Xbox head Phil Spencer has spent a lot of time trying to silence Xbox’s detractors but with Xbox One’s third month on top of Sony in NPD console sales it looks like Spencer’s approach is panning out for Redmond.
Xbox One outsold the PS4 again in September. @XboxP3 is doing a fantastic job with the shape of the XB1 platform.
— Zach (@officialzachj) October 14, 2016
@officialzachj Thanks, team effort, XB1S, 1P games on XB1 and Win10, XBL features getting good use, really thankful for all your support..
— Phil Spencer (@XboxP3) October 14, 2016
When Spencer entered the doors at Xbox’s headquarters in Redmond, WA he was putting out a lot of fires and he needed to change consumer perceptions about Microsoft’s Xbox One platform which didn’t debut well compared to the Playstation 4. He has done a lot for consumers since he started at Microsoft, but what he has done to internal Xbox team perceptions might prove to be his biggest coup. From the outside, at least, it looks like Spencer’s reign at Xbox has done wonders since the turbulent launch of the system.
When Spencer started at Xbox, the console was behind; not only in consoles sold, but in the hearts and minds of potential purchasers of a new generation of consoles. Microsoft, the hands down winner during the previous generation (at least in the invite-only fight between Microsoft and Sony), seemed to want to push the market into the future faster than consumers were ready to adapt to Microsoft’s future. When Microsoft announced their new console they threw out specifications like a well-endowed baseball player would throw his “pride” around a crowded locker room; they didn’t give a fuck, they knew they were the cock of the walk. This was the misstep that caused them to start off on the wrong foot.
It was those early decisions to plow their own path that led Microsoft to fall from grace. Spencer came in shortly after the debut of the Xbox One to lead the Xbox group. It was apparent that he didn’t agree with a lot of the decisions made by the former head of Xbox and he knew that he needed to do some triage.
Spencer quickly moved to correct some of the missteps that he didn’t agree with and make additions to the console that would make it consumers top choice this generation based on features. Spencer was interviewed by Polygon in October of 2015 and he pointed at the recent announcement of backwards compatibility as a reason why gamers had started to forgive Redmond for their past transgressions since he had taken the reins.
Correcting mistakes on the internet is about as easy as squeezing a bull into a glove compartment and Phil Spencer has been trying to erase the past since he took over as head of Xbox. His team has done a fantastic job of realizing the dream of backwards compatibility for Xbox One and already they have done a much better job than they did last generation. People love Microsoft’s Play Anywhere feature where gamers can purchase their game on Xbox One and play it on that system or on their Microsoft PC. Many people believe the Xbox One S to be the superior half-step console because of it’s 4K Blu-ray player and many of the other new additions to the Xbox One operating system that the internal teams have been working on since launch. This Spencer headed Microsoft seems to be much more nimble than the Microsoft of the 360 years and consumers are now finally seeing the fruits of their labor – or, at least, the fruits of their patience.
Phil Spencer must be a great leader because, not only has he changed consumer perceptions for Xbox One, it’s clear that with all of the great additions to the Xbox One OS over the last year he has changed perceptions internally at Microsoft too.
In that same Polygon interview from 2015, Spencer spoke about how the team felt about the reception after the release of the Xbox One console and how it impacted the internal teams at Xbox.
It’s easy to read the blogs and the sites and my Twitter feed and see what people — the customers — think of our brand and our product, but the team in Redmond took as much of a hit as the external community did around our launch. And I sit back and I think about an org of thousands of people, you’re down in the organization and some words and some actions from some executives just trash all the work that you’ve done over the last three years. Many weekends and nights. And you start to question, well why am I doing this? Why am I working so hard, when a few crass comments can actually position our product more directly than any work that the team has done.
I’m talking about our own words and things that we said. Regaining the team was job number one when I started. And being very forthright with them about where we were and our ability to do things like beat Sony was critical.
When Spencer announced last winter that it would stop releasing sales numbers, instead focusing on active monthly users as a better indicator of the health of the system, there was a lot of virtual ink spent discussing the move. Many commenters believe that the move is really just a way for Microsoft to stop comparing itself to the better performing Playstation 4, but Spencer argued that monthly usage statistics are a better indicator of the health of a system. I’m not sure if I agree with Spencer, but I do think that this reinforces his whole approach to the Xbox One: put up or shut up.
Spencer, in an interview for GI.biz in June, believes that releasing sales numbers just fuel more us-vs.-them fighting from within the video game community. He wants to focus more on what Microsoft is doing to make their console great, instead of just the monthly news that Sony is outselling them. It may be hard for consumers to believe but Spencer might be right about features leading to a stronger console market as a whole for Microsoft, instead of just console sales numbers. He said this during that GI.biz interview:
I will say over and over the core of our strategy is to drive more and more engagement on Xbox Live, which means more people playing games, which means more games get sold for our partners and our customers are more happy and that is the total focus.
It looks like Spencer’s “put up or shut up” philosophy is working out for their console in general, it was announced last week that the Xbox One had outsold the Playstation 4 for the third month in a row heading into the Christmas buying season. Instead of trying to defend the position of their console based on the numbers, Spencer has hijacked the traditional news cycle, showing the public how much they are working to make the Xbox One the best console on the market based on features. Spencer has quieted the nether regions of the internet who love complaining by making the Xbox One a great console…finally.