No announcement yet.

Main Thread & News Stream. Xbox Infinity [276]

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • Phil Spencer Is Exactly Who You Think He Is

    How the video game industry’s most progressive exec is forging Xbox’s future.

    On a warm Saturday in early June, Phil Spencer, the Microsoft executive in charge of Xbox, was helping Keanu Reeves, the movie star, calm his nerves inside the Microsoft Theater green room in downtown Los Angeles. It was the unofficial start of E3 and Reeves was there to surprise the roughly 7,000 people attending Microsoft's Xbox showcase. "I got the feeling he maybe wasn't fully prepared for what was coming," Spencer, 51, told me a few days later. Spencer, who has been participating in the showcase for close to a decade and has recently taken to hosting it, promised Reeves he had nothing to worry about. "They're going to love you," he assured him.

    You can see the shock on Reeves's face as he walked onstage in the many videos that have been posted online since: the whoops and hollers took a full minute or more to die down; the shouted declarations of love even longer. It's a testament to Spencer's own celebrity in the video game industry that his arrival onstage moments later was met with the same level of riotous enthusiasm. And not just once: it happened every time Spencer was on stage that day. At one point during the showcase, someone tweeted, "Phil Spencer is literally God."

    The idea of anyone idolizing a business executive is surprising in any industry, let alone one where consumers are routinely suspicious of big companies and corporate scheming. But many gamers seem to view Spencer as one of them, rather than the physical embodiment of a corporate business strategy. Spencer's public behavior does little to discourage this: he has a habit of publicly sharing his Xbox Live gamertag, for example, and inviting people--everyday, non-executive people--to play with him. His overwhelming popularity means he gets more requests than he can respond to, but there are plenty of stories floating around the internet of Xbox Live users who have managed to challenge Microsoft's executive vice-president of gaming to a Forza race or Rocket League match.

    This kind of thing is unusual for someone at Spencer's level. "One of the things I've always appreciated about Phil is how, even as busy as he is, he still plays a lot of games," Geoff Keighley, the creator of the Game Awards, told me. "I'll always remember talking to him Thanksgiving weekend 2014, right as we were about to launch the Game Awards, and it was clear he had just spent the entire day playing Assassin's Creed. That stuck with me."

    Spencer has worked hard to create the impression that his loyalties lie with consumers. Since taking over as head of Xbox in 2014, he has tirelessly advocated for cross-platform play, insisting gamers should have the freedom to play together irrespective of console or platform, and reintroduced backward compatibility to the Xbox ecosystem. He has overseen the acquisition of a handful of first-party studios with the intention of diversifying the brand's content; introduced Xbox Game Pass, an online game subscription service; launched the Xbox adaptive controller, the first controller released by a major publisher designed for gamers with limited mobility; and began work on Project xCloud, a game streaming service that will debut later this year and go head-to-head with Google's Stadia service.

    Of course, it's not just consumers who have benefitted from Spencer's progressive vision: last year, Microsoft's annual gaming revenue went up by almost 15%, hitting $10 billion--a first in the company's history. "Certain cynical people look at me playing or caring about video games and see it as me being that way because of the job I have," Spencer told me. "I see it as me being one of the lucky people who found the job that is my hobby, my passion, the thing I love. I've been playing video games since I was six years old. This is what I'm made to do."

    At five foot nine, with broad shoulders and a square jaw, Spencer looks more like a high school football coach than an executive. His personal style falls somewhere between geek dad and personal trainer: loose jeans, sneakers, some kind of video game t-shirt (usually an Xbox-related one), and a hoodie or blazer, depending on the occasion.

    Spencer married his high school sweetheart, and the couple has two daughters, both in their twenties. During the week, Spencer keeps to a strict routine, arriving at work early but never staying past dinner time. He'll usually squeeze in a couple of hours on Xbox Live before retiring promptly at midnight. On weekends, he plays other things: piano, mainly, or chess. His broad tastes make him a skilled conversationalist and a fun sparring partner; get him talking about a subject he loves and his passion is evident. Music is probably his second-favorite thing to talk about after games: he is as comfortable talking about Xbox strategy as he is about Led Zeppelin (his favorite band) or old-school punk ("I like the kind of raw emotion and energy of good punk music"). He recently accompanied his daughters to a Rise Against concert, which he didn't hate.

    Spencer's entire career rests on a chance encounter during his sophomore year at the University of Washington. "There was a guy who lived two doors down from me, and his dad was a vice president at Microsoft. He came to visit one day and saw me doing some game programming on my Atari ST. I think Microsoft was trying to do some of this stuff in Windows at the time. Of course, I didn't know what Microsoft or Windows was. I was completely oblivious to it. But he just said, 'Hey, come intern this summer.' And I was immediately like, ‘Right, let's do it.'"

    Spencer began his internship with Microsoft in the summer of 1988. The company was only 10 years old at that point, and still very much led by a programming mentality. Spencer fit right in. At the end of the summer, Spencer's boss asked if he wanted to stay on--and get paid for it. Spencer spent the next few months waking up at 6 a.m. for classes and then driving across Lake Washington in his Ford Pinto--"a car known for its potential to blow up if you got rear-ended," as he remembers it--so he could be on the Microsoft campus by 11 a.m.

    After graduating in 1990, Microsoft offered Spencer a full-time programming job in the multimedia group, where he went on to lead development on CD-ROM titles, working on projects like Encarta and the launch of MSN in 1995. In 2000, Microsoft officially entered the North American video game market with the announcement of its first home console, the Xbox. A man named Ed Fries was put in charge of acquiring first-party studios. When Microsoft eventually set up a new division, Microsoft Games, later the same year, Fries sought out Spencer. "His pitch to me was, ‘I've got this studio that I should probably shut down. Do you want to try running it before I do that?" Spencer said.

    Spencer took over Studio X, an internal publishing studio, eventually working with designers like Peter Molyneux on Fable; Brian Reynolds on Rise of Nations; and John Tobias on Tao Feng. He spent a few years in London looking after Lionhead and Rare before returning to Redmond in 2008 to take over as general manager of the company's internal game studios and begin work on Microsoft's third home console, the Xbox One.

