Phil Spencer and the Battle for Xbox’s Soul

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Xbox has stepped on a rake again.

For the umpteenth time in the last decade, Microsoft finds itself on the wrong side of bad news. And as usual, it’s self-inflicted. Just as Team Green was starting to build some positive momentum – Fallout is the biggest show on TV and boosting all of the Fallout games at once – the launch of Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 is imminent and it could be the kind of prestige single . -player, narrative-driven third-person action-adventure that has long been missing from the brand, the next Xbox Showcase has been announced for June 9, where we could finally see the long-awaited next entry in the Gears of War series , the upcoming Call of Duty: Black Ops game, and more – Xbox executives have inflamed the morale of customers and quite possibly its own developers by announcing the closure of three studios (Tango Gameworks, Arkane Austin and Alpha Dog) and the consolidation of a fourth (Roundhouse).

Fans were quick to point out recent and now hypocritical quotes from Xbox executives, like CMO Aaron Greenberg. saying Last year’s just-deleted Hi-Fi Rush from developer Tango Gameworks “was a resounding success for us and our players across all key metrics and expectations.” We couldn’t be happier with what the team at Tango Gameworks delivered with this surprise release.

In the Xbox 2021 documentary Power On, Sarah Bond said The management team wondered how to learn lessons and not repeat the mistake of acquiring a studio (in this case, original Fable developer Lionhead), only to shut it down. And a year ago, following the disastrous launch of Redfall, Xbox boss Phil Spencer said“One thing I will not do is oppose the creative aspirations of our teams. When a team like Rare wants to make Sea of ​​Thieves, when a team like Obsidian wants to make Grounded, when Tango (Gameworks) wants to make Hi-Fi (Rush) when everyone thought they were probably making The Evil Within 3 … I want to give teams the creative platform to push their capabilities, push their aspirations.

At best, these once reassuring quotes ring hollow today. At worst, they are outright lies. We’ve come a long way since Xbox fans proudly declared “In Phil we trust” and assignment Dark Knight “I believe in Phil Spencer” photoshopped buttons.

Terribly, Bloomberg reports that Microsoft may not be finished making cuts. The situation could therefore very well get worse before it gets better. For developers, this would mean further job losses. And for gamers, that could mean (another) possible Xbox Game Pass Ultimate price increase. So how did we get here? Why can’t Xbox stop tripping over its own feet? And with the Xbox organization growing so massively over the past five years and its reach extending not just to consoles but to any device capable of playing video games, can the soul of the Xbox even be saved?

I spoke separately to two former longtime Xbox employees, and both lamented the current state of the company. One of them told me, before this week’s terrible studio closures, “I had long conversations with a group of Xbox founders, and we all came to the same conclusion: this ‘is no longer Xbox, but Microsoft Gaming.’ Ouch.

The other spoke with me at length after the Bethesda bloodbath and thinks Xbox is now too big to quickly or easily get its house in order. “There is too much surface area. You actually have three huge companies in play and Microsoft never really finished (the) integration with Bethesda. (And) Activision is three times bigger than Xbox. They added: “The Xbox 360 launched with a few hundred people. The latest news is that Xbox now has nearly 30,000 people.

And that growth has led, in this Xbox veteran’s view, to increased surveillance and interference higher and higher up the Microsoft food chain. “The reason this seems so inconsistent with previous statements from the Xbox management team is because these decisions are likely not made by Phil. This is all driven by (Microsoft CEO) Satya (Nadella) and (Microsoft CFO) Amy Hood, and it all stems from the Activision acquisition.

The longtime ex-Xboxer continued: “The situation Xbox was in when they made that call was much different. (They) couldn’t keep consoles in stock, making money with the growth of Game Pass – (acquiring Activision) seemed like a no-brainer.

“Now console sales are down. Post-COVID recession. Game Pass slowdown. The acquisition was costlier and longer than expected. And the focus on fighting the FTC probably cost them money time they would have spent thinking about the people and implications in the studio.

“I had long conversations with a group of Xbox founders, and we all came to the same conclusion: It’s no longer Xbox, it’s Microsoft Gaming.”

“I 100% believe this is a board decision. Xbox is a huge profit center, so Satya approved a huge merger. Now games are slowing down and Microsoft’s stock is skyrocketing and there’s no way Satya is going to let Xbox drag it down.

“This is just my opinion, of course, but… I’m pretty sure these decisions aren’t made just by Xbox execs.”

This isn’t about absolving Spencer for his role in all this (unlike the tone-deaf “Won’t someone think of the multi-millionaire executives?” answer from former Xbox executive Mike Ybarra). After all, he is the head of the entire organization. The responsibility lies with him. The acquisitions of Bethesda and Activision-Blizzard took place on his watch. As such, he is no more immune from criticism for being, by most accounts (including my own), a nice guy than the star professional athlete is for his mediocre performances on the field despite regularly signing autographs for children before matches.

But regardless of who’s responsible for the Activision-Blizzard clout that seems to be unbalancing Xbox’s balance, it’s now fair to ask if and how Spencer can save Xbox’s soul. Is Xbox a gaming brand that still means something to gamers? Can it compete with Sony and Nintendo? And if the answer to these questions is yes, what defines Xbox? Is it Xbox Game Pass? Are these big exclusive franchises like Halo, Forza, Gears of War, Fable and (maybe, they should end up being exclusive) The Elder Scrolls, Fallout and Doom? Is it possible to play anywhere, seamlessly, via PC, mobile, cloud and portable media, invisible to the end user? Could it be all of this? Should it be all of these, or does Xbox then become a jack of all trades, master of none? After all, when you think of PlayStation or Nintendo, you probably think of one thing and one thing only: consistently amazing exclusive games. That’s it.

The Activision-Blizzard-King acquisition could prove to be precisely what undoes the Xbox brand.

If the board pushes Xbox in this direction, will Spencer respond? These decisions – no matter who makes them – cost Xbox an incredible amount of talent and community trust. Spencer knows this, and it’s up to him to solve this problem.

At this point, I would have argued that, until this week, Spencer’s ten-year tenure at the helm of Xbox could be summed up like this: player-focused initiatives like backwards compatibility, accessibility, cross-play and Xbox Game Pass – but it has yet to deliver either the single breakthrough blockbuster game that captures the zeitgeist, or the steady stream of high-quality, exclusive games that drive platform loyalty. Now, though, he’ll probably be remembered primarily by how he handles this moment: can he organize a monolith of five companies (Xbox, Bethesda, Activision, Blizzard, and King) into a single entity that makes both happy players and shareholders? Is it possible?

If it doesn’t succeed, the Activision-Blizzard-King acquisition could ultimately prove more trouble than it’s worth.

News Source :
Gn tech

Back to top button