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Opinion GameSpot: Seven Years In, Phil Spencer Has Succeeded Immensely In Helping Xbox Turn Things Around

IbizaPocholo

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Xbox boss Phil Spencer is celebrating an anniversary with Xbox. It was seven years ago, on March 31, 2014, that Spencer was promoted to Head of Xbox. It was a big, dramatic change for Microsoft and Xbox, as the company faltered under the leadership of Don Mattrick and some of the policy moves that the company pushed in regards to DRM and used games.

In short, Xbox was in a tough position back then. The Xbox One launched at $500, a full $100 above the PS4, thanks in part to Kinect being bundled with every system. Microsoft did sell 1 million units of the Xbox One in its first 24 hours, but the surge at launch could not be sustained in the long-term, and the PS4 would handily outsell the Xbox One over time.

Spencer would go on to acknowledge and own up to Microsoft's numerous shortcomings in the Xbox One era, and in particular the controversial policy decisions from the previous leadership team. Under Spencer's leadership, and due to a number of other factors, Xbox is in a great position right now. The Xbox Series X|S had a record-setting launch, while initiatives that Spencer spearheaded like Xbox Game Pass and Xbox Cloud Streaming have taken off to great success.

"Crazy to think it's been 7 years. Couldn't be more proud of the team; what they've learned and accomplished over the years. Lot's more to do, thanks for all the support and feedback from the community, I really do appreciate all the positive energy," he said on Twitter.

Looking back at the announcement from March 31, 2014 is a fun stroll down memory lane. At the time, Spencer said he was "honored to lead the team at this incredible time for Microsoft and the games industry." His blog post was titled "A New Day at Xbox."

Back in 2014, Spencer laid out a vision for where he saw Xbox heading in the future, and I think many would agree he achieved that and then some.

"Our mission is to build a world-class team, work hard to meet the high expectations of a passionate fan base, create the best games and entertainment, and drive technical innovation. As we continue forward, this renewed focus and mission will be a foundational part of how I lead the Xbox program," he said at the time.

Spencer has made dramatic moves as Head of Xbox, including spending $10 billion on acquiring Mojang/Minecraft and also ZeniMax and its subsidiary studios and franchises. Those investments could pay, or in the case of Minecraft are already paying, significant dividends for Microsoft. With ZeniMax now under the Microsoft fold, Microsoft takes ownership of franchises like Fallout, Elder Scrolls, Doom, and more, and brings on eight new first-party studios to help bolster its exclusive lineup going forward. Microsoft was criticized in the past for not doing enough in terms of first-party game development and exclusives, and that argument is likely to fall apart now with all the moves Microsoft has made. Microsoft of course also acquired teams like Double Fine, Ninja Theory, Obsidian, inXile, and more, as well as starting a new studio called The Initiative that is working on a new Perfect Dark game.

Spencer also led the team in pushing a new approach to releasing Xbox games on more platforms to help broaden the playerbase. The company previously kept Xbox games on console and PC games on PC. But now, Xbox games are released everywhere, and even beyond console and PC thanks to cloud streaming for mobile devices and tablets. The executive also led the charge in pushing for cross-play, when, in 2016, he boldly announced a plan and a willingness to work with Sony and Nintendo on cross-play.

Spencer is known for his candor and free speaking, and he has on numerous occasions taken a hard line against the idea of console wars in the gaming industry. He says it serves no purpose and has a negative effect on gaming, and has consistently called for change.

Game Pass deserves a callout as well, as Spencer helped spearhead the launch of this Netflix-style subscription service that could be Microsoft's secret weapon. Xbox Game Pass could have dramatic, long-lasting implications for Xbox and beyond, and it's off to a great start with 18 million subscribers and a lot of positive buzz about how great a value it is.

Spencer is known for being humble, so he wouldn't take credit for all of Microsoft's success stories for Xbox in recent years, and he does have a big team around him that gets the job done. But he has personally led the way in his public-facing position and he sets the tone.