    The company targeted its first two consoles, the Xbox and Xbox 360, predominantly at core gamers, making the machines faster and graphically more powerful than their rivals. The strategy had worked, at least up to a point: while PlayStation and Nintendo were still ahead (with the PlayStation 2/3 and the Wii, respectively), Microsoft had successfully managed to carve out its own niche in the North American market. The Xbox One, however, seemed specifically designed to expand the brand's reach far beyond console gamers. In an attempt to appeal to a broader range of consumers, Microsoft shifted the Xbox One's focus away from gaming towards other entertainment, like television and movies. In doing so, it also introduced a number of anti-consumer restrictions, like preventing people from sharing games with their friends and requiring online authentication every 24 hours.

    While these were later reversed after considerable public outcry, it was too late. The Xbox One and Sony's PlayStation 4 went on sale within a week of each other; both consoles sold one million units in 24 hours. But, while the PlayStation 4 continued to break sales records in its first year of release and beyond, the Xbox One quickly fell behind--and has never caught up.

    A few months later, Spencer took over as head of Xbox. Whatever jubilation he felt was short-lived; a few weeks into the job, he got a call from Satya Nadella, Microsoft's new CEO. "I don't actually know a whole lot about why we're in gaming," Nadella told him.

    Spencer tried to work out what to say to Nadella. He looked at where Xbox had failed, and how the brand could be saved—if at all.

    It seemed like a good time to ask that question. Spencer was facing a lot of internal scrutiny from his own team. Many developers who had worked on the Xbox One felt let down by Microsoft's big vision; it was, as some told Spencer, not in line with "the soul" of what Xbox was. "Satya was transparent that there could be a future where gaming isn't a business that Microsoft should be in," Spencer told me. "But it's better to have it above the table than below the table, right?" Spencer tried to work out what to say to Nadella. He looked at where Xbox had failed, and how the brand could be saved--if at all. When he finally called Nadella back, it was to say this: "If we're going to stay in the gaming space, then let's make sure we're all-in. The last thing I wanted to do was run the gaming organization here as kind of an afterthought of the company and kind of half-in, half-out. Let's go fix who we are."

    A few days ahead of E3 2014, Microsoft launched a feedback portal, inviting people to submit ideas on how Xbox could improve its products and services and vote on the best ones. Within a week, the portal had registered nearly 170,000 votes. "It was very public, anybody could see the list of suggestions that were there," Spencer said. "And we were actually using that as a way to drive the updates that we were doing. Backward compatibility actually came from that feedback. We didn't know if we could do it, but we set off a small team to see if we could get it done."

    Many saw this as Microsoft's first act of atonement for the Xbox One snafu. The second came a year later, and it was led by Spencer. He pushed Nadella to acquire Mojang, the Swedish developer of Minecraft, for $2.5 billion--a move that gave Microsoft exclusive control over the most popular game in the world at the time. The company could have easily forced people to buy a Microsoft platform if they wanted to keep playing Minecraft. Instead, Microsoft announced the game would continue to be available on all platforms, including those of its direct competitors. It was an unprecedented move for a publisher of Microsoft's size. "One of the first calls we got after the Minecraft acquisition was from Sony saying, ‘Are you going to pull it off PlayStation?'," Spencer said. "And I'm like, ‘Why why would I do that? People like playing it on PlayStation.'"

    In March 2016, Spencer attempted something even ballsier: he opened up Xbox Live to cross-platform play, inviting rival publishers to allow players on competing consoles to connect with Xbox Live users. Cross-platform play became something of a cause célèbre for Spencer; he extolled its virtues on every stage and public forum. He stood on stage at Microsoft events and declared in front of millions that Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo should be competing on games and services, not through exclusionary walls that hurt gamers. What right do video game publishers have to block players from playing together, he'd ask. Doesn't this create unnecessary divides, and prevent more people from playing games?
    "One of the first calls we got after the Minecraft acquisition was from Sony saying, ‘Are you going to pull it off PlayStation?'," Spencer said. "And I'm like, ‘Why why would I do that? People like playing it on PlayStation.'"
    "The number of people that are actually buying a console every generation isn't growing dramatically, if at all," Spencer told me. "At one point you have to recognize that, okay, you can't just lead with one device. You can't just say, here's an Xbox. I'm going to go sell this device to every single person and that's what they're going to play on. That just doesn't work."

    The idea of Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo working together probably seemed crazy at first, but Spencer was relentless. In 2017, Microsoft and Nintendo announced a first-of-its-kind partnership for Minecraft cross-platform play between the Xbox One and the Nintendo Switch, a rarity for console platform makers. "I'm positive it was the first time a Nintendo ad ever had the Xbox logo in it," Spencer said, referring to Nintendo's ad announcing the partnership. Sony demurred for a long time before eventually allowing cross-platform play for Fortnite. It's now possible for PC, Xbox One, Switch, and PlayStation 4 players to play together. Earlier this year, Microsoft and Nintendo teamed up once again, revealing Banjo and Kazooie (two popular mascots of the Xbox-owned Rare Studios) will join the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate roster. Meanwhile, Sony and Microsoft recently announced a partnership to explore innovations in cloud, AI, and game and content streaming services.

    "Nintendo is a strong player in this industry," Spencer told me in May. "Do I wish every Switch player was also an Xbox owner? That would be awesome, but that's not going to happen. Sony is the same way. I don't think gaming is better if Xbox somehow replaces PlayStation."

    It's this kind of candor that has earned Spencer the respect of so many gamers.

    Respect is probably too polite a word for it: Spencer is so used to being mobbed in public by well-wishers that Microsoft assigned him his own security detail ahead of this year's E3, adding to the already comically large party of people who follow Spencer around. To his credit, Spencer treats this as a fact of life--he ignores it as best he can--but is prudent enough to be apologetic about it if anybody points it out.

