Phil Spencer on Why Xbox has no Zelda or Horizon

The first quarter of 2017 has already been a dream for gamers. With a host of game of the year contenders released in the first four months of the year from Nintendo and Sony, it’s easy to notice the comparative lack of system exclusives coming from Microsoft’s corner.

In a recent interview with the Guardian, head of Xbox Phil Spencer may have explained exactly why that is.

Spencer acknowledges the brilliance of well executed story based releases, even citing Playdead’s Inside as one of the best games of 2016, but says ultimately these titles are overshadowed by service-based games.

“The audience for those big story-driven games… I won’t say it isn’t as large, but they’re not as consistent,” says Spencer. “You’ll have things like Zelda or Horizon Zero Dawn that’ll come out, and they’ll do really well, but they don’t have the same impact that they used to have, because the big service-based games are capturing such a large amount of the audience.”

The comments were part of a conversation about service-based gaming and long-term software support, and whilst they in no way suggest Microsoft won’t be releasing any big story-based first-party exclusive titles, it does go some way to explain why there are so few on the Xbox system.


Nintendo released The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild to near perfect scores across the board, with sales exceeding even their highly anticipated new console at 3.84 million copies in its first month. It offers a vibrant, expansive sandbox with exceptional gameplay and a revolutionary engine that delivers incredible in-game physics. You can go anywhere, you can do just about anything and you can solve puzzles in your own way.

In Sony’s camp, Guerilla’s massive open world post-apocalyptic RPG has been met with rave reviews, selling 2.6 million copies in just two weeks. It’s traditionally much more of a risk to launch a brand new, unique IP but Horizon has done just that with huge success. It’s a masterclass in story-telling, and its outstanding HDR graphics have gone a long way to illustrate the strengths of Sony’s PS4 Pro.


In the same vein, Microsoft will presumably be looking for their own big system seller to show off just how powerful the Scorpio really is. But the reality is Microsoft have very few high profile exclusive system-sellers, and they haven’t had a story-lead exclusive in recent years that would match the popularity of Zelda or Horizon. In contrast just this year Playstation have had success with Nioh, Yakuza 0, Gravity Rush 2 and Persona 5.

“Sony’s first-party studios do a lot of these games, and they’re good at them, but outside of that, it’s difficult – they’re become more rare,” says Spencer. “it’s a difficult business decision for those teams, you’re fighting into more headwind.”

Instead, Phil Spencer believes the priorities of Xbox are in supporting the development of service-based games and their infrastructure. You can read the full interview here


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