It hasn't been completely smooth sailing, however, as Spencer was part of the team that decided to cancel Scalebound, shut down Lionhead, and close down Microsoft's ambitious Xbox Entertainment Studios division (which, to be fair, he inherited from previous management).

The future is unwritten and uncertain, but Spencer has demonstrated again and again that he is a capable, forward-thinking leader who is committed to Xbox and growing the brand.
 

THEAP99

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Good with PR and making the xbox ecosystem look seamless but still no games really that make me want to get an xbox so idk I wouldn't say things are fully swinging up for Xbox just yet
 
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Zones

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And this is what Don Mattrick and his fanbase have to say regarding this occasion...

 

Dr Bass

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Like him or not, Phil did gamers proud.
From sinking ship to warchest'd warship. Guns ablazing time. The next 5 years going to be lit with the development Phil set in place.
We’ve been hearing that story for years already. They need to deliver the first party games, now. Has any console in history launched with the first entire year having zero first party exclusives? How can anyone be proud of that?
 

Stuart360

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I think the major change for me is the positivity around Xbox these days. It seems a long way from the negativity around XB1, especially at the start of last gen.
27 studios now, and the games arent here yet, but when they start hitting it should be a steady flow. Gamepass, Xcloud, BC, Full PC support, powerful console, budget console, big name buys and first party developers.
He's done a great job, and turned it around from the Mattrick dark days. I mean he even seems to have Nadella fully on board now, something that was rumoured wasnt the case when he took over as CEO.
 
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Hobbygaming

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If the new games are good then we can make the final judgment

I did like some Xbox One games but most of them were 3rd party
 
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BusierDonkey

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The change in the PC space alone since he took over is worth noting. When he took over their presence on PC was almost non-existent after years of complete abandonment of the platform. It started with a trickle, games like FH3 and a few other play anywhere titles, fast forward and they've started releasing their games on Steam. PC Gamepass isn't at the same level as on consoles but has improved since it launched and I expect it will continue as new studio games release day one on PC, including the two timed Playstation exclusives.
 

longdi

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The change in the PC space alone since he took over is worth noting. When he took over their presence on PC was almost non-existent after years of complete abandonment of the platform. It started with a trickle, games like FH3 and a few other play anywhere titles, fast forward and they've started releasing their games on Steam. PC Gamepass isn't at the same level as on consoles but has improved since it launched and I expect it will continue as new studio games release day one on PC, including the two timed Playstation exclusives.

As main PC gamer, iawtp!

Before Phil, MS keeps saying PC gaming is important, but nothing to show for, except for the horrible GFW app! :messenger_weary:
GPU >>>>> GFW

Now we are even getting autoHDR patch for Win10 soon!
 
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jakinov

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We’ve been hearing that story for years already. They need to deliver the first party games, now. Has any console in history launched with the first entire year having zero first party exclusives? How can anyone be proud of that?
Depends on your definition of first-party exclusive.


Also, Halo Infinite could technically still come out within the first year.
 

Murdoch

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It's a shame people can't spot when a company has turned things around DURING the event itself and instead will need to be a 'remember that time' or reflective post on neogaf years from now.

Look at what he's done, the games will come. Enjoy the games 🙂
 

Stuart360

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We’ve been hearing that story for years already. They need to deliver the first party games, now. Has any console in history launched with the first entire year having zero first party exclusives? How can anyone be proud of that?
The Medium?, or do you just mean $100mil mega budget games?. Also games like The Ascent are here soon, and looks awesome. In fact a load of the games from the Indie showcase are due this year, and many of them looked very good. Then we have stuff like Scorn which should be this year, Halo will be the end of the year.
Unfortunately we are not still in the PS1 days when the AAA games of the time were made in 6 months by 10 devs.
 