    Not that anybody cares, really. Especially not at an event like the annual Xbox FanFest, which Microsoft throws for roughly 700 fans during E3 week. You can play games, chat with developers, drink, snack, and buy Xbox merch. You can also meet Phil Spencer. He attends FanFest every year, spending a few hours chatting to people and posing for selfies. His presence is never announced or scheduled: he likes to just drop in whenever he can.

    A few days following the Xbox showcase, I accompanied Spencer on his annual FanFest visit.

    The event is held in the same place as the showcase, inside the Microsoft Theater. The first person to spot Spencer as we walked in pointed at him and, in a dazzlingly accurate impersonation of the now-viral video of Keanu Reeves interacting with a fan during the showcase, yelled, "You're breathtaking!" Shouting things at Phil Spencer seems to be a well-rehearsed routine among Xbox fans; as more and more people were alerted to Spencer's presence, the "I love you!" declarations kept coming with startling regularity. Undeterred, Spencer walked around shaking hands and shooting the breeze. One guy asked Spencer to sign his life-size Master Chief helmet. Another pulled out an old Xbox controller. Spencer signed both. Someone else wanted to impart some feedback on how to improve Xbox Live. Spencer listened patiently. Almost everyone asked for a selfie. Slowly, a line began to form; after an hour, there were more than 50 people waiting.

    I went down the line and spotted a guy with a lime green buzzcut. In a heroic display of brand loyalty, he'd also shaved the Xbox logo into the back of his head. "It took the barber four hours to do this," he told me. "But he wasn't mad because he remembered me from last year." I raised my eyebrows. "Oh yeah, I do this every E3. I even dyed my mustache green last year!"

    I asked him if he'd met Phil Spencer before. "Yes, heaps of times! We're both from California. He's the best. The loveliest guy you'll ever meet. I actually feel really close to him."

    At the front of the line, Spencer seemed a little distracted. "I'd love to find Hitman and Megatron after this," he said, scanning the room. Three years ago, Spencer got an Xbox Live invitation to play Destiny with a man named Keith Garlington ("Hitman"), a father of two who runs a funeral home in Arkansas. "Phil had talked a lot publicly about being a dad and not having enough time to play games, so I just sent him a message saying, ‘Hey, I'm a dad too," Garlington told me recently. Spencer and Garlington now play together a few nights a week. They're usually joined by Amin Cooper ("Megatron"), who works construction and lives in New Jersey. The three men talk about life, work, and family as they drive around in Forza and co-op on Destiny 2 strikes. "We know each other's wives' names. We know each other's kids' names. We know what we're all doing next weekend," Spencer told me. "What other social construct would put these three random people together like this?"

    Both Garlington and Cooper came to FanFest at Spencer's invitation. It was the first time all three men had hung out in real life. Leaving Spencer to his line duties, I tracked them down to find out whether Spencer was actually any good at playing games. Did he kick ass? Or did they kick his ass? "We don't really play competitively, we mostly play co-op," Cooper answered diplomatically. Spencer, spotting us, rushed over. "Don't tell her anything!" he yelled before running away. "I think you can probably tell by now, having spent some time with him--Phil is 100% genuine," Garlington told me. "It's not a facade, and it's not for the camera. He's legitimately a good guy who loves games." For his part, Cooper admitted he was a little starstruck when he first reached out to Spencer on Xbox Live. "He was so friendly right away," he said. "He cares about everyone who plays, no matter where they're from or what they do. That's why everybody loves him."

    The downside of such public adulation is the scrutiny that inevitably comes along with it. Spencer's detractors have wondered whether he is somehow playing the long con. From a purely competitive standpoint, Xbox remains behind PlayStation and Nintendo. It's hard to know by how much: Microsoft stopped releasing sales figures for its consoles in 2014, the same year Spencer took over as head of Xbox. Would Spencer be as collegiate with his rivals if he had a competitive lead to maintain? After all, it's easy to take risks when you have nothing to lose. "I hear that a lot," Spencer told me. "That I only care about cross-platform play because we're ‘losing.' There's no way for me to disprove that other than to say it's not true. These decisions aren't part of a strategy to eke away at number one's foothold or something. It doesn't mean that I'm perfect at this job. Obviously, you can get smarter people to do this job. I mean, I don't even have an MBA. There's a ton of things that I'm incapable of doing. If you put me as head of Microsoft Office or something, it would seem totally disingenuous. That's not what I am."
    "I hear that a lot," Spencer told me. "That I only care about cross-platform play because we're ‘losing.' There's no way for me to disprove that other than to say it's not true.
    In 2017, Spencer was promoted to the Nadella's senior leadership team, becoming the executive vice president of gaming and reporting directly to Nadella himself. "There's no part or thing that happens at Xbox that Phil doesn't want to know about or be a part of," Matt Booty, the current head of Microsoft Studios, told me recently. "He is always thinking about where we need to be and how to get there. He is like a chess player in that way, always planning five steps ahead. If you just trust in that, he will get you there."

    A few days after FanFest, I tagged along with Spencer on a tour of the Nintendo booth on the E3 show floor. The heads of Xbox, PlayStation, and Nintendo usually visit each other's booths during the show as a sign of respect and friendly competition.

    The first person Spencer bumped into was Steve Singer, Nintendo America's vice president of licensing, who, upon spotting Spencer, promptly gave him the middle finger. It was all for show, of course--the two men hugged warmly and talked shop out of earshot. Even inside the booth of a direct rival, Spencer's fans weren't far off. A young volunteer in a red Nintendo shirt spotted him and jogged over to say hi; it turns out the two know each other from Xbox Live.

    After a brief tour of the main part of the booth, Spencer was whisked upstairs to play some games. He made for the Luigi's Mansion 3 station and happily passed the next 20 minutes trying to maneuver Luigi out of a number of sticky situations. I'd love to say Spencer aced the demo, but the fact is, he kept dying. He finally realized why: he was accidentally pressing the wrong button on the controller. Every time the screen prompt told him to press X, he would press Y. (The Y button on the Nintendo Switch controller is in the same position as the X button on the Xbox controller.) "Remind me to tell them their X button is in the wrong place," he said cheerily.

