Xbox Head Phil Spencer had a surprisingly frank discussion at the 2015 GeekWire Summit about the troubled Xbox One reveal that set the console back from the beginning. His comments included the reveal that he’s not sure if PlayStation 4’s substantial lead two years into the current generation can be overcome.
According to Sony, the PlayStation 4 has sold more than 25 million units worldwide as of June, 2015. The last Xbox One sales update came in November, 2014, when Microsoft announced it had shipped 10 million units.
NPD reports for sales in North America have sometimes shown the PS4 in the top monthly sales spot with the Xbox One occasionally on top. Sony’s console appears to hold a slight sales lead in North America, though how much is unknown. The larger gap comes from Europe though, where the PS4 is available in a larger number of countries and reportedly has up to a 90 percent market share in some countries.
When asked if the Xbox One could catch up to the PlayStation 4 sales, Spencer gave a non-committal “I don’t know” while admitting that Sony has a huge lead. He went on to add that the team behind the Xbox took a big confidence hit due to decisions and comments made by previous leadership.
The comments about executives “trashing work” done on the console along with a “few crass comments” are particularly surprising. This is the first time that he’s made such a direct reference to the troubles that the Xbox One went through under the previous Xbox leadership team helmed by Don Mattrick at the time with Marc Whitten as the Xbox Head.
Whitten became a controversial figure following the Xbox One launch due to comments defending the always online and sharing requirements that were announced for the console. The most infamous of those was, “We have a product for people who aren’t able to get some form of connectivity; it’s called Xbox 360.”
Spencer was appointed head of Xbox in March, 2014, and building the confidence back up of the Xbox team was “job number one.” The team has since transformed from one questing leadership to one that’s motived by the customers, according to the executive. He points to the recent decision to add backwards compatibility to the Xbox One as an example of the regained confidence from being motivated by customer wants.
That’s in direct contrast to the perception that the Xbox One suffered from following its announcement.
“Whether it’s always-on, used games, whatever the feature was, we lost the trust in them that they were at the centre of our decision-making process,” Spencer recounts. “Were we building a product for us, or were we building a product for the gamers? And as soon as that question came into people’s minds and they looked at anything, whether it was the power of our box, our launch line-up, microtransactions, any of the features that you talked about, what you find is very quickly you lose the benefit of the doubt. You lose your customer’s assumption that the reason you’re building your product is to delight them and not just build a better and more maybe manipulative product.”
Some consumers still think the Xbox One is the same console that was announced in 2012, though it reversed every single one of the controversial features and has improved on many others since launch. Spencer acknowledged that the first impression of the Xbox One turned out to be lasting, which hurt mindshare and trust with gamers. The Xbox One may not be able to beat the PlayStation 4, but Spencer at least has the console side of the business on the path to finish a healthy number two going into the next generation of consoles.