projekt Red's request to have Keanu Reeves present onstage during the Cyberpunk 2077 portion of Microsoft's press conference. "[People] obviously loved having Keanu Reeves come out on stage [though]," Spencer said, "Which actually surprised me a little bit. The hit rate on celebrities on gaming stages at E3 is not incredibly high, including for us. Some of [my apprehension was] just my having lived through [seeing] celebrities on stage at E3 and seeing it become a little cringe-worthy. It was cool to see this one work."

Not all of the feedback for Microsoft's showing at E3 was positive though. Fans seemed miffed at the lack of gameplay for the two biggest upcoming Xbox first-party titles, Gears 5 and Halo Infinite. And there's still a general level of confusion around cloud gaming and streaming on consoles with xCloud. "Gears and Halo, two of the bigger first-party games there, both felt more like trailers than somebody standing on a stage with a controller playing the game," Spencer admitted. "From a clarity standpoint, the whole idea of console streaming in xCloud–I think streaming in general–is just an area that people aren't really versed in thinking about [yet]. I think we're going to have to do, frankly, two, three, or four more [shows] before people really understand what we're doing with it."

More Exclusive Phil Spencer Coverage

We've broken out several stories of note from our conversation with Phil Spencer and outlined the full list of news articles below, including our big profile on the outspoken and positive leader of Xbox.

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