    In the last year, Spencer has made good on his promises to make Xbox a more collaborative and diverse platform. He's brought parts of Xbox Live to iOS and Android devices--as well as the Nintendo Switch--and pushed for more PC integration, something which has pleased a lot of PC gamers who have long argued that Microsoft wasn't doing enough to acknowledge them. But perhaps his biggest investment in the future of Xbox has been in the slow but steady acquisition of a number of well-known studios, including Ninja Theory, Obsidian, and Tim Schafer's legendary Double Fine Studios. "I think people want us to do a better job with our first-party games," Spencer told me.

    For his part, Schafer was initially skeptical of the acquisition. Firstly, it wasn't something that he'd been thinking about. Secondly, he was worried about potentially putting Double Fine's identity at risk. "Like, do we all change our emails to Microsoft emails and paint all the walls green?" he told me. What ultimately changed his mind was a phone call to the folks at Ninja Theory, who told him that Microsoft's insistence on letting first-party studios just keep doing what they wanted with minimal interference was true. "They said, ‘We are still who we are. They're letting us make the kind of games we want to make.' And that was a huge thing for me. I could see how it makes sense--it makes sense not to have them convert us to making Forza DLC or something."

    When the discussions became more serious, Spencer invited Schafer out for a drink during this year's DICE Awards. He laid out what the acquisition would mean for Microsoft, and what it would mean for Double Fine. "I've worked with a lot of different publishers over the years and they all have their own personalities and styles--but Phil is just a very legit individual," Schafer said. "He's made a lot of really great public statements about diversity and making games a positive force in the world, which really mesh with Double Fine's own mission. It kind of cemented that feeling that this is the right thing to do."

    If he'd wanted a second opinion, Schafer might have also called 343 Industries, the veteran Microsoft studio that oversees the entirety of its Halo franchise. The studio's head, Bonnie Ross, has worked with Spencer for more than two decades. A few weeks before E3, Spencer dropped in at 343 to give Ross and her team feedback on a demo for Halo: Reach on PC. The studio is located a short walk from Spencer's office on Microsoft's Redmond campus. Almost half of the building's ground floor is taken up by a Halo museum, which features everything from life-size Master Chiefs to television props from the live-action web series Halo: Forward Unto Dawn, which aired on YouTube and Netflix, and the Ridley Scott-produced "Halo: Nightfall." The museum also houses replica weapons, fan art, various Halo-related tchotchkes, and a random collection of Halo-branded snowboards (one of which Spencer owns).
    "I've worked with a lot of different publishers over the years and they all have their own personalities and styles--but Phil is just a very legit individual," Schafer said.
    As we sat down to play the demo, Spencer attempted to calm my nerves by telling me he usually finishes all the Halo games on Legendary difficulty. He breezed through most of the demo easily enough and made it to the final checkpoint, which required him to take out two Hunters. Spencer tried to do this multiple times: he would manage to kill one but kept running out of both health and ammo before he could get the second. I reminded him of his previous boast. He pretended he didn't hear me. Undeterred, he tried again. Someone offered to help, but Spencer jokingly waved him away. "It's ok, I got this."

    After a few more tries, he finally killed both Hunters, but, just as the final cutscene was about to roll, an enemy he'd missed earlier snuck up behind him and shot him in the head. The room erupted in howls of disbelief. Spencer laughed. "I believe that's my cue," he said, standing up. Before he left, he went around the room, shaking the hands of all the developers and programmers who'd assembled to watch. "Good job, everyone. It's great. It's really, really great."



    • Blaze_ATX
      Editing a comment
      Awesome interview and this quote: "Spencer tried to work out what to say to Nadella. He looked at where Xbox had failed, and how the brand could be saved—if at all."

      "It seemed like a good time to ask that question. Spencer was facing a lot of internal scrutiny from his own team. Many developers who had worked on the Xbox One felt let down by Microsoft's big vision; it was, as some told Spencer, not in line with "the soul" of what Xbox was. "Satya was transparent that there could be a future where gaming isn't a business that Microsoft should be in," Spencer told me. "But it's better to have it above the table than below the table, right?" Spencer tried to work out what to say to Nadella. He looked at where Xbox had failed, and how the brand could be saved--if at all. When he finally called Nadella back, it was to say this: "If we're going to stay in the gaming space, then let's make sure we're all-in. The last thing I wanted to do was run the gaming organization here as kind of an afterthought of the company and kind of half-in, half-out. Let's go fix who we are."

      Thank God, Satya Nadella understood Phil vision about their gaming division and now he's all aboard. 😎

      Last edited by Blaze_ATX; 08-12-2019, 09:03 PM.




    • Phil Spencer Doesn't Believe In Your Console War

      Three heads are better than one.

      With Sony sitting out E3 2019 the common-held opinion was that this would be Microsoft's show to "win." But according to Xbox head Phil Spencer, during an exclusive interview with GameSpot that took place after E3, he isn't interested in pitting Xbox against PlayStation at the show, nor does he think the fan-fueled rivalry between the two companies does anyone any good in general. He agrees that Sony and Microsoft compete on a technology level, but rejects the notion that there's a mean-spirited undercurrent spearheading that drive. To him: "Business isn't sport. It is different."

      If anything signposts the mutual spirit of cooperation that Spencer is talking about, it's E3. The ESA, where Spencer sits on the board of directors, is the driving force behind the event, and it regularly rallies the likes of Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo to work together towards making opportunity as impactful as possible for all. It's a coordinated effort with far-reaching goals, and from his point of view, the absence of booths from Sony and big-name publishers is simply a detriment. "I see it as we should all be there," Spencer tells GameSpot. "We should all be showing our best. I'm not alone in sharing that. All of us who are on the ESA board kind of aspire to have an E3 where everybody feels like they can be there and show up. I'd say the same thing about EA not being there with a booth, say the same thing about Activision. It's not specifically calling out Sony. I think we want to create an E3 where all of the gaming companies feel like it's worth their time and gamers love coming there and celebrating their love of gaming."

