Gamespot Interviews The Real Phil Spencer


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Sep 11, 2013
in front of a screen

The idea of anyone idolizing a business executive is surprising in any industry, let alone one where consumers are routinely suspicious of big companies and corporate scheming. But many gamers seem to view Spencer as one of them, rather than the physical embodiment of a corporate business strategy. Spencer's public behavior does little to discourage this: he has a habit of publicly sharing his Xbox Live gamertag, for example, and inviting people--everyday, non-executive people--to play with him. His overwhelming popularity means he gets more requests than he can respond to, but there are plenty of stories floating around the internet of Xbox Live users who have managed to challenge Microsoft's executive vice-president of gaming to a Forza race or Rocket League match.


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?"

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