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Xbox Game Studios exec says the focus is diversity — in games, studios, and players

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In Microsoft’s E3 2021 presentation last week, the Xbox maker finally revealed the fruits of its five-year plan to forge an empire. The company’s higher-ups have spent years building to this future, quietly toiling away at acquisitions and refining the Xbox platform while competitor Sony flashed its major cinematic games, like God of War and Spider-Man. Now, Microsoft has something to show for those seemingly slow years.

Based on the Xbox and Bethesda E3 showcase, there appears to be no one “type” of gamer that the company is targeting, with games both big and small in the mix. Then there’s the temptation of a good deal with Xbox Game Pass, and ease of access via Xbox Cloud Gaming. But the company’s focus on inclusivity goes deeper than that, Xbox Game Studios publishing head Peter Wyse told Polygon. Inclusivity is a core tenet for the company, beyond its games.

two people holding hands under a bunk bed in Tell Me Why
Image: Dontnod Entertainment/Xbox Game Studios

“You can see this come to focus in a game like Tell Me Why,” Wyse said. “We’re super proud of that game. It speaks to our values around LGBTQIA+ representation, mental health awareness, and more.”

According to Wyse, this mentality extends to Xbox’s development partners and recruiting processes, too. Microsoft has a relationship with Gameheads, a technology training program that prepares low-income youth and youth of color, ages 15 to 24, for jobs in the video game industry. These initiatives, as well as partnerships with women-led studios and opportunities for creators to speak up about diversity in the industry, lead to Xbox’s more diverse set of games. For instance, Microsoft senior audio director Elise Baldwin is talking about the studio’s inclusive audio practices with Tell Me Why at the Game Developers Conference this year.

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Microsoft’s renewed focus on cloud gaming is similarly aimed at making games more accessible to people who don’t have or want a gaming console or computer. The company’s next big goal is to create “cloud-native games,” Wyse said. “We don’t know exactly what that looks like today, or what that even plays like.”

To help envision the answer to that question, Portal and Left 4 Dead developer Kim Swift will join the Xbox Cloud Gaming team as a senior director. Swift was most recently a game design director at Google Stadia. “Kim is going to build a team focused on new experiences in the cloud, something that’s going to support our mission of bringing our Xbox games to connect 3 billion gamers to play our games,” said Wyse.

“[Xbox head] Phil [Spencer] always talks about that journey of getting the 3 billion players,” Wyse said. He emphasized again that this should include players on all different platforms. “I do get super excited about the idea of high-fidelity gaming on a phone […] that’s the carrot I keep chasing, for sure.”

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