On Sunday, June 12th, Xbox officially held its big summer keynote, the Xbox & Bethesda Games Showcase.
Running for about 90 minutes, the event featured looks at more than 30 new and previously announced titles, including Bethesda’s Starfield and Redfall; Blizzard’s Diablo IV and Overwatch 2; three Persona games coming to Xbox and a special partnership with Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima.
Notably, many of these titles are coming to Xbox Game Pass on day one, and all of them will be playable within the next 12 months.
Overall, then, it was a pretty eventful show, so to unpack it all, MobileSyrup chatted briefly with Christina Verdermen, Microsoft’s North American Gaming Lead, at the Xbox FanFest event in Toronto.
Question: To start, can you explain what exactly you do in your role as North American Gaming Lead?
Christina Verdermen: Sure. So I’m in a stretch role right now, so I’m basically responsible for all of our channel partner marketers, as well as our integrated marketing team for the U.S. and Canada. In my day job when I’m not on a stretch assignment, I’m the Integrated Marketing Communications lead for Xbox Canada, specifically — so working on showing Xbox to the world, specifically for Canadians.
Q: To that point, this entire console generation so far [the Xbox Series X/S and PS5] has been during COVID, so you’ve had to do a lot of promotion and events virtually. What’s it like, as everything has opened back up, to finally hold an event like FanFest?
Verdermen: It’s been amazing. First of all, can I tell you how nice it is to be in a room with people, with fans, that can give you real time feedback on what they’re seeing? And you hear the cheers — or maybe they’re not cheering — but the excitement is there, and getting to see our community and our fans all in one place. And them getting to see each other as well. You can just feel it in the air there — people have wanted and needed this. So it’s just so lovely to finally be back in person.
Q. Of course, you probably don’t want to pick favourites, but what’s the most exciting part of the showcase for you?
Verdermen: So I was learning a lot about all of this along with everybody else. There were a few things I knew about, like Forza, but other than that, some of this was all new, so I had to write it [all] down and star things I was really excited about. [looks at notes]
So, High on Life — very excited about that one. Big Rick and Morty fan, so that’ll be good. Forza is gorgeous. Oh my gosh, when you look at the ray tracing and how they brought that to life, [with the] dynamic daytime and the ray tracing of cars reflecting on cars. I never can think that games will get more realistic, and then they do — it’s mind-boggling what they can do. So that’s exciting. The Hot Wheels expansion for Forza Horizon 5 looks so fun. [Hideo] Kojima! It just felt like there was one thing after the other in terms of what to get excited for from Xbox moving forward.
Q: The overarching theme of the show was the fact that all of these games will be out within the next year. Why was it important to focus on that time frame?
Verdermen: I think it’s to share that there’s this constant amount of content. When you think about the graphic at the end, I think there were 50 games on there that are still to come. And so when you think about all of that — a lot of exclusives within that — the content that is coming for Xbox is incredible. And it just will continue to grow. There have been showcases in the past where there’s games that are going to come in a long time, which is also exciting to think about the future. But what’s happening right now, I think was really important for us to share. Like, ‘hey, this isn’t something that’s going to come out in six years; these are games you can play in the next 12 months and look at them all.’ There’s literally something for everyone — for every type of gamer, for everyone who wants to play — there’s something in it for them.
Q: Another throughline, of course, was Game Pass. What was notable was all of the League of Legends games coming to the service — all free-to-play elsewhere, but you get perks with Game Pass. Not to mention Xbox recently confirmed future Game Pass demos and streaming for non-Game Pass titles. People traditionally think of Game Pass as a Netflix-like service, but you’re adding in all of these extra features. Why is that strategy important?
Verdermen: I think it’s important because so you get new fans into the Xbox ecosystem. We want to make sure that we’ve got players [who] can enjoy any type of game through Xbox Game Pass. When you think about the things that came out in the [What’s Next For Gaming announcements, which included Game Pass demos and streaming expansions], the announcements that came in there, it’s really exciting to be able to give players an added kind of inside scoop to what’s coming. And when you think about that, you’re going to be able to preview new games and test them before anyone else. And that’s just an added benefit for being a Game Pass member, but then also for partners of the Xbox family, which is pretty cool.
Q: Absent from the show were Vancouver’s The Coalition [Gears] or Montreal’s Compulsion Games [We Happy Few], which are Xbox’s two AAA Canadian teams. I know you can’t reveal what they’re working on, but can you provide any update on how things have been going over there?
Verdermen: I can’t give an update. But all I know is they’re working hard. You know, games obviously take a long time to make and the pandemic, I think, has set some back a bit in terms of just the way they all work. But they’re working hard, and we’re really excited to see what they come up with next.
Q: On that note, you mentioned how your job is a mix of the broader North American market and then Canada, specifically. So when you look at all of Xbox, what’s it like to have a few Canadian teams among the rest? Do you have a sort of fun or special relationship with them?
Verdermen: I live in Toronto, so I always have. I have a soft spot [for the Canadians] so I do try to prioritize sometimes. [laughs] And then when I think about like the studios, there’s just such pride? When you think about all of the talent that is in Canada, whether that is with our studios, with our internal Xbox teams, with our fans, and with our community, there’s just something special about the Canadian team — I’ll call all of those people part of our team. So I think it’s really fun and exciting to have that. But then also, today, to have everybody together in this one room was pretty special as well.
Q: During the show, [Xbox boss] Phil Spencer reiterated Xbox’s commitment to Japanese games and we then got announcements for [Team Ninja’s] Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, Persona ports and, of course, the Kojima deal. Why is it significant for Xbox to double down on those kinds of games?
Verdermen: Yeah, I think again, it’s showcasing the breadth of content that we have. And we’ve got incredible content. And we’re now pulling from different areas and genres within gaming to be able to bring that to our fans around the world, which I think is really important.
Q: The show opened with Redfall and closed with Starfield — two Bethesda games. Why was it important to have them bookend the show?
Verdermen: I can’t speak to the reason why they put it that in the way they did. But obviously, Bethesda is a huge partner of ours. And we know that they have incredible content, and so does everybody else that we showed in the showcase. But I think when we think about things like Starfield, that’s such a high and highly anticipated title, so we wanted to make sure that we were sharing the latest and greatest that was coming from that.
Q: With Starfield and Redfall now delayed until 2023, what should Xbox fans look forward to in the fall and holiday season?
Verdermen: I think when we look at the titles that were launched today, the amount of those titles that are launching in the fall, some as early as next week [like Naraka Bladepoint on June 23rd] — when we think about that, there’s a lot to be excited about. And when we think about Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, that allows for gamers to get in right now and then have so much to look forward to after the holidays, but then also for the next year to come after that. So we’ve got 12 months of incredible games to come — they should be excited, we should be excited — and then so much more.
This interview has been edited for language and clarity.
A full recap of everything that was featured during the Xbox & Bethesda Games Showcase can be found here. An “extended” look at some of these titles, as well as interviews with some of the developers behind them, will air on June 14th.
Image credit: Xbox