A continuation of our four part article in which we speak of how the Xbox One has got to where it is today. You can check out Part I: The One-Two Punch of Doom and Part II: The Court of Public Opinion on these links. This time round – enter Phil Spencer.

Part III – Cometh the Hour, Cometh the Man

On March 31, 2014, Phil Spencer was announced as the new Head of Xbox. Almost immediately, the fortunes of the Xbox brand began to change. Spencer brought a gamers-first mentality to everything the Xbox team worked to accomplish, and the changes that came in the next few months gave repeated evidence of that commitment.

To prove that the newfound commitment to gamers wasn’t just lip service, Microsoft launched the Xbox Feedback site. Gamers could go and vote for the features they wanted to see added to the Xbox One. This was a great idea in principle, but what truly gave it credibility was that they actually worked to implement the top ideas and requests on the site. As opposed to the Microsoft of one year earlier that told fans what they wanted, the new Xbox under Spencer’s leadership was using fan feedback as a roadmap for how to make the console better.

phil spencer

Spencer also made himself incredibly accessible to fans. If you ask him a thoughtful question on Twitter, there’s a good chance you’ll get a response. He doesn’t hide his gamertag from fans – any of us can follow him and see that he actually plays the same games we do. Both of these things have been integral parts of his success. Yes, he was a 25-year veteran of Microsoft when he took over as Head of Xbox and is an established businessman, but he can easily present himself as someone who loves games just like the rest of us. It comes across as genuine because it’s true.

From a business standpoint, the first truly impactful thing that happened under Spencer’s leadership was the introduction of the console without Kinect. Sure, they said all the right things about how Kinect was still a core element of the system and the best Xbox One experience was with the accessory, but the reality is they were responding to fan criticism about not presenting consumers with a choice. Deep down, they had to have known that the moment they started selling the console without Kinect, the accessory was dead in the water. They did it anyway, shedding the impression that they were incredibly bullheaded about Kinect in the face of what the majority of fans were saying. At $400 USD, the Xbox One without Kinect was now at a competitive price point with the PlayStation 4, meaning the conversation could now be about which console was actually better.

At E3 2014 we saw the first true example of Phil Spencer’s footprint on the direction of the Xbox One. There was no talk of hardware. No TV, no Kinect, no football. The Microsoft conference was 90 minutes of games. We were shown Forza Horizon 2, Sunset Overdrive, Halo: MCC, and a host of third party games coming to the Xbox One. We were also given a glimpse into the future of the games lineup with Rise of the Tomb Raider, Halo 5, Gears of War 4, Quantum Break, and Crackdown. Meanwhile, the Sony conference was bogged down in the middle third with talk of the Powers TV show. The same company that was attacking their competition one year earlier for not simply being all about games was now on stage presenting a live TV show to its fans. You could start to sense a turn in the conversation about the consoles. The Xbox One wasn’t in the dominant position, but it was now on more of an equal plane.

forza horizon offroad 2

One of the most brilliant moves Spencer made was to invest in the games lineup and allow games to drive the conversation. This is the one place where they have a clear advantage. In terms of exclusive games, Sony has some outstanding AAA franchises, but the question is: where are they? Yes, they’ve released Killzone, Infamous Second Son, Bloodborne, and The Order, among a few others. Microsoft boasts a lineup of exclusives that dwarfs those games. I own a PlayStation 4. I love some of the exclusive franchises Sony offers. Yet every E3 I watch the Sony conference and the message is essentially “hey thanks for buying millions of our consoles. As a thank you, we’re going to give you exclusive games someday. We promise. In the meantime, look at all the third party games we’ve signed deals with.” As a PlayStation 4 owner since launch day, all I can really confirm is that MLB The Show, Rocket League, and Until Dawn look and play great on the PS4. Oh, and it’s a rock solid Netflix machine.

At the launch of the consoles, the Xbox One was the console that seemed to be taking its fans for granted. Since Phil Spencer took over, it can easily be argued that the opposite is true. The Xbox One offers almost monthly updates, introducing new features that add to the overall experience. They introduced the preview program, allowing fans to test out upcoming features and provide feedback so Microsoft can address problems before rolling it out to everyone. Not only is this a smart move from a quality assurance standpoint, but it makes fans feel a part of the process and gives them a voice. Even small additions like the monthly Gamerscore leaderboard are things I really enjoyed. Note to Microsoft: please bring this back.

The constant updates and improvements to the Xbox One recently culminated in the rollout of the New Xbox One Experience, which integrated Windows 10 into the Xbox One. This allowed gamers to stream Xbox One titles onto their Windows 10 PC through the Xbox app. In future games, such as Fable Legends, it will enable cross play between console and PC players. These are the types of innovative things that should represent a new generation of consoles. Some of us will love it and some won’t, but at least it’s something new that’s there to try and experience.

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Perhaps the greatest example of Spencer’s new direction for the console and his commitment to listening to fans was at E3 2015. In the first third of the conference, he made the surprise announcement that backwards compatibility was coming to the Xbox One. The announcement was met with resounding cheers in the auditorium, and my own reaction can only be compared to the shock I had when the Undertaker lost at Wrestlemania 30. Something that we had all been repeatedly told was impossible was now being made a reality by Spencer and his team. Something you have to pay $100 a year to do on the PlayStation 4 you could do for free on the Xbox One, as long as you owned the game. They even (finally) fired a shot across the bow of the PS4 by stating during the conference that they didn’t think you should have to pay to play games you already own.

During E3 2015, Ryan McCaffrey of IGN had Phil Spencer, Peter Moore, and Seamus Blackley on his show for a 90-minute discussion about the creation and evolution of the Xbox console. It’s a fantastic listen if you haven’t heard it yet. During that discussion, Peter Moore said that Phil Spencer was the right man at the right time to lead the Xbox One, and that he had restored confidence in the system going forward. The phrase he used was “cometh the hour, cometh the man.” At the most dire hour, Phil Spencer took the helm and has done literally almost everything right. He has restored confidence and energy into the Xbox brand, not just among fans but among the Xbox team as well. Most importantly, he repositioned the Xbox One to be a formidable competitor to the PlayStation 4 and was able to change the conversation about the new generation of consoles.

Coming Up – The State of Xbox One – Part IV: The Tide Turns

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jonboyo
jonboyo
6 years ago

Very well written.

MIDI
MIDI
6 years ago

I am really very much impressed with this read keep up the good work and thanks…It is factual, to the point and well written.

Tyler
Tyler
Reply to  MIDI
6 years ago

Thanks! Appreciate the kind words

Jrocker23
Jrocker23
6 years ago

Great piece you have put together here. Really enjoying this

Tyler
Tyler
Reply to  Jrocker23
6 years ago

Thanks! Glad you’re enjoying it.