Things seem to be changing at Microsoft, and these changes are all due to the words of a single man. Phil Spencer, recently promoted to the top of the Xbox division, appears to be trying to change the narrative when it comes to competition within the video game industry. He’s changed the discussion from what’s good for companies or consumers to what’s good for games. Where this comes from, be it genuine or driven by Xbox’s clear second-place spot, is anyone’s guess. But what’s solid and observable, for the time being, is that people are paying attention to what Spencer is saying.
Arguably, we can trace this back to when the Xbox One was new. The whole shebang, at the time led by Don Mattrick, was dead on arrival. The messaging from the company was muddled, confusing, and not accepted at all by the gaming community. From talk of getting rid of used games to tons of multimedia integration, all Sony had to do to get a leg up was talk about video games. The Xbox One still sold well, but its chances of being as big as the PS4 evaporated in no time.
When Phil Spencer took over as the face of the Xbox, things turned around pretty quickly. The conversation went back to games, even while the platform struggled to find exclusives and titles like Scalebound ended up canceled. All the big deals and reveals the Xbox 360 was known for jumped over to Sony, with almost every major game featuring exclusive content on the PlayStation 4 at launch. You’d never tell Microsoft’s platform was still doing well, based on the press and conversations surrounding it.
But recently, the conversation started veering towards everyone playing nice with each other. The Switch came out and was more successful than anyone expected it to be. In terms of mindshare, it was starting to look like Microsoft would end up falling down to third wheel status. But then, the topic of cross-platform play really became a big deal. Even with Sony sort of spearheading the idea with play between PlayStation 4 and PC users, particularly with games like Rocket League and Street Fighter V. But Spencer would turn the idea into a controversial topic by pointing the concept directly towards consoles.
Suddenly, Minecraft was no longer a console-by-console product. Minecraft is now a platform, and people on Xbox One, PC and even the Nintendo Switch can interact and have access to all the same content. Rocket League, launching soon for the Switch, will also become a three-system experience. It’s happening, and now everyone is wondering why Sony isn’t joining the party. And Spencer keeps bringing it up.
But that’s not all. In a recent interview, Spencer was very candid about his feelings for exclusive content. Not games, but content, meaning the little bits of DLC or other goodies that traditionally were a very Xbox thing, but are now happily nestled in with Sony. Spencer said he may not endear himself with PR, but his personal feelings are that platform exclusives for multiplatform games are not good for games is an idea holding back the medium. The head of a console division saying something like that is almost sacrilege, but also a great way to endear oneself with gamers on the ground sick of that junk too.
This is either a guy who is comfortable enough in his position to feel safe saying what he wants or an intriguing new strategy. What’s to lose if you’re not winning anyway? Aim the blame for industry-wide problems, and maybe become a fan-favorite agent of chaos in the process? Sounds fun, right? I’m not suggesting the latter, but these statements are worth paying attention to. They all fall under a similar theme, suggesting the barriers between platforms need to be broken down as much as possible, for the good of the medium. It’s a very un-corporate set of thoughts to just toss out there as often as Spencer does.
At the same time, a new Xbox One that is branded as the most powerful console ever is coming out, that is still an Xbox One. It’s another inclusive move, one that doesn’t leave anyone behind. Will we see more of these kinds of statements from Spencer in the future? Will they lead to major changes in how the games industry conducts business within itself? Let us know what you think in the comments.