Microsoft appears to have thrown in the towel on another console war, before the fight even got started. The company seems to have abandoned its plans for console VR, which leaves Sony’s PSVR in a class of its own.
This years E3 was a somewhat lackluster event for VR fans, but perhaps the most disappointing news is the revelation that Microsoft’s Xbox division has basically abandoned the medium. Two years ago, Phil Spencer, Head of Xbox, took to the stage and proudly revealed Project Scorpio (now known as Xbox One X), Microsoft’s upcoming powerhouse console. Spencer proclaimed that Project Scorpio would be the most powerful gaming console ever made, with the power to deliver “true 4K gaming and high-fidelity VR.”
Microsoft’s new console was a clear response to Sony’s PS4 Pro, and would enable the Xbox platform to offer a competitor to Sony’s then-upcoming PlayStation VR headset. Microsoft didn’t discuss the details of its VR plans, and it didn’t reveal a headset or hardware partner that would provide a headset. However, Microsoft was working with Oculus at the time to provide Xbox One controllers for the Oculus Rift launch bundle, which led to speculation that the new Xbox console would support the Rift headset.
Later that year, Microsoft revealed its plans to bring the Windows operating system into the immersive computing age. The company revealed that Windows Holographic (now Windows Mixed Reality) would launch in 2017 with headsets from several partners. Naturally, Microsoft’s talk of headset partners led us to believe that an Xbox One VR headset was in the works.
Last year, leading up the launch of the console, Microsoft ramped up the hype around the Xbox One X. The company showcased the hardware and boasted of the performance. But curiously, it walked back its messaging about VR capabilities. Microsoft pulled any mention of VR from the Xbox One X website, and it didn’t mention VR at the company’s 2017 E3 press conference.
Following last year’s event, Phil Spencer spoke to The BBC, and his comments revealed that Microsoft was weary of mixed reality “in the living room.” His messaging indicated that Microsoft wanted to iron out the kinks from the Windows Mixed Reality platform before bringing MR to the Xbox platform.
Still Waiting On The Sidelines
Microsoft’s stance on console VR hasn’t changed in the past year. We thought Microsoft would reveal that the Xbox One X would support Windows Mixed Reality headsets, but we no longer expect that to happen. The company is still weary about console VR.
At E3, Spencer sat down with Jeff Gerstmann from Giant Bomb for an interview. During their discussion, Spencer revealed that he doesn’t believe the market is here yet, and he feels that it would be a couple more years before it is, though he is a believer in immersive gaming.
“Long term, I’m a big believer in the category,” said Spencer. “I think it’s incredibly immersive. I think you can deliver a feeling that is just incredible, and I can’t wait to see that come to mass market games and see what creators and developers can do. My view: In the family environment, we’re probably a few years away from being something that would really work.”
Spencer then explained the Microsoft is focused on improving the Mixed Reality experience on Windows before it expands to other platforms.
“Our investment is on the Windows side right now. We built Scorpio; we said this last year, the power of the box is fine for having a VR or MR experience run on it. It’s really that family room environment that we’re struggling a little bit with and we’re saying ok let’s stay on the PC where we’re seeing action and developer interest.”
We still get the impression that Microsoft’s Windows Mixed Reality platform should eventually make its way to the Xbox brand. But we’re no longer convinced that said headset would be compatible with the Xbox One X. Spencer suggested that an Xbox MR headset would necessarily be wireless, and he believes that we’re still a “couple of years” from a viable solution. With the rumors flying around of a new Xbox console coming in 2020, it seems like Microsoft is planning to skip mixed reality on the Xbox One.
And Spencer isn’t the only Microsoft executive that recently discussed the company’s lack of VR-for-Xbox plans. Mike Nichols, Microsoft’s chief marketing officer for gaming, spoke to Gamesindustry.biz about the company’s Xbox division, confirming that Microsoft isn’t currently pursuing immersive gaming on the Xbox platform.
"We don't have any plans specific to Xbox consoles in virtual reality or mixed reality," Nichols told Gamesindustry.biz. "Our perspective on it has been and continues to be that the PC is probably the best platform for more immersive VR and MR. As an open platform, it just allows faster, more rapid iteration. There are plenty of companies investing in it in the hardware side and the content side, or some combination therein. Obviously, on phones, augmented reality is a good scenario as well that's going to grow. But as it relates to Xbox, no. Our focus is primarily on experiences you would play on your TV, and ultimately we'd like to make those experiences more broadly."
Microsoft isn’t necessarily giving up on bringing Windows MR to consoles, but it’s certainly not in a rush to bring fully-immersive gaming to the company’s gaming Xbox gaming brand.