      "The nice thing about E3 is it is a time when all of us sit around a board meeting," Spencer noted. "EA is there. Take-Two is there. Sony is there. Nintendo is there. I think there are 30 board members from all the major [publishers]... Epic is there. We're talking about how we make this show a better show for everyone. Any time you can--and we're all focused on it--you can create common focus areas for us as a games industry, where we can hopefully make some progress, as we have over the years, I think it leads to the idea that it makes sense for us in certain instances to cooperate on different things."

      What Spencer is saying is that while E3 is a major opportunity for everyone involved, it's also a jumping-off point for big-picture opportunities down the road. One not-so-small example: Minecraft. "Us being a big publisher of Minecraft on these other platforms, the longer that goes on successfully for both us, whether it's Sony or Nintendo or whatever, it just lessens that... friction might not be the best word, but I'd say lessens the, 'Hey. Are these people well intentioned in what they're doing?'"

      Good intentions among competitors is one thing, but gaming has always struggled to portray itself as an industry with good intentions to misinformed onlookers and legislators. As gaming continues to grow in influence and profit, it's only natural that the target continues to shift with the times. Here, too, Spencer thinks that joining together is the only way to ensure a future for all: "As an industry, with cross-play, with some of the external kind of... I'd say threats to the gaming business--like loot box legislation, the World Health Organization stuff--these are things where coming together to make sure that we've got a good constructive point of view on our art form and what it means in society... I think all of that is just part of us as an industry knowing that the biggest competitor we have is actually not each other."

      While most console-shopping customers are only able to keep up with a single high-end gaming console, an opportunity which Spencer at least hopes to win, the animosity often exhibited by the gaming community is the opposite of what Spencer likes to see. "I think there was friction just on that side as well, from the fans maybe creating this perception that we shouldn't like each other because one console is blue and one console is green and those two things can never mix," he said. "I do know there are parts of the community that wish we were more aggressive in being competitive with each other. I think competition between us, from an innovation and business model and value standpoint, makes a ton of sense. Competition at a human level or a punitive level, I find isn't really part of how we continue gaming's growth. There's much more to be gained by us at least having a joint point of view on issues that are important to gaming."
      "As our industry becomes more relevant and more used across more people, I think our responsibility goes up to make sure we're being good kind of shepherds of gaming as it continues to grow." -- Phil Spencer, Head of Xbox
      If any platform holder deserves the award for being the most vocal about the need or desire to collaborate, it's Xbox, but Spencer sees rays of hope from others, even if they are more subtle in nature: "Maybe we're too vocal on this stuff. We probably talk about it externally more than they do. I don't like to talk about their business. They're running their business from their point of view. But if you just look at... what's a good example? I think it was last summer when Nintendo did the Minecraft Better Together ad that they crafted. And it had Xbox in it. I'm almost positive it was the first time a Nintendo ad ever had the Xbox logo in it," Spencer recalled. "That was them pushing on the fact that Xbox and Switch, together with Minecraft, creates a better solution. Them creating an ad around it I thought was pretty cool, that they felt compelled to go do that. I think the industry is more, internally, as we're having discussions, more aligned on these topics. Everybody's got to run at their own pace from their business perspective."

      Spencer set the pace for Microsoft's future when discussing the future of Xbox at E3, specifically the upcoming console currently known by its code name, Scarlett. Scheduled to ship during the "holiday 2020" release window, Scarlett is purported to be four times as powerful as the Xbox One X. According to Spencer, this power may be used in ways you didn't expect. Likewise, he's also spoken to GameSpot about the Xbox cloud gaming service xCloud, and touched on the very different approach Phil Harrison is taking Google's Stadia service.

      We've broken out several stories of note from our conversation with Phil Spencer and outlined the full list of news articles below, including our big profile on the outspoken and positive leader of Xbox.



      • The Inside Story Of The Troubled Xbox One Reveal

        Xbox, explain what happened.

        At E3 2019, the current head of Xbox Phil Spencer spoke with GameSpot about the history of the Xbox One and what's in store for the future of next-gen. Though there's a lot of anticipation for what's to come with Xbox Scarlett, our discussion went back to the beginning of the Xbox One, Microsoft's answer to Sony's PlayStation 4. Back in 2013, online gameplay, connectivity, and the cloud was poised to see unprecedented growth in the next-gen--and Microsoft wanted to be at the forefront of the new console experience. However, the platform maker initially struggled to convey what the new console stood for, and it's something that the current head of Xbox remembers all too well.

        "If you go back and watch [the reveal], what you'll see is an event that was very much focused on Xbox as a TV platform," Spencer said. "We showed things like The Price is Right, for instance. In fact, I think the first piece of content that we ever showed on an Xbox One was a TV show."

        In May 2013, Microsoft revealed the Xbox One, a console advertised as the new nexus for home entertainment. Before the reveal, Microsoft and their new product--codenamed Durango--already faced something of an uphill battle. In the months before, the backlash from comments from former Microsoft executive Adam Orth, who downplayed concerns from consumers about the next console potentially being online only, was still fresh on the minds of many. So going in, Microsoft had some ground to cover. Taking place in Redmond, Washington at the Microsoft campus, this event--also possessing a codename, Newcastle--was meant to be the console's big moment. But as history shows, things didn't work out as intended. Spencer went on to describe the mood following the event, and how employees weren't satisfied with what they saw.

        "If you were an employee in team Xbox, then you were [a part of a team of] thousands of people that work on the Xbox. But there's like a handful of people that stand in front of cameras, on the stage and talk about things. There can be a divide between, 'Why is that person saying that? That's not the product I'm building,' or, 'Why are we doing that? That's not what I think we should be doing.'"

