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Xbox Game Studios’ top executive on Hollywood’s video game renaissance and hesitation about AR/VR


While Microsoft faces legal setbacks over its proposed acquisition of Activision Blizzard, the company’s Xbox games division continues to release its own studio games, including the highly anticipated title, Star field, which is slated for a September release date. The space-themed epic will be the first new IP from Bethesda Game Studios, the developer behind hit franchises Fallout And The older scrolls in 25 years and serve as the studio’s first major work since joining Xbox in 2021 as part of a $7.5 billion acquisition.

Heading up Microsoft’s in-house gaming division is Matt Booty, who oversees a portfolio of 23 studios and some of gaming’s largest franchises. The Hollywood Reporter sat down with Booty this weekend to follow the Xbox Games Showcase to discuss the video game renaissance in Hollywood and his thoughts on emerging technology like AR, VR and cloud gaming.

We like the Hollywood angle here, so I’m thinking of those movie and TV adaptations. Star field could be an easy example. Is something in the works?

I have nothing to share there Star fieldbut i like your point that the worlds that we create in games, the characters that we create … people build entire digital hobbies around and invest hundreds of hours in so it’s cool to see linear media as we call it that acknowledge.

We have our Halo TV series with Paramount; we’ve got season one and we’re shooting season two right now. We have the Minecraft movie coming up with Jason Momoa. We recently announced that we are the Weapons of war franchise with Netflix and we hired the writer who was the writer of the Dune movies, (Jon Spaihts), to work on, which is pretty exciting. I take that as a sign of their confidence in the franchise. And then there’s some other things that we’ve done that I can’t, you know, they’re not public yet, but there’s a lot.

Hollywood seems to have a newfound appreciation for video game IP, especially with recent successes like The last of us and things like that. How has the experience of working with studios changed over time? Are they more involved in the creation process?

I have had the privilege of being in this industry for a while. Before coming to Xbox I was in a place in Chicago called Midway Games. One of the things we made was Mortal Kombat, and of course there were a lot of movies a long time ago and even a live action series and an animated series. It took the studios a while to catch on that this was some sort of phenomenon, and I think we definitely have people now that are interested in working with us early on and being able to see IP.

What’s important to us, and I think our game teams would say, is that you have to prove the game first before you can start exploring movies and TV, right? One of the things about games that’s a little bit different from movies and TVs is that we usually do all of our iteration at the end. When you think about a movie or a TV series, so much goes on with the script and the treatment, and it’s all done in advance, and by the time you’re filming on stage, you pretty much know what you’re making . Games are very different because we have to build so much before we even know what we have and before we can start iterating and so I think our teams just want to make sure that we have a great game in the first place, that we have something have found that resonates with game players. And that then gives us permission to start exploring, is that IP or is that franchise capable of continuing (to become a movie or TV show)?

More traditional Hollywood talent is coming into gaming; Keanu (Reeves) and Idris Elba (both have their likeness in the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077: Ghost Freedom game). How does bringing in this more ‘mainstream’ talent play a role in how you do marketing and production?

Whenever we have a high-profile character in a game, someone with voice acting or even a likeness, we definitely spend a lot of time looking at those possibilities.

We don’t have a prescribed approach for that. The studios have a lot of creative freedom to pursue what they want to do there in terms of how they bring in licensed music, how they bring in celebrities, how they bring in actors, known or unknown. It’s really up to them in the creative process.

What do you think of the expansion to AR, VR? Other studios have really dived headlong into that, but based on the showcase we saw, that feels more on the back burner (for Xbox).

I think for us it’s just a matter of waiting until there’s an audience. We’re lucky to have these large IPs that have turned into ongoing franchises with large communities. We’ve got 10 games that have reached over 10 million players so far which is a pretty big achievement but that’s the kind of scale we need to see success for the game and it’s just it’s not there yet all the way with AR, VR .

Cloud gaming is a huge advancement for Microsoft and Xbox Game Studios. Different companies have taken different approaches to cloud gaming; (Xbox is) still in beta mode, Playstation/Sony is also diving into this. But places like Google, for example, are closing their cloud gaming studio. Why do you feel that this is still a path you want to follow?

To be clear, it’s a very, very small market. In fact, I’m not even sure you’d even call it a market. It’s a very small custom and a very small audience.

How big is the audience?

We have 150 million active players in first-party (games) each month. It’s just not even on that scale. So for us, it’s something that we think of as almost more experimental that we’re trying to try and see how it works. We just announced it. We’ve signed some great partnerships with NVIDIA and announced some other partnerships. So for us it comes back to the content, which is really my focus.

My teams have done an awful lot to make sure we support touch interface and touch first so that (the games) can be played on touch first devices. But again, that content that we stream is our frontline content. We don’t build anything specifically for that. I think there are still a lot of economic issues to work out, including in terms of cost. So in a weird way, it kind of ties into your AR/VR question, and it’s something that we think we need to be involved with the technology. We have some great partners that we give our content to, but for me it comes down to the content and focusing on things that have scale.

Never say never, but it doesn’t sound like there’s going to be a cloud gaming-specific title or franchise in the future.

There are many things that can be done if your game knows that there is a central server running in a larger cloud, there are gameplay things that you could explore. That’s kind of our first-party job to think about what some of those forward-looking experimental things that we could do with cloud, but to me that’s more to do with what kind of games you could make if you knew that you had access to a lot of computing power that wasn’t from your computer, from a console, as opposed to just a streaming scenario. Those are things we’re looking at, but I think it’s a broader definition of what cloud gaming can be.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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