DarkMage619

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We’ve been hearing that story for years already. They need to deliver the first party games, now. Has any console in history launched with the first entire year having zero first party exclusives? How can anyone be proud of that?
Gears Tactics. It was a first party exclusive launch title on the XSX|S. The Xbox platform has never been defined purely by its 1st party. It has also never had 23 studios. Quality games take time to produce. The Bethesda acquisition added more studios and more games to Game pass. You have to be blind to not the progress with the Xbox brand. There is plenty to be proud of especially when looking at when the X1 came out.
 

turtlepowa

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The Medium?, or do you just mean $100mil mega budget games?. Also games like The Ascent are here soon, and looks awesome. In fact a load of the games from the Indie showcase are due this year, and many of them looked very good. Then we have stuff like Scorn which should be this year, Halo will be the end of the year.
Unfortunately we are not still in the PS1 days when the AAA games of the time were made in 6 months by 10 devs.
He can't just mean $100mil games since Sony only had that prettified PS3 game and some kind of PS4 Spiderman DLC and i doubt any of these came even near to that number. Flight Simulator and The Gunk are also coming this year.
 

Windheim

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Phil completely destroyed all the brand identy Xbox had left. No exclusive games anymore, no reason to own Xbox anymore outside of it being cheap substitute for PC. No buzz about microsoft games in the media, no hype, etc.

This guy is PC crowd best friend.
And their next best friend is gonna be Jim Ryan.
 

Stuart360

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He can't just mean $100mil games since Sony only had that prettified PS3 game and some kind of PS4 Spiderman DLC and i doubt any of these came even near to that number. Flight Simulator and The Gunk are also coming this year.
Damn forgot about Flight Simulator lol. I put over 80 hours in that game over launch month, and only uninstalled it due to needing space. Depending on what you want out of Flight Simulator (i literally just picked a plane and explored the world), that game alone could give you months of entertainment.
 

SteveWorks

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Launching a console with no first party content, Halo on its ass after a disastrous reveal, having to change your marketing materials from “most powerful console” to “most powerful Xbox” days after launch because every multiplat game ran better on the ps5...well done I guess?
 

Stuart360

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Phil completely destroyed all the brand identy Xbox had left. No exclusive games anymore, no reason to own Xbox anymore outside of it being cheap substitute for PC. No buzz about microsoft games in the media, no hype, etc.

This guy is PC crowd best friend.
And their next best friend is gonna be Jim Ryan.
Man that thinking is so 2016. There will always be PC only gamers, console only gamers, and people who game on both. Supporting PC has little effect on console sales, and a big avenue of extra income for Microsoft, and now Sony.
And before you say 'But XB1 only sold 50mil consoles compared to 360's 80+mil', XB1 was already trailing 360 before they decided to support PC half way through the gen, and there was nothing but negativity surrounding XB1 for the whole of the gen. The extra income from PC drawfs the money lost on a few million less consoles sold.
 

THEAP99

reposts tweets from kids about console wars
Mar 16, 2020
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Phil completely destroyed all the brand identy Xbox had left. No exclusive games anymore, no reason to own Xbox anymore outside of it being cheap substitute for PC. No buzz about microsoft games in the media, no hype, etc.

This guy is PC crowd best friend.
And their next best friend is gonna be Jim Ryan.
sadly i think you're right. gaming is going downhill and this generation I have a feeling is going to be incredibly boring
 

Boss Mog

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The guy is really likeable but I mostly consider him to have failed since he couldn't get me to come back even though I was a diehard 360 fan. He announced a bunch of shit on XBOX One when he took over and almost none of it happened, be it Scalebound, the Phantom Dust sequel or Crackdown 3's impressive cloud based physics. The fact is MS used to have strong 1st party titles like Halo and Gears, but the original studios that created those games have moved on and the people MS got to take over just aren't filling the shoes. Halo has been nothing but downhill since Reach. MS is one of the richest companies in the world and they can't create awesome 1st party studios from scratch that would create new long term IPs for them? Apparently not, they seem to prefer using money to buy established studios like Bethesda, we'll see if that pays off. It seems all they care about is Gamepass which a lot of people see as the second coming on here. It seems like every time they announce some 4 year old game is coming to gamepass some people here need to make 10 threads about it and how great Gamepass is. Personally I prefer to just pay for games I want to play and actually own; and I already have a big backlog of those.

