DICE (Design, Innovate, Communicate, Entertain) Summit is an annual conference held for video game executives. Established by the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences, (AIAS), DICE traditionally has a keynote speaker to open the conference. This year, that speaker was Phil Spencer, Head of Xbox and Executive Vice President of Gaming at Microsoft. His talk is titled Building a Living and Learning Company Culture.
You can watch and listen to Phil’s entire DICE 2018 speech here (all credit for this video goes to IGN):
I highly, highly encourage you to watch the full video if you have the time. If you don’t have the time however, here are some noteworthy highlights:
Phil opens by talking about what makes gaming incredible, recalling past experiences in online multiplayer titles. He talks about the social aspect of World of Warcraft, the hero’s tale of Halo, the thrilling adventures of Uncharted and more. He then shifts to talking about the questions some games ask, like in Life is Strange or The Last of Us.
“World-building enables the question within the quest. Every single time we upend a stereotype in a game, we beg the question: Why can’t it be like this in the real world?” he explains. Phil dives into the challenges that Microsoft has faced over the last few years. When Satya Nadella became CEO of Microsoft, Phil states bluntly that “But it was obvious that Microsoft needed a reboot. Morale had hit a low. We were all massively frustrated that we kept missing big trends. And in some ways it felt like real innovation was impossible.” He even acknowledges the infamous memes that poked fun at how Microsoft’s departments seemed to be at war with each other.
He goes on to explain that in spite of the challenges, Microsoft has persevered in overhauling its culture. After four years, progress has been made, even if it’s still difficult. “This isn’t culture for culture’s sake. It’s culture for collective impact.”
Xbox in particular, was suffering after the reveal and launch of the Xbox One. “I knew I had to do more than articulate our strategy to win back the hearts of our customers. I had to win back my team’s trust.” It’s been a rocky road, with Phil taking time to acknowledge the mistakes made at an infamous party at GDC 2016, where women were hired as dancers. “The backlash was justifiable and furious,” he said. “The internal backlash was almost harder. The easy thing would have been for us to sidestep responsibility. Instead we bet on who we were and what we stood for.”
Phil also highlights the importance of accessibility in gaming. “More people than ever before are going to have access to a broader and more diverse set of games. Just like it was for myself, we know that for many people around the world gaming is the first entry point into technology.” He cites estimates that state the total number of gamers might grow over 2 billion over the next three years.
Diversity is important, as he points out the impact of films like Coco, Wonder Woman and Black Panther. “These movies advanced a new and arguably more accurate way of seeing and relating to people in our real world. They showed that representation matters. Not just for the community they represent but for the world at large.” Where books and movies are predetermined in regards to their stories, Phil sees the potential for gaming to be a truly equal playing field. “There’s a reason why people use online gaming as a way to escape the real world when they’re coping with social identity issues.”
He also referenced Jason Schreier’s book, Blood, Sweat and Pixels, a “tough-love” letter on the state of the gaming industry. He concedes that it’s amazing any game gets made, and that feedback is critical to learning and actually shipping any game. Phil also believes it’s necessary for the same resolve to be present in allowing gaming to be an equalizer and combating toxic attitudes online and in a corporate setting. Referencing how players of online games are often harassed, whether it be due to gender, race or something else, Phil believes that it’s their duty to prevent such things from happening, to take a strong stance against discrimination and harassment.
He closes by remarking that “For me, regardless of the strategies or the specifics, I know what kind of world we can make. A world that elevates gaming way beyond epic lands and legendary characters. A world that elevates the impact and reach of gaming. A world that changes the way people see and relate to each other as equals. A world that unifies and leaves lasting value, because we dare to create for all of us.”
My thoughts on Phil Spencer’s DICE 2018 speech:
One of Phil Spencer’s comments stuck with me as particularly powerful, even after he’d moved on. “The pen might be mightier than the sword, but today, I believe the pixel is mightier than the pen.” Honestly, I think he’s right. Xbox has come a long way from the blunders of 2013, and with Phil’s recent promotion, I’m eager to see just what’s ahead.