Feature: Three Reasons Why Phil Spencer Is Just What the Xbox Brand Needs
Posted by Ken Barnes
Phil's the boss.
Phil Spencer - head honcho at Microsoft Studios - has been promoted and will serve as the head of Microsoft’s Xbox, Xbox Live, and creative teams, including Xbox Music, Xbox Video, and Microsoft Studios (still.) The announcement came yesterday after a period of leadership that didn’t seem to have a great deal of direction. With 12 months of chop, change and change again hopefully behind us, we’re glad that the man they call @XboxP3 has been called up. Here’s why.
1) He doesn’t sound like a suit.
Since 2003, the Xbox brand has been led by folks in suits who - while obviously knowing what they’re doing – all looked and SOUNDED like suits. Phil is quite obviously at least a bit of a gamer. He wears game-related t-shirts under his sports coat and talks knowledgeably about games. He comes across as genuinely cool, rather than desperately trying to be cool. We like that.
At the end of it all, when your recent history involves having one boss leave to be President of EA Sports and another leave to become the CEO of Zynga, you kinda need to hire someone that appears to actually play games. Many times over the years, Phil has talked about being a gamer - even on non-Xbox platforms - and not just in that "yeah, sometimes I play against my kids but I'm not very good" way that others do, either. He appears to fit the bill perfectly. We'd bet our bottom dollar that he'll be able to evangelise the next Halo title without needing a tattoo and a sheet of bullet-points to read from.
2) Phil > Chaos
Over the last 12 months, the Xbox brand has been something of a rudderless ship. Peter Moore joined in 2003 to build the brand, and did well. Don Mattrick took over in 2007 and forged the Xbox 360’s path into the mainstream consciousness. Mattrick left for Zynga in July 2013, and it’s been nothing but chaos ever since. Julie Larson-Green took over the Xbox hardware group, while Terry Myerson was in charge of the Xbox One operating system. Eight months later in February 2014, former Nokia CEO Stephen Elop took over. Now we’re in April, and Phil’s been given the wheel.
We honestly didn’t see a single press release or interview from Larson-Green or Elop that even suggested that they knew what an Xbox 360 was, let alone how they were going to steer the constantly under-fire brand into any sort of commercial lead against a strengthening Sony. Apparently, Elop will still have some sort of hand in Xbox matters once Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia is finalised by the end of April, though we don't know how much of a factor this will be.
All the while in the background, Spencer - alongside the likes of Microsoft's public-facing PR leaders Larry Hyrb (Major Nelson) and Graeme Boyd (AceyBongos) - has been evangelising the Xbox One platform and generally coming across as being the face of Xbox. For him to get the official nod just makes sense to us.
3) Games first, TV second
When the Xbox One was first revealed to the world, Don Mattrick’s ridiculous “TV, TV, TV!” presentation made us sick to our stomachs. We waited for YEARS for that presentation to take place, expecting a futuristic, world-beating console that would provide the greatest video game experiences that we'd ever...well...experienced. What we got was a show that missed the target by so much that you'd need a panoramic lens in order to see where the arrow landed in relation to the bullseye. In the future, colleges will show that presentation to marketing students as an example of how badly things can go if you try to guess what people want and refuse to listen to your core audience. On his first day in office, Spencer has come out and declared that under his reign, the focus will be shifted back to gaming. In speaking to Polygon, he said “With me you're going to get a focus on gaming first and a best platform to play games on. It's not a focus we ever lost but it's one I'll be accentuating at Microsoft. It's really going to be a gaming-led focus with Xbox and my new role allows us to execute on that."
To say that gaming isn’t a focus that Microsoft ever lost is just being polite to former leaders, we feel. You can't blame the guy for that. Microsoft lost its focus on gaming, gamers, and the games industry as a whole for a long enough time for even the most casual of gamers to associate the Xbox One with “TV, TV, TV!”
That Phil has even acknowledged a switch back is something that gives us great hope for the future.
Good luck in your new role, Phil. Pure Xbox is backing you for greatness!