How the video game industry’s most progressive exec is forging Xbox’s future.
Amazing profile of Phil Spencer by GameSpot. Worth reading the whole thing.
It seemed like a good time to ask that question. Spencer was facing a lot of internal scrutiny from his own team. Many developers who had worked on the Xbox One felt let down by Microsoft's big vision; it was, as some told Spencer, not in line with "the soul" of what Xbox was. "Satya was transparent that there could be a future where gaming isn't a business that Microsoft should be in," Spencer told me. "But it's better to have it above the table than below the table, right?" Spencer tried to work out what to say to Nadella. He looked at where Xbox had failed, and how the brand could be saved--if at all. When he finally called Nadella back, it was to say this: "If we're going to stay in the gaming space, then let's make sure we're all-in. The last thing I wanted to do was run the gaming organization here as kind of an afterthought of the company and kind of half-in, half-out. Let's go fix who we are."
At the front of the line, Spencer seemed a little distracted. "I'd love to find Hitman and Megatron after this," he said, scanning the room. Three years ago, Spencer got an Xbox Live invitation to play Destiny with a man named Keith Garlington ("Hitman"), a father of two who runs a funeral home in Arkansas. "Phil had talked a lot publicly about being a dad and not having enough time to play games, so I just sent him a message saying, ‘Hey, I'm a dad too," Garlington told me recently. Spencer and Garlington now play together a few nights a week. They're usually joined by Amin Cooper ("Megatron"), who works construction and lives in New Jersey. The three men talk about life, work, and family as they drive around in Forza and co-op on Destiny 2 strikes. "We know each other's wives' names. We know each other's kids' names. We know what we're all doing next weekend," Spencer told me. "What other social construct would put these three random people together like this?"
"I hear that a lot," Spencer told me. "That I only care about cross-platform play because we're ‘losing.' There's no way for me to disprove that other than to say it's not true. These decisions aren't part of a strategy to eke away at number one's foothold or something. It doesn't mean that I'm perfect at this job. Obviously, you can get smarter people to do this job. I mean, I don't even have an MBA. There's a ton of things that I'm incapable of doing. If you put me as head of Microsoft Office or something, it would seem totally disingenuous. That's not what I am."
For his part, Schafer was initially skeptical of the acquisition. Firstly, it wasn't something that he'd been thinking about. Secondly, he was worried about potentially putting Double Fine's identity at risk. "Like, do we all change our emails to Microsoft emails and paint all the walls green?" he told me. What ultimately changed his mind was a phone call to the folks at Ninja Theory, who told him that Microsoft's insistence on letting first-party studios just keep doing what they wanted with minimal interference was true. "They said, ‘We are still who we are. They're letting us make the kind of games we want to make.' And that was a huge thing for me. I could see how it makes sense--it makes sense not to have them convert us to making Forza DLC or something."