Also MS has made the XBOX redundant somewhat by releasing all their games on PC at the same time. If you have a good gaming PC there's almost zero reason to own an XBOX except for the protection against massive cheating in online games that closed consoles offer. If you own a PC and a PS5 though, then you have everything covered, it seems like the best solution for the hardcore gamer these days if they want all the exclusives day one and a cheat free environment for multiplayer.
 
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Old Empire.

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Good with PR and making the xbox ecosystem look seamless but still no games really that make me want to get an xbox so idk I wouldn't say things are fully swinging up for Xbox just yet

Thats a silly thing to say when there lot of third party titles in Gamepass. You had to pay full price to play them last gen. You have plenty of games on Xbox to play if you are willing to pay a low priced subscription every month.

I'm playing the wolfenstein games, going to try Prey and Dishonored soon. With no gamepass was never going to play them.
 

Riky

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Gears Tactics. It was a first party exclusive launch title on the XSX|S. The Xbox platform has never been defined purely by its 1st party. It has also never had 23 studios. Quality games take time to produce. The Bethesda acquisition added more studios and more games to Game pass. You have to be blind to not the progress with the Xbox brand. There is plenty to be proud of especially when looking at when the X1 came out.

Gears Tactics is a really good game, haven't played RTS in years but this is great. I'm sure we're getting Flight Simulator soon and Halo Infinite by the end of the year.
Hopefully like Jason Ronald said there is more for this year than has been announced so far.
 

Old Empire.

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its too early in this gen to say that he has turned things around

Fact is i don't have to spend 70 Euros to play one game. I can play outriders day one with my subscription, at very low entry to be a member roughly 13 Euros a month. (includes Gold).

Gamepass is Phil baby! Buying Bethesda is a big deal. Phil is moving the needle.
 
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cormack12

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its too early in this gen to say that he has turned things around

He's made the xbox desirable again (to normal people who aren't fanboys or previous customers they have disenfranchised). I'd say given where they were in 2013 and the subsequent years that's a massive achievement. It's not just a magic wand where you can suddenly do everything at once, and it's also not instant. Xbox are seeing the fruits of a long term vision starting to take hold.

I say 'starting to take hold', because they aren't quite there yet and there are some customers who they have lost forever as Boss Mog Boss Mog describes. It's not been perfect and there have been harsh lessons along the way. They really need those first party IPs to deliver and they are still at least a couple years out, and we don't really know what to expect from them yet.

Him and his team have done well to arrest the slide, get backing to continue the brand, make the strong acquisitions they have and generate a list of titles that although not delivered have promise. I think you have to respect that, whether you love PS5 or not. It's too early to say what this looks like until ~5 years and we have numbers of units sold, increase in gamepass subs etc. but right now the XSX is sold out which is their flagship console. That's from being dead in the water.
 

Riky

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I love almost everything he's doing, but I'm also a PC first gamer (only got an XSX because PC prices are insane). I can imagine some console purists aren't maybe as happy with Phil as I am. Idk.

My PC actually gets more use now, Gamepass Ultimate and Play Anywhere are just brilliant as even my saves sync between the formats. It has been very interesting running FH4 and Gears 5 in comparison to Series consoles versions.
 

captainraincoat

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Pretty happy with Phil
He helped make the Best console hardware and accessories ...gave us gamepass and is sitting on a bliztzerg amount of first party studios ready to release a constant stream of exclusive games
Which we all get to experience for free.

