Microsoft’s Xbox chief, Phil Spencer, says the company’s next-gen Xbox Series X console is still on schedule for later this year, but game production is a little more of an unknown. In an interview with CNBC, Spencer notes that there could be “some impact” to Xbox Series X schedules, but that “the teams are doing a very good job with keeping our hardware on track” and “overall we’re in line with where we thought we would be.”
Microsoft hasn’t provided an exact release date for the Xbox Series X beyond holiday 2020. Several official Xbox sites listed a launch date of “Thanksgiving 2020” back in March, but Microsoft said this was inaccurate and the company was still committed to launching in holiday 2020. If Microsoft was planning to launch the Xbox Series X as soon as November, the company’s vague holiday 2020 schedule gives Microsoft some wiggle room either way.
While the hardware is still on track, things are less clear on the game front. Microsoft has only officially committed to launching Halo Infinite alongside the Xbox Series X, but even this title and other first-party games won’t be exclusive to the new Xbox.
“I’d say the bigger unknown is probably the game production, just being honest,” says Spencer. “Game production is a large scale entertainment activity now, you have hundreds of people coming together, building assets, working through creative.”
Xbox game developers are now mostly working from home, creating and sharing assets that are often gigabytes in size over US home internet connections — an obvious challenge. “On the game production side, we’re learning every day,” admits Spencer. “I still feel good about it, but I also need to make sure that the security and safety of the teams is the most important thing, and not unduly push when things just aren’t ready.”
Microsoft teased Halo Infinite two years ago, and provided more glimpses of Master Chief in a five-minute video last year. We still know very little about the game, beyond that it continues the current storyline after Halo 5, and appears to be an open-world version of Halo. Microsoft has also been building a new Slipspace Engine to power the game.
Microsoft has already delayed Wasteland 3 and Minecraft Dungeons due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and there are fears Halo Infinite could see some form of delay, too. Spencer said last month that “things right now aren’t easy,” in an interview with IGN. “Things are stretched. I can feel it in the teams — they are stretched.”
Microsoft is now planning to showcase games for the Xbox Series X during an online event next week. The software giant will show third-party titles, and will hold back its own Xbox Game Studios titles, like Halo Infinite, for an event in the summer.
Next week’s event will give us a first good look at how game developers are optimizing for the Xbox Series X. It’s likely that most early games we see will be enhanced for the Xbox Series X in a similar way that titles were optimized for the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro launch. Expect to see a big focus on frame rates, load times, and ray tracing.
It’s also a chance to see how many games will take advantage of Microsoft’s upcoming Smart Delivery program for cross-generation games between the Xbox Series X and Xbox One. Smart Delivery allows you to buy an Xbox One version of a game and get the upgrade to the Xbox Series X version free of charge. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla — the new viking-based iteration of the popular franchise — will support Smart Delivery, which is an encouraging sign for the next generation of consoles.