        As the console's first showing, it was a heavily promoted event. In the opening montage, developers and gaming personalities alike talked about the potential of the new platform, and even film directors like Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams heaped praise on the new hardware. The key takeaway from the reveal event was that the Xbox One was presented as more than just a videogame console, but rather, a new home entertainment experience. This sentiment was made abundantly clear during the first half of the event, which treated viewers to a deluge of films and TV shows viewable on the Xbox One. The first games to make an appearance at the showing would be titles from EA Sports, well after 30 minutes had passed. Spencer stressed in our interview that the reveal missed the mark in properly showing what the console was all about.
        The feedback we got from the employees, maybe said and unsaid, was, 'We've been working really hard for two years to ship this product. You stand on stage at this event and blow up all the good work that we've done by talking about the product in a way that's not really matching what the soul of an Xbox console is about and what our customers are looking for from us.'
        At the time, he was the VP of Microsoft Studios, which entailed overseeing upcoming platform-exclusive games. Once he took the stage at the event, it marked the beginning of the games part of the presentation. During his talk, the event showcased upcoming games like Forza Motorsport 5, Call of Duty: Ghosts, Halo 5, and Remedy's Quantum Break--which also had a focus on the TV angle. Though Spencer understood the intention of showcasing the new Xbox as a home entertainment console, he expressed that it only led to confusion and frustration from the general audience. This sentiment was evident when he and other executives at Xbox observed the reactions from consumers and their employees.

        "The feedback we got from the employees, maybe said and unsaid, was, 'We've been working really hard for two years to ship this product. You stand on stage at this event and blow up all the good work that we've done by talking about the product in a way that's not really matching what the soul of an Xbox console is about and what our customers are looking for from us,'" Spencer said while describing the frustration from employees. "I think the team just gets disappointed because they feel let down by the leadership team and I'd say that's the feeling I heard the most from the team. I had people come up emotional, like they're reading the forums and people are accusing us of being dishonest with them or having bad intent with why we were building the product that we were, and if you're a member of the team, you don't necessarily see across everything that's going on."

        The reactions from the reveal event prompted management to pivot away from the home entertainment angle and focus on games for E3 2013. The game that opened the show was Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Don Mattrick, Microsoft's former president of Interactive Entertainment Business, would even state that E3 2013 was "all about the games." Throughout its first year, the Xbox One struggled with its messaging, in particular to the concept of always-online functionality. In the following year, Phil Spencer was promoted to the head of Xbox, which marked the beginning of some significant changes for the platform. This included the controversial decision to drop Kinect from the console, thereby selling the Xbox One at a lower price.

        Last edited by Blaze_ATX; 08-12-2019, 10:07 PM.


        • mistercteam
          Editing a comment
          this is good sign
          "'Why is that person saying that? That's not the product I'm building,' or, 'Why are we doing that? That's not what I think we should be doing.'""

      • Phil Spencer Says Cloud Gaming Is Inevitable, But Won't Replace Consoles

        Head in the cloud.

        Phil Spencer, head of Xbox, has a lot on his mind, from the next generation of Xbox consoles to helping build new development teams. He and the team are also managing an ecosystem that's trying to serve as many players' needs as possible. And as he sees it, cloud-based gaming touches all of those areas, which is why he's been championing Project xCloud. It's Microsoft's game streaming technology that will let you access the power of an Xbox console through your phone via an internet connection. We recently got the opportunity to talk to the head of Xbox about a number of topics, including how he sees xCloud fitting into Xbox's repertoire, and within an industry that's traditionally orbited around consoles in the home.

        "It's one of the directions the industry is headed. To me, it's about what you as a gamer want to do, and I'm not trying to tell you that owning a box that plays video games is a bad thing or that somehow that's not needed." Spencer continued, "I think that the cloud inevitability as part of gaming is absolutely true. But we have more compute devices around us than we've ever had, whether it's your phone, a Surface Hub, or an Xbox. The world where compute devices are gone and it's all coming from the cloud just isn't the world that we live in today."

        Physical devices are still very much part of the equation when it comes to cloud gaming, but Xbox itself isn't making a new device specifically for it. "Last year we talked about xCloud and then we said we were working on new game consoles, but that's all I said." Spencer clarified, "We didn't say that [a streaming console was in the works]. I think maybe some people thought that that was the disc-less one that we just shipped. We are not working on a streaming-only console right now. We are looking at the phone in your pocket as the destination for you to stream, and the console that we have allows you to play the games locally."

        "If you bought a big gaming PC and you like playing games there, I want to respect that and meet you where you are and bring the content and services that you want to that device. If you want to buy an Xbox, if you want to play Minecraft on a PlayStation, I want to make sure that comes to you there."

        One of the chief concerns that has always surrounded cloud gaming is lag. Specifically, how fast your controller inputs will translate to action on a screen. It was an issue in some cases for Google Stadia demos, especially for fast-paced shooters such as Doom. Spencer recognizes this and makes no bones about those concerns, saying "I don't think anybody should tell you that there's no lag."

        "Going back to our transparency, there's a truth that I think is always important for us to talk about with our customers. In xCloud, we are building a convenience capability to allow you to take your Xbox experience with you. Meaning, that's why we focus on the phone, and the experience is not the same as running the games on an Xbox One X. I'm not going to say that it's an 8k 120 hertz thing. That's not what we're doing. We're going to bring convenience and choice to you on your phone."

        "You can jump in a party, we can voice chat. Everything works the same as it does when I'm sitting with my console from a community and content perspective but you're running it from a cloud, which is going to feel different."
        We talk about Project xCloud and we use words like "trials" not because we don't believe in our tech--our tech is as good as anybody's tech out there, and the team is doing really amazing work--but this is about the reality of time and choice for customers.
        Given that he's been traveling with an early version of xCloud on his own phone playing games on it out in public, it would seem that xCloud is in a feature-complete state. Public trials start in October this year (a month before Google Stadia), but we asked if it'll launch as a fully-formed service. "We will start in 2019, this year, in certain markets and then we will just continue to roll it out. We're doing our internal trials with xCloud now, which means people on the team can now install the application on their phone and stream games."

