Mr. Xbox himself, Phil Spencer, has boldly appeared on the Kinda Funny Games’ Xcast podcast, where he openly discussed the state of the company and recent developments from the CMA’s block to its Activision Blizzard acquisition and the rough launch of its newest exclusive, Redfall.
Speaking to Redfall, the open world co-op vampire hunting game that launched this week from Xbox Game Studios’ own Arkane, Spencer addressed the game’s incredibly shaky launch which saw mostly mixed-to-negative reviews from critics and players. Spencer claims that internal mock reviews of the game had painted a more positive picture than what eventuated, but attempted to take ownership of the issues surrounding the game.
“There’s nothing that’s more difficult for me than disappointing the Xbox community,” Spencer said (transcribed by VGC). “I’ve been a part of it for a long time. I obviously work on Xbox, I’m head of the business, I have a lot of friends and get a lot of feedback, and just to kind of watch the community lose confidence, be disappointed, I’m disappointed, I’m upset with myself.”
He added: “We do mock reviews for every game that we launch, and this is double digits lower than where we thought we would be with this game through [those]. That’s one of the disappointing things: we would never strive to launch a game that we thought was going to review in the low 60s – it’s not part of our goals.”
Interestingly, Spencer also says that in his opinion and hindsight, Xbox could have done more to work with Arkane on its vision for Redfall earlier in the development cycle – which was already underway when Bethesda and the studio were acquired by Microsoft.
“I do think there’s a different expectation for a game and a team when you’ve been third-party and all of a sudden you become part of first-party,” Spencer said. “There’s a different expectation in terms of how you’re going to perform on our console, and I think there’s a different competitive set when people look at what this game is and… say, ‘hey, I want this game to feel as competitive as this other game on another console platform’.
“And we didn’t do a good job early on in engaging Arkane Austin to really help them understand what it meant to be part of Xbox and part of first-party, and use some of our internal resources to help them move along that journey even faster. We left them to work on the game… they’re a very talented team – I love that team, and I still do, and I will totally bet on them to do another great game.”
Spencer claims that Xbox has done a better job with supporting Bethesda’s own big exclusive, Starfield, due to that game being earlier in development when the acquisition happened.
“We should’ve been there for [Redfall co-creative director] Harvey [Smith] and the team earlier – I think that’s on us,” he continued. “And then through the process, it’s an Unreal [Engine] game: we have a bunch of studios that have done some really great work on Unreal over the years, and I think we were too late to help in that when they had certain issues”.
Elsewhere in the interview, Spencer also quickly addresses the issue of the UK CMA’s block of Xbox’s proposed $69 billion Activision Blizzard takeover, saying ““The CMA decision was disappointing, we’ve been talking to that group for coming up on a year. They’ve defined a market of cloud gaming that, in my mind, doesn’t really exist yet today. But they have a point of view that maybe we have a lead in a market that’s just forming and that this content can somehow prohibit others from competing in that market.
“We’ll appeal; we’ll stay on it. The company remains very, very committed. Activision Blizzard King is not our strategy, but it is an accelerant for our strategy. We’re still heads down and working through regulatory.”