Microsoft learned valuable lessons after some of its most loyal fans were nearly in tears after the Xbox One launch two years ago.
Xbox boss Phil Spencer spoke today at the GeekWire Summit and explained how Microsoft recovered from early blunders related to the company’s console launch in November 2013.
At the time, many Xbox fans across the world expressed displeasure with a number of Xbox One features, including the fact that the console did not offer backward compatibility with Xbox 360 games and implemented restrictions with game-sharing.
On top of that, Microsoft originally priced its console at $499 — $100 more than Sony’s Playstation 4.
Spencer, who was part of the leadership team that helped launch the Xbox One before becoming head of Xbox in April 2014, said that Microsoft lost the trust of gamers.
“Whatever the feature may have been, we lost the trust in [our customers] that they were at the center of our decision-making process,” he said. “Were we building for us, or for the gamers? As soon as that question came into people’s minds and they looked at any of those features, you find very quickly that you lose the benefit of the doubt.”
The angry responses from fans also had a bad effect on the Xbox team in Redmond — more than Spencer had expected, at least.
“Our team took as much of a hit as the external community around the launch,” he said.
Addressing criticisms, Microsoft made a point of saying that it didn’t previously know if it could make backward-compatibility happen, technically. Whether or not you buy that assertion, the company clearly needed to win back the love of its most loyal customers.
Microsoft ultimately responded, with Spencer announcing this past June at the big E3 gaming convention that the Xbox One will be able to play Xbox 360 games, making its newest console backward-compatible with titles originally created for its previous generation of console hardware.
Spencer said that “regaining that trust and mind-share with customers and gamers is incredibly difficult,” but he feels good about the position and brand of the Xbox One today.
Still, those early missteps may have helped Sony’s Playstation 4 emerge as a clear leader in worldwide console sales over the past two years.
But Spencer said his team in Redmond doesn’t pay much attention to the sales race with Sony and other competitors now. That’s a key mindset shift from when Microsoft launched the Xbox One, Spencer explained. He said the chart above was originally an important motivator, but not so much anymore.
“When I started [as head of Xbox] I made statements like, ‘we want to win’ and turned it into a competitive thing,” Spencer said of his first days leading the Xbox team 18 months ago. “But what I quickly realized is that you can only control, as a leader, the things that you can control — the products you built, the features you add to your platform, the way you talk about your team.
“Sony is having incredible success with the Playstation 4 and they’ve earned that. But for me, as a leader of my team and somebody who is interacting with the Xbox community, it was much more beneficial and I could have more impact focusing on the product that we had. It was a change for me.”
Spencer noted that some people may think it’s easy for him to say that now, given that Microsoft trails Sony in console sales. But it’s a mindset he expects to be consistent, no matter the numbers.
“I think — and maybe we’ll test this someday — if we’re winning, I will stay in the same swim lane,” he said. “It’s really about the products that we have, the features we add, and how we treat the customers.”