        "One of the benefits we have working at Microsoft is the Azure data centers globally, which allow us to put hardware as close to people as we possibly can. And we can leverage the fact that Microsoft has spent a lot of money establishing data centers to help us accelerate this build. So we're going to start in 2019 and have people playing Xbox games on their phones, and we'll get a ton of feedback."

        Project xCloud's launch this year only marks the beginning for the Xbox game streaming service; Microsoft will continue to iterate on it while its in players' hands, and Spencer emphasizes that technological shifts take time. "I think this is years away from being a mainstream way people play. And I mean years, like years and years."

        "Let's take Netflix, which is 20 years old. I think we forget that sometimes because tech moves so fast. It's 20 years old at this point, so it took two decades for us to get to the point where shows like Game of Thrones and House of Cards are some of the biggest shows in the planet and mainly watched via streaming. I think game streaming will get there faster than 20 years, but it's not going to be two years. This is a technological change. While it seems like it happens overnight, it doesn't."

        "It takes time for these services to evolve. We are building for the long-term, but that's why choice is so critical. I'm not trying to say go sell your consoles today and switch over to streaming because the experience just isn't the same as playing on your console, but I do think in terms of reaching everybody, the democratization of play and content, it's important that we don't lock all of these experiences behind purchasing a certain device."

        "And way over time, we'll have a global service that can reach everybody and the infrastructure to reach any customer with a consistent and high quality internet service, but that's going to take time. We talk about Project xCloud and we use words like "trials" not because we don't believe in our tech--our tech is as good as anybody's tech out there, and the team is doing really amazing work--but this is about the reality of time and choice for customers."

        Down the road, the evolution of xCloud could lead to some creative uses; we've seen hints of it in Crackdown 3's multiplayer and how it handles physics. But Spencer and the team are thinking outside of games themselves as they have plans to make it an integral part of the industry's biggest convention, saying "At E3 [in the future], our plan is to allow people coming to the show to actually play games, play Xbox games on phones at the show."

        Part of cloud gaming's success, and xCloud in particular, rests in how developers account for the new technology. It's also an aspect that Xbox is already getting ahead of, and Spencer detailed how the team is doing it. "We've already started putting xCloud servers near locations where our largest third party developers are. So now we're starting to get developers at third parties on it so they can see their game on a phone, which is critical because there are things like font sizes that if you wanted to take advantage and understand how the game runs on the phone, you want to make it available. You want them to see it and experience it themselves."

        "We've also already put into the Xbox SDK, because if you're streaming, a developer might want to do something different if the game was running locally. All the developers that are building Xbox games today have access to that capability of determining whether the game is being streamed or running locally, which I think is a great addition."

        "You'll have certain developers that will take advantage of it early. We already have some of the early adopters asking for [it], because there are certain things that the cloud makes more possible than happened in the home. A good example of that is our blades right now that have all the Xboxes in the data centers have multiple Xboxes on one blade...basically like a bunch of Xboxes in your house that are hardwired together. So the latency between all of those consoles is negligible. It's almost a zero because they're literally hard-wired together. If we were to play games online, there is latency from where you live and I live, right? Our two Xboxes just take time to sync."

        Last edited by Blaze_ATX; 08-12-2019, 10:07 PM.


        • Microsoft's Vision For Xbox Scarlett Is More Than Just Prettier Graphics

          "I think the area that we really want to focus on next generation is frame rate and playability of the games."

          At E3 2019, Microsoft gave the world its first peek at the next generation of Xbox, codenamed Project Scarlett. While the company didn't showcase the actual hardware, it did reveal a few tantalizing tidbits about the system, namely that it'll boast a solid state drive (much like Sony's PS5) and will be approximately four times as powerful as the Xbox One X, which currently has the distinction of being the most powerful game console on the market.

          Project Scarlett's added horsepower will undoubtedly allow developers to produce some stunning titles, but visuals aren't the only aspect of gaming that Microsoft is looking to improve with its new console. As head of Xbox Phil Spencer told GameSpot in an exclusive, in-depth interview following E3, how smoothly games run will be a major focal point in the next generation.

          "I think the area that we really want to focus on next generation is frame rate and playability of the games," Spencer said. "Ensuring that the games load incredibly fast, ensuring that the game is running at the highest frame rate possible. We're also the Windows company, so we see the work that goes on [for] PC and the work that developers are doing. People love 60 frames-per-second games, so getting games to run at 4K 60 [FPS] I think will be a real design goal for us.

          "The thing that's interesting is, this generation, we've really focused on 4K visuals and how we bring both movies through 4K Blu-ray and video streaming, and with Xbox One X allowing games to run at 4K visuals will make really strong visual enhancements next generation. But playability is probably the bigger focus for us this generation. How fast do [games] load? Do I feel like I can get into the game as fast as possible and while it's playing? How does it feel? Does this game both look and feel like no other game that I've seen? That's our target."

          Microsoft isn't just looking toward the future with Project Scarlett, either; the company also wants to ensure that players still have access to all of their older games as we move into a new generation of consoles. Whereas the PS4 and Nintendo Switch both forwent backwards compatibility, the Xbox One has built up an impressive library of backwards compatible games encompassing some of the best offerings from the Xbox 360 and even the original Xbox. Spencer stresses that Microsoft will maintain this commitment not only to older titles, but also your existing controllers.

          "We really like the reception and the use that we've seen through the [Xbox One backwards compatibility] program. Making sure that all four generations of content--so the original Xbox games that run on your Xbox One today, the OG Xbox; the 360 games that run on your Xbox One; your Xbox One games; and the new generation games--all run on the next platform is important to us. We want to respect the games that you've bought from us. We want to make sure that the generations can play with each other, so if you happen to adopt the next generation early and somebody stays back, that if their games are on both platforms, you'll be able to cross-gen play.
          "So really, the things that you've bought from us, whether the games or the controllers that you're using, we want to make sure those are future compatible with the highest fidelity version of our console, which at that time will obviously be the one we've just launched."
          "Another thing that will be a little bit new for us is the fact that we want to also respect the compatibility of the controllers that you already have. This generation, we came out with the Elite controller, we've done work on controllers and people have invested in personalized controllers, the things that they love and we want to make those compatible with future generations of our console as well. So really, the things that you've bought from us, whether the games or the controllers that you're using, we want to make sure those are future compatible with the highest fidelity version of our console, which at that time will obviously be the one we've just launched."

