All change: why Microsoft's new staff shuffle is great news for gamers

Phil Spencer
He's a man with a plan

It's all kicking off over at Microsoft's Redmond campus. This week, Phil Spencer was appointed Microsoft's Head of Xbox, not only putting him in charge of Xbox's games division, but also Xbox Music, Xbox Video and Xbox Live to boot.

Spencer, who previously headed up Microsoft Games Studios, takes on the role following the departure of Interactive Entertainment Business President Don Mattrick last year, and of Xbox's chief product officer Marc Whitten earlier this month.

It's an appointment that's being almost universally welcomed by Xbox fans, not least because of Spencer's approachable online persona. But, it's likely that it'll mean good things for our games too.

Meet the new boss

"Whether it is meeting thousands of fans at the launch of Xbox One, talking at industry events or hearing from gamers on Twitter and Xbox Live, I am actively listening and I am motivated to do what's right for fans who've invested their time, hearts and money in the products we build," Spencer wrote in a blog detailing his new role over on Xbox News Wire.

"You have been the most important part of the success Xbox has had to-date and you are a critical voice as we continue the journey. Let's keep the conversation going."


How much of a difference can one man make? Well that remains to be seen

He promised that gamers would see plenty more of what he had in store for the Xbox One's line-up at E3 (and has indeed been hinting as such over on his Twitter feed for some time now).

He closed his blog by confidently stating that we are at the beginning of an "incredible new chapter" for Xbox. Exciting times indeed.

Spencer's promotion to head of all Xbox software is the latest in a line of reshuffles at Microsoft, following Satya Nadella's appointment as the company's third ever CEO in February.

Stephen Elop, who joins as part of MS's $7.2 billion acquisition of Nokia, becomes Executive Vice President of the Devices Group - putting him in charge of Windows Phone, Surface, and Xbox hardware. He's the Yin to Spencer's Yang, if you will.

Gamer focused

"Spencer's interest in the new role is all about putting the games first and foremost on the platform"

Spencer's appointment alone however speaks volumes as to how far the company's focus has shifted since last year's "TV, sports, TV, sports, TV, TV, TV, maybe some games" console reveal.

Speaking to Polygon, Spencer stated in no uncertain terms that his interest in the new role was all about putting the games first and foremost on the platform.

"Xbox is a gaming brand and [Microsoft] took the person who was at the head of the gaming franchises to lead the Xbox team," he said.

"With me you're going to get a focus on gaming first and a best platform to play games on. It's not a focus we ever lost but it's one I'll be accentuating at Microsoft. It's really going to be a gaming-led focus with Xbox and my new role allows us to execute on that."

"The growth of the Xbox community, with over 80 million Xbox owners around the world, is built on the foundation of exclusive franchises, new and original IP and the world's most popular cross-platform games. Games and gamers have always been at the core of Xbox and the core of my work - and gaming will be our core as we take Xbox forward."

Again, he reiterated that we'll start to see evidence of this new gamer-heavy focus at E3. He's previously revealed to Twitter followers that the company's annual E3 presentation is so packed that they're already well over their 90 minute run time and having to hold back some content for later.

Some new IPs are confirmed to be in the mix, as are a few other surprises and tasty treats.

Xbox E3

Last year's E3 went out with a whimper, let's see this year's wow us please

"I see the conversation focusing more on the games: what new IP we are investing in, what's going on in Japan, what are we doing with Halo," Spencer continued.

"It's my job to make sure the best content shows up there... maybe a mix of things we're bringing back from the past, like Killer Instinct, which was very successful, as well as new IPs, like Quantum Break, Sunset Overdrive and other things we haven't announced yet.

"As the conversation with the customers today centres around the content that we have, that's the majority of my focus. And we're talking to developers about the next thing they want to be doing on Xbox."

Real talk

The exec has certainly earned respect in online circles for his straight shooting. Amongst other things, he has admitted that Microsoft shouldn't have "sugar-coated" the Xbox One controversy, and his ability to praise the competition over at Sony without sounding disingenuous makes him come across as a straight-up decent guy.

His habit of tweeting nostalgically about classic franchises in need of a comeback hasn't gone down too badly with fans either, even if it does lead to one too many flimsy "Microsoft boss hints at Shenmue 3"online news stories.

Spencer Twitter

Spencer has been taking time to reach out to Xbox fans via his Twitter account

With his keenness to engage fans on a personal level online, Spencer is more than just the new dude in charge; he's the important forward face of a company that in recent years had cultivated a bit of a reputation of being run by a bunch of outdated suits.

Jack Tretton's likeable persona didn't do Sony any harm when it came to winning the trust of gamers at last year's E3; Don Mattrick, in comparison, seemed faintly out of place. After Microsoft's disastrous E3 showing and the PR hiccups that have followed in the months between then and now, the only way to go is up, and Spencer is just the guy to lead the charge.

As the man himself said in his Xbox Wire post - "this is going to be fun." We certainly hope so, Phil - don't let us down.

Aoife is a staff writer for Official Xbox Magazine. What she lacks in stature she makes up for in volume - especially where late night karaoke sessions are concerned.

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