Today, during Microsoft’s Extra Life broadcast, Xbox division head Phil Spencer shared quite a few interesting facts and anecdotes about his work and philosophy.
First of all, Spencer explained how console names are greenlighted at Microsoft, focusing on the Xbox One S and Xbox One X.
The marketing team comes up with some options based on research, then they start brainstorming and do more research based on the results of that brainstorming, alongside trademark searches (which according to Spencer are “kind of a headache”). Then it gets narrowed down to one to three names, and Spencer himself gets to make the final decision.
He explained that he liked both “S” and “X,” but he probably didn’t think as smartly as he should have about having to say both of them back to back. He really needs to enunciate carefully when he talks during interviews and similar occasions.
Spencer was then asked what it is like to run the Xbox division, and he mentioned that it’s “fantastic,” but the thing that is most frustrating about it is that the team comes up with some great opportunities: not everything can actually be done, since there aren’t enough people, time, and money. There are so many teams that have great ideas, and sometimes it feels that he is “balancing people’s disappointment.” That being said, when they get to ship something and it does really well, people get excited. For instance, now they are in the aftermath of the Xbox One X, and that energized the team and the community.
Spencer “loves the job” and he hopes that “It’s the last job he ever has,” as it’s what he likes to do and he gets to work with “the best people in the world.” The best parts of the job are “the team, the fans, and the community.”
He also talked about “listening tours” that are often done at Microsoft. A collection of people from the team is invited into a room and they just talk about what it’s like to work at Microsoft and give their feedback. That feedback is often the same that comes from the community.
For instance, a new employee asking for game recommendations sparked a discussion on improving the recommendations provided by the Xbox One dashboard based on what games the user played and had achievements in.
According to Spencer, it’s great to see the team getting excited about ways to get more people to play games. And that’s why he works in the industry: he just wants more people to play video games. He thinks games are a very special art form.
Spencer’s fundamental belief is that gaming is a positive thing for society, and he feels that Microsoft has a unique opportunity to make gaming more available and accessible to more people. Some try to push on him to be more about the competition between gaming platforms, and while clearly making sure that Microsoft’s platforms, games, and services reach as many people as possible is” incredibly important,” Spencer doesn’t want to get to a destructive point where it’s better for gaming if fewer companies are making video games or if there are fewer platforms.
Spencer won’t fall into that mindset. He’ll see comments like “crush this!” or “wouldn’t it be a good thing if this company disappeared?” On the contrary, while there are a billion people playing video games on the planet, he believes that there should be two billion. He is the camp that would like to bring people together within the special art form that is gaming. People should cooperate, learn, and talk together. Games are an amazing medium that can bring people together, and Spencer feels that this is very special about gaming, whether it happens to parents with their kids, siblings, friends living next door to each other, or people online who have never met and possibly never will.
Extra Life is a good example of that. It’s not about one versus the other, or who has this or that marketing deal. It’s about people playing together and having the best time together. That’s why he is in the gaming business, why he loves it, and why he thinks things like Extra life are a great mix, a special cause bringing gamers together regardless of what games or platforms they enjoy, doing some good for the planet.
After that, Spencer answered a few lighthearted questions mostly about himself: while he doesn’t have a video game tattoo, and won’t get one, if he really had to, it would be the Xbox Logo. He has worked at the company for seventeen years, and it’s part of his identity.
If he had to play co-op with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, it would be a game they can succeed together at, he brought Ghost Town Games’s Overcooked as an example.
His favorite arcade game is Robotron. When he was in college he wasn’t the most social person, and when he wasn’t playing video games in his dorm room, he was at the local Seven-Eleven playing Robotron. He is actually a “total introvert,” all about comics, bad punk music and playing video games. Being a public personality as he is now is “totally new” for him. We also learn that his father was an engineer, and he bought him a Sinclair ZX81 on which he learned to program. That’s how he approached video games.
Recently, Spencer joined Microsoft’s senior leadership team, and Xbox Games Marketing General Manager Aaron Greenberg told us that this shows the strategic importance of gaming at the company. CEO Satya Nadella also echoed that concept just a few days ago.