          Project Scarlett is slated to arrive in Holiday 2020 with Halo Infinite as a launch title. Spencer discussed a number of other topics in our interview, including Microsoft's cloud gaming initiative, xCloud; the company's E3 2019 presentation; and the state of competition between Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo. Spencer also shed more light on the troubled reveal of the Xbox One back in 2013. Be sure to check out our other stories from our interview with Phil Spencer, as well as our in-depth profile of the Xbox head.

          So really, the things that you've bought from us, whether the games or the controllers that you're using, we want to make sure those are future compatible with the highest fidelity version of our console, which at that time will obviously be the one we've just launched."

          Last edited by Blaze_ATX; 08-12-2019, 10:07 PM.


        • Xbox Boss Phil Spencer Reflects On Microsoft's E3 2019

          An overall success for Xbox.

          In an in-depth interview with GameSpot, Xbox boss Phil Spencer spoke at length about Microsoft's past, present, and future in gaming. During the conversation, he addressed E3 2019, and one of the topics he discussed was the added pressure to succeed in the wake of Sony not holding its traditional press conference.

          "Normally what would happen is, on Sunday, we'd do our show and then Sony would go on Monday and then Nintendo on Monday or Tuesday," Spencer said. "With Sony not in the middle, our show kind of sat on its own, which I think was kind of a positive and a challenge in some ways because there was nothing for it to reflect against." E3 2019 was the last show before Microsoft really starts marketing its next platform, codenamed Scarlett, he explained, so it was especially important to let fans know that there's still plenty to expect on Xbox One--years' worth of releases--before the generation closes out.

          This is largely why the Scarlett reveal was at the end of Microsoft's press conference, instead of being a focus at the beginning of the show, like previous console reveals at E3. Though the next-generation Xbox is on the way, it's still a way out and so the majority of the games announced at Microsoft's E3 2019 conference were focused on its current platform. Microsoft also just didn't have answers to many questions about Scarlett. The hardware's appearance, official name, cost, and day one game line-up are all still up in the air.

          When it came to the objective of ensuring the focus was still on Xbox One, Spencer said he feels like Microsoft largely succeeded--especially since the company mostly announced games or expansions that had a foreseeable release date, so viewers could make concrete plans for them. "The Lego stuff is a good example," Spencer said. "On Lego Forza, you just saw it's coming to your console that week. Some of the things were literally launching right as we [announced] it, like the State of Decay stuff."

          "Of the 14 first-party games that we showed, I think 12 or 13 of them are shipping before the next E3," Spencer continued. "When you're thinking about all this, we had a huge show. It was higher social engagement than last year, higher ratings for us than last year. The fact that we got to open with four first-party games in a row--[something] we've never done before--those were cool to see, even for our own teams, as a worthwhile milestone for us. We could actually open a show with four first-party games and they were all received very well and did very well. That's, I think, what we aspire to."

          Because of the importance of making a good impression with Xbox One's upcoming game line-up, Spencer was actually apprehensive of agreeing to CD Projekt Red's request to have Keanu Reeves present onstage during the Cyberpunk 2077 portion of Microsoft's press conference. "[People] obviously loved having Keanu Reeves come out on stage [though]," Spencer said, "Which actually surprised me a little bit. The hit rate on celebrities on gaming stages at E3 is not incredibly high, including for us. Some of [my apprehension was] just my having lived through [seeing] celebrities on stage at E3 and seeing it become a little cringe-worthy. It was cool to see this one work."

          Not all of the feedback for Microsoft's showing at E3 was positive though. Fans seemed miffed at the lack of gameplay for the two biggest upcoming Xbox first-party titles, Gears 5 and Halo Infinite. And there's still a general level of confusion around cloud gaming and streaming on consoles with xCloud. "Gears and Halo, two of the bigger first-party games there, both felt more like trailers than somebody standing on a stage with a controller playing the game," Spencer admitted. "From a clarity standpoint, the whole idea of console streaming in xCloud--I think streaming in general--is just an area that people aren't really versed in thinking about [yet]. I think we're going to have to do, frankly, two, three, or four more [shows] before people really understand what we're doing with it."



          • Highly recommended to read the interviews Gamespot did with Phil Spencer, a lot of good stuff.😎



            • Blaze_ATX
              Editing a comment
              The Xboss!!! 😎


          • Thanks Blaze. That really is in depth, rather than one of those interviews where the interviewer spend a lot of time trying to "buddy up" with Phil.

            Wonder if Kinect will be included in the hardware back compat, or whether any new interface will make it untenable.


            • Blaze_ATX
              Editing a comment
              kinect is death and it will never come to Xbox next gen console in any shape or form, the only iteration of Kinect that is still alive is kinect azure and that's for business only.


            • Akita Ainu
              Editing a comment
              Still a lot of us out here using it though. It's much faster for voice commands than Amazon's gadgets or the now-doomed Cortana, and is, in the end as much legacy hardware as controllers.

            • Blaze_ATX
              Editing a comment
              I understand your point but I think Microsoft want to distant themselves from the kinect bad image and they won't put any resources or effort to made it backwards compatible with Xbox Scarlett.


          • My wife is narked, by the way. I put The Outer Worlds on my Amazon wish list months ago, and she intended to order it for one f my birthday presents. Of course, it's missing now thanks to the little wonder that is Game Pass. Microsoft really is on a roll, and you have to give a lot of credit to Phil.


            • Destroy All Humans! - DNA Collector's Edition Trailer