From student to head of Xbox – Phil Spencer talks about his early days at Microsoft

From student to head of Xbox - Phil Spencer talks about his early days at Microsoft

The head of the Xbox gaming division, Phil Spencer, in honor of the launch of the next generation consoles, gave a great interview to Shacknews. In it, he talked about the beginning of his career, the importance of Game Pass, Halo: Infinite and more.

Getting Started at Microsoft

It all started with the fact that in 1988, as a sophomore at the University of Washington, Spencer sat in a dormitory and wrote a code. At that moment, an acquaintance of his, who was then working for a little-known company Microsoft, entered the room.

After seeing Spencer programming, he offered him a summer internship. The head of the Xbox initially hesitated and wanted to choose a job in a video game store, but received an offer he could not refuse.

He said: “At the end of the summer, you can pick up the computer on which you will work there.” Well, I answered: “Okay, I agree.”

Spencer joined the CD-ROM application development team that would later become part of a game studio. In 2000, Spencer was invited to join a new department related to video games. The first title released under his leadership was the strategy game Rise of Nations from the Big Huge Games studio.

Yes, I believe that the developer’s experience really helps me to think better about the strategy, to decide what can be done in time and what not. It only helps in the sense that the team has several different points of view, and not: “I can solve everything, because I understand programming.”

It was the experience of the programmer, according to the head of Xbox, that helped him in the future to see problems in studios through the eyes of developers – but he still cannot solve absolutely all problems.

Moving to head of Xbox

In 2013, the gaming division was split into three parts. The head of the Xbox Don Mattrick left, six months before the launch of the consoles, the head of platform development Mark Whitten moved to the Windows department. Even the marketing department is gone.

In the end, Spencer had only to take matters into his own hands and bring the consoles to release. Now the head of the Xbox recalls that it was difficult to work, but he is grateful to each member of the team who then contributed to the common cause.

I don’t think the reshuffle had a very good impact on the launch, but my compliments to Mark and the others, we did it well, and we released the Xbox One almost on time. I can say that some parts of the platform were not yet fully ready at the time of launch, but kudos to the team for doing their best.

In November, Microsoft’s CEO Stephen Ballmer left Microsoft and was replaced only in February when Satya Nadella took over. By that time, PS4 was significantly ahead of Xbox One in sales and the new head of Microsoft thought why invest in the Xbox brand at all.

Spencer recalls that then he began to worry about the gaming unit, since it may not survive the winter. He decided to explain to Nadella that the brand should not be liquidated yet. After speaking with the CEO, Spencer officially became the head of the Xbox.

I said, “You know, games can be a very important category for a company.” He didn’t yet understand what that meant – certainly not intellectually – but he simply wasn’t very close to the industry. Yet he willingly bet that our team will succeed.

And I said, “If I really need to become the head of the Xbox, I need to reconnect all the departments. You can’t have the hardware developers in one place, the ones responsible for the console in another, and the studios in the third. I need to do it again. them one command “.

When asked if Spencer liked his position, he replied that he did not even think about another job. Since childhood, he has been playing video games and this is what brings him pleasure. Right now, the Xbox team and fans inspire him the most.

I don’t want another position, I don’t want to be the CEO of Microsoft. I want to do what I do now, and my main inspiration is our team and players.

This was the case several years ago.

Xbox rebranding and subscription appearance

In 2014, Spencer and his team had to come up with a “face of the console” – in which direction to promote the brand and on what to build its identity. Nadella helped determine the direction – the players should be in the center of everything.

While working on Game Pass, we identified two main points: “I want to play more games” and “Why am I not playing them now?” The question arises: “But do I have the opportunity to play?” So we needed to get as many games as possible.

And then the next question arises: “To play everything that interests me, I have to buy. But is it possible to introduce a subscription model, as with music or video, so that I have as many different games to choose from?”

This is how the Xbox Game Pass subscription was born, which Spencer himself compares to Netflix and Disney +, but from the world of video games. Thanks to this service, even small games can find real success without having to sell millions of copies.

Now on these platforms you can see what no one would have seen 20 years ago. It seems to me that you have to thank a business model in which everything is planned in advance – that is, the opposite of a business model in which you need to release hits for financial success. It seemed to us that the first model would be perfect for us.

The key was to put the player in the center.

Halo: Infinite Postponement

During the interview, a Shacknews journalist suggested that the days of Xbox system sellers are over. Spencer agreed with this statement. If earlier consoles had to come out with several large exclusives, now this is not so important.

According to the head of the Xbox, the strength of the new generation is determined not only by fresh games, but also by backward compatibility titles. In addition, the Xbox has a Game Pass subscription, which also means a lot.

I remember the days when backward compatibility didn’t exist at all. The Xbox One did not have it either: it was possible to play Killer Instinct, Ryse, Lococycle and several third-party games on it.

But I lost access to almost everything I played on 360. So I like living with backward compatibility better, which gives people a lot more games.

Spencer wanted Halo: Infinite to come out with the Xbox Series, but the health of the team was more important to him. Moreover, now the sales of consoles depend not so much on preferences as on the number of pieces in stock. It is unlikely that the release of Halo: Infinite would have had a big impact on anything.

I know that some publications will want to compare the sales of the Xbox and PS5, but even if both consoles are completely sold out, I’m not sure that this will show anything – well, maybe it will affect someone’s rating.


Sales of the next generation Xbox Series consoles started on November 10. On this occasion, the company was congratulated by Sony, Nintendo and other representatives of the gaming industry. Microsoft itself also celebrated the nextgen release with a show of 200 drones.

Leave a reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>