If you could put a cross against his name you would argue his first party releases are taking too long but on the other side of the fence you really have fuckall to play also so everyone’s in the same position

3 years from now will look very different
 

mansoor1980

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He's made the xbox desirable again (to normal people who aren't fanboys or previous customers they have disenfranchised). I'd say given where they were in 2013 and the subsequent years that's a massive achievement. It's not just a magic wand where you can suddenly do everything at once, and it's also not instant. Xbox are seeing the fruits of a long term vision starting to take hold.

I say 'starting to take hold', because they aren't quite there yet and there are some customers who they have lost forever as Boss Mog Boss Mog describes. It's not been perfect and there have been harsh lessons along the way. They really need those first party IPs to deliver and they are still at least a couple years out, and we don't really know what to expect from them yet.

Him and his team have done well to arrest the slide, get backing to continue the brand, make the strong acquisitions they have and generate a list of titles that although not delivered have promise. I think you have to respect that, whether you love PS5 or not. It's too early to say what this looks like until ~5 years and we have numbers of units sold, increase in gamepass subs etc. but right now the XSX is sold out which is their flagship console. That's from being dead in the water.
i think microsofts warchest is the real hero
 

Old Empire.

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As someone who only bought the newer Battlefield games on PS4 pro. Gamepass is heaven for me.

Now i can play them on Gamepass, without spending a dime to purchase them. Plus i downloaded Battlefield 4, to try it out again, have not played it for years, the servers are not empty either.. Microsoft done a great job merging older titles to the next gen systems. Its flawless playiing Bf4 on Series X
 

ripeavocado

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Is it his a corporate ad? Because if so gamespot should tag them.

Phil Spencer tenure has been a disaster, Xbox One has never recovered and they had no exclusive, their old ones did poorly with all their main staples suffering in quality and sales.

In the last two years they pushed the game pass, a system that is bad for gamers like Xbox live golf was and still is, and to do so they have spent a lot of money buying other studios, many of them of questionable output.

The cult of personality around him created by desperate fanboys is super cringeworthy and it’s so sad to see actual xbox employee using it for marketing.
 
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Kumomeme

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there still long way to go. he just manage to put xbox on little bit better position thats all. despite what they 'achieve' now, this gen just get started. to early to celebrate. i wont call it 'success' yet. most of their endeavor like gamepass and those studio buying still not yet showing result. people should not forget how their biggest launch game Halo Infinite end up. for now more talk than showing actual result contrast to their rival. however current state of xbox is better than early xbox one days. but still lagging behind sony's playstation and far cry to their performance and output during xbox 360 era. that era should be their 'gold standard'.

they can turn things around, but i doubt it happened in overnight. Sony already far ahead and rooted in stronger position thanks to their effort for atleast previous 2 generation before. if MS keep doing what they do now which is continuously improving things, they should start better for next generation. stuff that currently or will happening could helped prepare them to be on better foot for another next generation. well assume that they didnt change their bussines focus. even now it been clearly known that they ride their future in subscription services than purely number of consoles sales.
 
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No he has not and anyone who believes otherwise is fooling themselves.

Spencer and Mattrick are both clueless suits and I don't care about but but but Phil wore a gamer T shirt. No gamer would have allowed Halo to get in that state, let alone think it was acceptable to show the public.

Spencer is a mouth piece and has missed on what makes the xbox great; unique innovative games backed up by a strong staple of exclusives.

Name me the new exclusives started since the end of the xbox 360 generation. Then take a look at the games created in the same amount of time between the launch of the OG xbox and the end of the 360.

Allard and Moore are the only Xbox Heads that have understand their own console, market and demographic.

It's a shame how far off of course the xbox division has come and its a real Goddamned shame that 'fans' keep celebrating Microsofts mediocrity.

You're free to disagree all you want, because frankly, I've heard all the bullshit before from xbox 'fans'. Be it with Kinect, the lack of games, the xbox one, the lack of exclusives or the lack of innovation that once made Xbox the greatest games console ever made, backed up with legendary games.

Phil Spencer should have been fired years ago