Xbox’s Spencer Speaks Against “Dividing Players and Creators” and a “Culture of Criticism”

Nathan Birch
Phil Spencer Xbox

Xbox boss Phil Spencer recently accepted the Andrew Yoon Memorial Legend Award at this year’s New York Game Awards, an award previously bestowed on the likes of Hideo Kojima, Tim Schafer, and Reggie Fils-Aimé. Spencer tried to deliver some uplift in his acceptance speech, largely focusing on video games’ capacity to create an “echo effect of joy,” but he also briefly touched on the critical culture developers must release games into and his hope that the industry can turn away from divisiveness. Rather than chopping his comments up, I’ll just present his speech as is (although skip toward the end if you want some of the juicier stuff).

“I've been working in the gaming industry for a long time, and well before that, I was a player and a fan of games. Back in those days, as a kid, we would save up every penny from our allowance to buy a new game that we probably chose based on the picture of the front of the box. We knew this was going to be the one game we got to play for the next six months, maybe even a year. We hoped we picked the right one, because we were all about to get to know that game extremely well.

With that one precious game, you were all invited into a new world. A new world that was created with groundbreaking engineering work and innovative artistic vision from the game designers and developers behind that cartridge. Holding that cartridge for the first time was a rush of excitement and anticipation, and playing it, pure and utter joy. Not just because we owned a cool thing, but because of the experiences we would have with that game and the community. We didn't just play with family and friends, we talked about it, obsessed over it, we laughed about it, and sometimes cried over it. Reliving our best and worst moments together.

Gaming is and was about this echo effect of joy. Today, there are so many games. More than ever before, available to more players than ever before. But also, it can feel like there is more despair in the world. A steady stream of bad news, with the ongoing leapfrogging from crisis to crisis, it feels to me, that the joy experienced as a child has become much more elusive for us all to find. More of a guilty pleasure. It feels like today, seeking joy is an act of defiance.

Yet, today as creators, as leaders, as world builders, our greatest responsibility is to inspire and invite joy. Each one of the hundreds of titles that players have at their fingertips today and tomorrow is a calling card for joy. Halo, God of War, Vampire Survivors, Peppa Pig, big games, small games, mobile games, indie games, each one is designed to deliver an infusion of joy in the midst of our lives. To give us so much joy, people want to talk about it, to share it. We, all of us here today, all of our teams around the globe, we are all part of creating this echo effect of joy. Our creators who bravely and intentionally release their visions to the world, particularly in the current culture of criticism and cancellation, our players who bravely and intentionally carve out time for our games to invite, rest and rejuvenate their lives.

As business leaders, we're called upon to have the courage to protect and nurture this collective joy. We are called upon to incubate these experiences, create them, and grow them. To seek and surround ourselves with a multitude of perspectives. To honor our differences across experiences and geographies, and to practice empathy when intentionally listening to others. We turn away from dividing players and creators, and instead towards each other, as we advance and amplify joy together. This is the echo effect of gaming joy. Thank you for this honor tonight, and thank you all for making the brave choice to put joy in the world.”

I’m sure Spencer will get some razzing for his comments about not “dividing players and creators” as his company continues to buy studios and lock down Xbox exclusives, although the line could be seen as a subtle message to regulators scrutinizing Microsoft’s proposed purchase of Activision Blizzard and Call of Duty. The timing of Spencer's speech is also a bit unfortunate given numerous Xbox employees were divided from their jobs the next day. Oh, and yeah, his comments about the current “culture of criticism and cancellation” are sure to generate some blowback. That said, overall, Spencer came off as sincere, and his vision of a future focused on creating joy is certainly appealing-sounding, if a bit pie-in-the-sky.

What are your thoughts on Spencer’s speech? Is Good Guy Phil right on the money or is Phony Phil feeding us a line?

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