The once seemingly unshakable reputation of the Head of Xbox may be beginning to quake…
At large, Phil Spencer has been doing a fantastic job at Xbox ever since his induction in 2014. Manning the helm following the frankly disastrous launch of the Xbox One at the tail end of 2013 (under the supervision of the woefully out-of-touch Don Mattrick) Spencer weathered the storm of multiple controversies.
Be it the DRM controversy, underpowered hardware in comparison to the competing Playstation 4, or the multimedia service farce that severely downplayed the Xbox’s use as… well, an Xbox, public confidence in the brand was at an all-time low.
In comes Spencer. If Mattrick was your firm but fair schoolteacher, Phil was your cool uncle who could school you at Halo. He helmed multiple projects which lead to a great restoration of faith in the product, from the well-applauded backward compatibility program, the introduction of industry-wide cross-play, and the creation of the first-ever true 4K console in the Xbox One X.
The introduction of the Series X and S can be viewed as something of a victory lap for his tenure, with Xbox outselling Playstation in Japan for the first time in eight years last week, as well as Game Pass’s massive successes since its introduction, hitting 25 million subscribers as of the start of 2022.
Yet it seems as though the tide may be about to turn. After the somewhat lukewarm reception of Gears 5 and then Forza Horizon 5, which (while still fantastic) did not prove to be quite the blockbuster hit that Xbox was hoping for, and as such fans have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of true system selling titles.
Halo Infinite while well-received (lack of updates notwithstanding) was delayed by a whole year, missing a red-hot release as a launch title for the new Series lines of consoles. The mask may have already begun to slip, yet the hugely damaging delay of both Starfield and Arkane’s Redfall from a Q4 2022 release into the ether of a far-flung 2023 launch has revealed the face in full.
Game delays are a tricky subject, and unfortunately, they have become more and more common as technology advances and developmental complications arise. For every delayed yet universally acclaimed Red Dead Redemption 2, there is a rushed and largely derided Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy Definitive Edition. Battlefield 2042 suffered no delays and yet suffered a completely disastrous hot mess of a launch, with player counts so low that the 128 player modes have been dropped entirely, yet Cyberpunk 2077 (which experienced multiple delays) also suffered a widely derided release.
These experiences launched “Crunch Culture” to the forefront of the gaming public consciousness for the first time, with gamers worldwide developing a greater degree of understanding of just how ridiculously grueling development cycles in certain studios can truly be. And thus Shigeru Miyamoto of Nintendo’s mantra of “A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad” was echoed through gamers worldwide.
God Of War director David Jaffe had choice words for Spencer in a scathing stream on Youtube, decrying:
“You suck, Phil Spencer. You are me when I was 28. I knew I could design, I knew I could have commercial ideas at least at that time, my brain was directly plugged into the zeitgeist. It took me all of seven, eight, and nine months to realize I could not produce a game at all, let alone a game that I was also directing… it allowed me to realize there are things we’re good at, even great at, and things we’re not.”
Taking to Twitter to douse the flames, Spencer himself remarked that “These decisions are hard on teams making the games & our fans. While I fully support giving teams time to release these great games when they are ready, we hear the feedback. Delivering quality & consistency is expected, we will continue to work to better meet those expectations.”
A delay can adversely affect a game studio, yet in the case of Xbox and their record acquisition of game studios, it can affect an entire company. Spencer’s down to earth demeanor and his excellent work have won him the admiration of many fans (and rightly so, myself included) yet the seemingly constant delays in every major release are beginning to affect the brand in a major fashion, resulting in a lack of enthusiasm and a higher degree of distrust from fans.
Truly, what is the point of acquiring almost every developer in sight if every major release is to be delayed, time and time again? The distrust left in Mattrick’s wake which has since dissipated is dangerously close to returning, turning back the clock on almost a decade of fantastic work.
Mr Spencer please, make it happen.