Phil Spencer says Microsoft 'needed a reboot' in DICE keynote on workplace diversity

Xbox boss Phil Spencer opened the 2018 DICE Summit with a keynote address focusing on the company's embrace of workforce diversity. Spencer acknowledged that "it was obvious that Microsoft needed a reboot" when current CEO Satya Nadella took the company's reins, not just for the good of the firm, but because of the direct connection between a smoothly-functioning internal culture and effective world-building, which he said is "the bedrock of awesome gameplay." 

"World building makes our world understandable, and makes stories feel real and grounded. To paraphrase writer Chuck Wendig, good world-building starts with the story, but epic world-building serves the story," Spencer said.   

"It's language, politics, traditions; it's faith, it's laws, it's customs; it's race and ethnicity; it's gender, it's relationships; it's the rules of magic; it is lore. In short, it is everything that makes up a society." 

Spencer cited games like Candleman, Life is Strange, What Remains of Edith Finch, and The Last of Us as noteworthy examples of games that raise questions about the real world around us—"the question with the quest," as he put it. "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?'" 

"In order for us to do our best work, we need our work environment to function well. If the core mechanics of our own team and our own internal cultures are broken, everything stumbles," he said. "The flipside is when the core mechanics of your own team work, and the team accomplishes great things. This is our aspiration." 

Microsoft took the first real steps toward realizing that aspiration when Nadella ascended to the role of CEO four years ago: Spencer said people realized that change was in the wind after Nadella had the Microsoft leadership team read Nonviolent Communication: Life-Changing Tools For Healthy Relationships, and then quoted poetry.   

"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. And the in-fighting and fiefdoms were so famous, people made fun of it. Which would have been funny, if it hadn't been so true. So we hit refresh on everything, not just our communication but our entire culture." 

And that, he emphasized, is important not just to Microsoft employees, but to everyone who plays its games: "This was, and is, a deliberate, 100,000 person strong undertaking to craft the most innovative, the most representative, and the most effective culture we possibly can, so we can do our best work together. This isn't culture for culture's sake, it's culture for collective impact." 

Spencer's full keynote can be seen in IGN's livestream of the event below, starting about nine minutes in.