Microsoft eyes impact of Xbox Series X software developed from home

"I can feel it in the teams - they're stretched."

Microsoft remains confident its Xbox Series X console will be ready for launch at the end of this year, but is keeping a close eye on its software side - its games and system services - many of which are now being developed remotely.

Supply chains for the hardware itself are starting to pick up as factories in China re-open, but as the coronavirus pandemic spreads, Microsoft's teams working on the console's firmware and launch game line-up are having to get used to working from home.

In a wide-ranging interview with IGN, Xbox boss Phil Spencer (speaking from his own home office) said these teams are being "stretched" as they work remotely - that their safety came first, and that he wouldn't hold back the console if launch line-up star Halo: Infinite slipped.

"The two big issues we're monitoring right now are - building a video game from home [with] a large distributed team of hundreds of people is not easy," Spencer said. "Video games as we know right now are big, there are huge asset bases that each one of these games have. How you trend up all those things is something we're just living.

"On the hardware platform side - when I had my Series X at home and I'm using it for testing, I had a great time doing that but that time with the console is important. We want to ensure we have the right time to get the platform tech in place. We've had to move a lot of that testing into the home.

"I'd say things right now aren't easy, I think they're stretched. I can feel it in the teams - they're stretched. We have nothing right now that says we're not going to make the dates we've been planning but I'll also say this is real-time stuff and I'll put the safety and security of teams at the top, along with a quality product. I don't want to rush a product out if it's not ready."

What if the console was ready but Halo: Infinite - Microsoft's biggest system seller for the Xbox Series X launch - needed more time? Spencer said he would not hold back the whole console for any single game - not even Halo.

"I don't think we would hold the launch of the overall platform for any individual game," he said. "We just have to be very transparent on where we are and how we're trending, which is something we've tried to do from the beginning of this platform."

But surely the console launch could be impacted if the system's own software wasn't ready in time? Yes, Spencer acknowledged - as Microsoft did not want a repeat of what happened at the launch of Xbox One.

"Hardware and system and service software - those things have to stay linked," Spencer admitted. "I don't want to ship a piece of hardware where the platform's not completely there. I'll just laugh and say I think we've done that before and we don't want to do it again."

Spencer also ruled out launching the console regionally as a way to mitigate a worldwide delay - noting that every time he visited Japan he was still "reminded" of the fact Xbox One arrived there "nine months late".

These are issues the entire games industry is having to react to as 2020 unfolds - and one which we may not get firm answers to for months yet.

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Tom Phillips

Tom Phillips

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