Xbox is on its deathbed and Phil Spencer needs to go – Reader’s Feature

How much trouble is Xbox in? (Picture: Microsoft)

A reader is angry about the furore surrounding Xbox’s multiformat plans and blames boss Phil Spencer for letting things get to this point.

Like most people in that era, I owned an Xbox 360, not a PlayStation 3. I’d had a PlayStation and PlayStation 2 and been very happy with them. The word PlayStation had already become as synonymous with video games as Nintendo but when Xbox offered up a superior alternative, I switched sides immediately. Despite all the talk of console wars it is, like most toxic behaviour, only perpetrated by a small minority. Most people don’t buy a console out of loyalty, but after carefully considered research.

Consoles cost a lot of money but unless you’re a hardcore gamer you probably don’t even want more than one console, unless it’s something completely different like the Wii or Switch. My point being that console loyalty is a myth and people chose which one they want based on the games and reputation of the company. I don’t think there’s much debate about the fact that the Xbox Series X/S doesn’t have anywhere near as many good exclusives as the PlayStation 5, but that’s been the case for a long time now. It’s the damage to their reputation that is their newest problem.

This last week has been insane, with the sort of headlines that would normally seem like a low effort troll now made to seem entirely plausible. Starfield on PlayStation 5 is now taken as a given, Gears Of War is likely, and not even Halo is out of the question. That’s what’s turned certain superfans crazy but the real damage, I feel, is how Microsoft has handled all this and what it says about them as a company.

The rumours of going multiformat first appeared last month and unusually it wasn’t one source but many, and most of them proven to be trustworthy. Later, the suggestion was that they’d all been briefed by a source from inside Microsoft, an exec that didn’t agree with the idea of going multiformat and wanted the plans to go public, so that fan outrage might reverse them.

I don’t know if that’s true but soon enough the number of games involved, and their level of importance, increased until nothing is now off the table. And what was Microsoft’s response to that? For a long time nothing. Then on Monday Xbox boss Phil Spencer said this:

‘We’re listening and we hear you. We’ve been planning a business update event for next week, where we look forward to sharing more details with you about our vision for the future of Xbox. Stay tuned.’

What a condescending non-statement. As I write this on Thursday we still don’t have a date or time for this ‘business update event’, which has meant that the rumours have continued to rumble on and the misinformation has piled up, with many people (mostly unscrupulous YouTubers) pretending that Microsoft is exiting the games business or is going to stop making consoles, when we know nothing for certain and the first is certainly not true.

But this is my point, Microsoft is letting this fester and get out of control while they have their little boardroom battle over what they should do. By the time they say anything half their audience will have already assumed they’ve given up and that Xbox is dead. It’s not dead but it certainly does feel like it’s on its deathbed and it’s going to need a miracle to resuscitate it.

In my opinion, this is a failure of leadership. It’s also a problem with marketing, which Microsoft has always been bad at. But, as others have already pointed out, the buck stop with Phil Spencer. At the end of March he will have been in charge of Xbox for exactly a decade and I’m really not sure what he has to be proud of in that time.

He’s spent a lot of Microsoft’s money but none of those companies they’ve bought have produced anything close to a classic since then. Ironically, Bethesda and the Call Of Duty teams have put out arguably their worst games ever, as their first titles published by Microsoft. I realise that’s essentially just a coincidence, since they were started long before Microsoft took over, but it’s not exactly a good start.

The Starfield problems are partially Microsoft’s fault though. They will have seen the game before they bought Bethesda and they were apparently convinced of its qualities enough to hype it to hell and back last year, whereas it took most gamers only a few hours to realise it’s a dud.

It was Phil Spencer’s decision to push Starfield as much as he did, just as it was his decision to show off Halo Infinite in 2020 – a showing so pathetically bad it got the game delayed by over a year. How did he, and his other execs, not see that would happen, when to ordinary gamers it was clearly laughable – with memes circulating within minutes.

And then again with Redfall. Why release the game the way it was, when you should’ve known what the response would be? Why force the developers to make the game, when they apparently didn’t want to? ‘I’m upset with myself’, said Spencer afterwards. Well, yeah. I would be too if I kept making the same mistakes again and again.

He’s got to go and the person they get to replace him has got to show some humility and accept that the brand is going backwards, and its golden era is now worryingly far in the past. We do need Xbox to be strong and competition is good, but Xbox is not providing that right now and hasn’t during Spencer’s entire reign.

I mean, just look at Sony’s response. Are they running scared? No, they’re just sitting back and letting Xbox trip up over its own shoelaces. They’ve probably never felt less threatened. Especially if Microsoft is now knocking at their door, asking for dev kits and publishing licences.

The amount of spin we’re going to hear from Microsoft in the next few days is going to be enough to put the Earth out of orbit but that is also the wrong approach. Just put your head down, admit your mistakes, and put out some decent games. After all this time Xbox still hasn’t realised the one truth of the industry. All gamers really care about is the games and Xbox is not delivering them.

By reader Ashton Marley

The reader’s features do not necessarily represent the views of GameCentral or Metro.

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