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Spencer: Xbox One team focused on regaining fan trust, not beating PS4

Sony "have a huge lead and they have a good product".

Xbox One is selling and Microsoft has regained some of the momentum it lost back at the console's disasturous launch. But will it ever recover to the point where it beats sales of Sony's PlayStation 4?

It's a question that Xbox boss Phil Spencer must get asked a lot. But now, in a frank interview at Geekwire Summit 2015, Spencer has said that his view is that it just doesn't matter.

Explaining that his view has changed over the 18 months he has spent in the job, Spencer explains that he is now focusing on rebuilding trust in the Xbox brand - for example, through announcements such as backwards compatibility - as he admits that Xbox One may now never catch up.

"I started off making statements like - 'we want to win'. But I quickly realised you can only control what you can control," Spencer said.

"Sony is having great success with PlayStation 4 and they've earned that. But for me as a leader of my team and as somebody who is interacting with the Xbox community it was much more beneficial and I could have more impact by focusing on the product we had."

Of course, it's easy to be humble when you're not in first place. But Spencer says he is just more aware that Microsoft should focus on improving its own offering than trying to win points in the schoolyard console war.

"It was a change for me in the 18 months [since becoming Xbox boss]. You'll hear me talk less about the competition. People will say 'you're losing, so of course you're not going to bring that up'. Maybe we'll test that some day.

"But if we are winning I'd hope to stay in the swim lane. It's about the games we have and how we treat the customers who buy our box."

So, will Xbox One ever beat PlayStation 4?

"You know, I don't know. The length of the generation... [Sony] have a huge lead and they have a good product. I love the content, the games line-up that we have."

Spencer also discussed the early days of his posting, when Microsoft was still reeling from the negative online reaction to its poorly marketed and poorly thought through policies - and its eventual U-turns on issues such as used games and bundling Xbox One with Kinect.

"One thing that probably I didn't realise as much as I should have when I started in this role was the impact that the launch had on our team here in Redmond, the Xbox team.

"[They] took as much of a hit as the external community did around the launch. And I sit back and I think about [Microsoft being] thousands of people, you're down in the organisation and some words and some actions from executives kinda just trash all the work that you've done over the last three years, many weekends and nights.

"You start to question, 'why am I doing this? Why am I working so hard when a few crass comments can actually position our product more directly than any work that the team was doing?'"

Spencer not only had to start the process of rebuilding the Xbox brand with customers, but also reassure colleagues after a turbulent console launch.

"When I see that transformation of a team that's questioning the leadership of the organisation to a team that's motivated by the customers that we have and their ability to delight them, I see a team that's making amazing progress.

"We didn't know back compat would work. We started it, a few ninja engineers went off and figured it out - how do you go from PowerPC to X86 and translate game code that's about as time-critical as any piece of code that you would want in terms of its performance? They got it done.

"I would never question the ability of our organisation, but I'll say we're not motivated by beating Sony, we're motivated by gaining as many customers as we can."

Spencer concluded by acknowledging that he, and Xbox, still had a lot of work ahead.

"Have we recovered? I feel really good about the position and the product and the brand right now, but I was at the Gamestop Manager's Meeting about three weeks ago and I'm sitting with 5000 GameStop managers in Las Vgas and they'd come up and they still have customers that walk in the store that think that the Xbox One won't play used games.

"Just to be clear, Xbox One has always played used games from day one. But that perception that gets set early on, because consumers have five seconds to internalise your brand and your message.

"Regaining that trust and the mindshare with the customer, the gamer, is incredibly difficult."

The interview is well worth a look - watch it in full below.

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Tom Phillips


Tom is Eurogamer's Editor-in-Chief. He writes lots of news, some of the puns and makes sure we put the accent on Pokémon. Tom joined Eurogamer in 2010 following a stint running a Nintendo fansite, and still owns two GameCubes. He also still plays Pokémon Go every day.