Phil Spencer at E3 2018.
Image Credit: Microsoft/GamesBeat
Microsoft’s Windows Mixed Reality initiative may have brought multiple VR headsets and a substantial quantity of VR software to the PC platform, but the company still isn’t planning to leverage that momentum to bring VR to Xbox users. Adding VR support to the platform would take too much work at this point to justify its returns, Microsoft gaming chief Phil Spencer suggested during a new podcast with GamerTag Radio, so the company is apparently going to keep waiting until the feature becomes a “no brainer.”
Spencer’s latest comments come months after he set off a firestorm within the VR community by suggesting that “nobody’s asking for VR” and wrongly claiming that “nobody’s selling millions and millions” of VR headsets. Now the executive is modestly walking back the negativity, framing his prior statements as a matter of practicality.
“I wanted to be clear with our customers on where our focus was,” Spencer said, so if customers hoped Microsoft would “bring out a VR headset for Xbox Series X at the launch or something I was just trying to say we’re not going to do that … we have to focus our efforts on the things that we’re doing right now.”
Microsoft is currently working towards a late 2020 launch of the new console, notably without Series X exclusive games in an apparent effort to maximize the total amount of software it can sell. Meanwhile, rival Sony has already committed to supporting its prior PlayStation VR headset on the upcoming PlayStation 5, as well as introducing new VR hardware with advanced capabilities in the future.
On paper, extending VR support from Windows to the Xbox seems like a straightforward endeavor. Xbox shares an OS kernel with Windows, which should enable Windows VR software to be ported fairly easily to the Xbox platform. But “VR is not just as simple as plugging your headset” into the console, Spencer said. “You have to redo the dash, like there’s a bunch of work that goes into it.” While Valve, Sony, and Facebook’s Oculus division have done that work and “know the completeness and what it means to support that platform,” Spencer said he doesn’t see the feature as “so important” that it’s a “no-brainer for us to support it” — yet. But he says he hopes demand for VR hardware will increase.
It remains to be seen whether Microsoft’s decision to pass on VR in the early days of the Xbox Series X will be viewed as a prudent strategic move or a serious error in judgment. PC-compatible VR headsets ranging from the $399 Oculus Quest to the $999 Valve Index experienced sell-outs during and after the holiday season, due in no small measure to massive excitement over Valve’s upcoming PC VR exclusive Half-Life: Alyx. Last month, Sony announced that it has sold over 5 million PlayStation VR headsets, up roughly a million just in 2019.
Heading into a year where Half-Life is likely to further increase interest in and demand for both VR hardware and high-end machines, Microsoft could have ridden the wave to a major Xbox Series X exclusive for the 2020 holiday season. Instead, it may wind up losing a few million potential early adopters to the PlayStation 5, while it continues to focus its own mixed reality hardware efforts on HoloLens AR headsets that have historically sold only tens of thousands of units, rather than millions.