LAS VEGAS—In just over four years as head of Xbox and executive vice president of gaming at Microsoft, Phil Spencer has overseen some tough times for the gaming brand. But he says one of the most difficult lessons he has learned in that time came after a company-hosted Game Developers Conference party that featured scantily clad women dancing on podiums.
That “unequivocally wrong, unequivocally sexist, unequivocally intolerable choice” led to justifiable public backlash, Spencer recalled at a keynote speech at the DICE Summit in Las Vegas this morning, which Ars attended. But, he said, the “internal backlash at my own company was almost harsher.” Instead of sidestepping responsibility, Spencer said he “absorbed the hit” as a leader and used it as an opportunity to “bet on what we stood for… we don’t tolerate any employee or partner that enables or offends others… we stand for inclusivity.”
This sort of internal cultural transformation has been a deliberate focus for Microsoft since Satya Nadella became the company’s third-ever CEO roughly four years ago, Spencer said. That company-wide “reboot” was especially necessary in the Xbox group, which Spencer admits was in a “world of pain” since “we hadn’t done our best work with the announce[ment] of the Xbox One. The product we built wasn’t meeting the expectations of our customers, market share was taking a nosedive, and it was painful to read all the headlines.”