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One of the recent defining characteristics of Xbox as a brand is a sense that the company is listening. That is something that fans have seen the Xbox team express externally, but it started internally as part of a diversity effort. The idea is that gaming is for everyone, and for Xbox boss Phil Spencer, delivering on that requires a lot of listening and a willingness to be responsive.

Spencer took over as head of Xbox seven years ago, and he reveals that he had to change when he made the choice to emphasize diversity. He spoke about that during a panel at our own GamesBeat Summit today.

“Like many privileged white guys in the tech industry, my view on what we needed to do when I started in this role was very much in product and technology,” Spencer explained. “But the truth of the matter is we ship our culture as a team much more than we ship our code or any piece of hardware.”

The executive said that building structures where Microsoft employees feel safe being themselves is foundational to Xbox’s success.

Xbox is for everyone

When Spencer made that realization, he also began thinking about where the culture comes from: for example, who gets a say in defining that culture in the first place. But he also immediately recognized the benefits of ensuring that culture did not come from a narrow band of life experiences.

During the panel, Xbox principal program manager Cierra McDonald explained the practical benefits of diversity.

“If nothing else, gaming is a creative medium, so I don’t know why we don’t embrace diversity more as an opportunity,” said McDonald. “Many people have had an experience where they stop trying to min-max a game and instead try something strange like running an orc as a stealth character. So the idea that there’s some kind of script and everything else is encroaching on that is wrong. Instead, [the industry] should embrace it as a means for creativity.”

Spencer said this is something that he has seen from Xbox.

“When I get to sit down with the team, and hear about how different people came together to create [an idea], you realize that the multitude of perspectives that a team had increases the empathy they have for our customers,” he said. “And this wasn’t always true for me. But running Xbox, getting to work with amazing people — people who don’t come from where I come and who have a very different lived experience — has been a tremendous benefit.”

And Xbox director for external technology and suppliers Esteban Lora says he can see the desire to be more inclusive at Microsoft. But he says that means it’s now about ensuring that shows up in the products themselves.

“The focus should be more on the execution,” said Lora. “The aspiration for diverse thinking is already there. The topics we’re tackling now were not even topics of conversation five years ago. But for a company as big as Microsoft, it has the opportunity to make a bigger impact. So I always think about how we can reflect the cultural part in the content that we are responsible for.”


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