Xbox head Phil Spencer applauds devs for releasing games in the culture of 'cancellation'

Phil Spencer at the 12th Annual New York Game Awards.
(Image credit: NYVCC | YouTube)

What you need to know

  • The New York Videogames Critics Circle recently hosted its 12th Annual New York Game Awards show.
  • During the show, Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer was granted the Andrew Yoon Legend Award.
  • Spencer's acceptance speech discussed his origins as a gamer and the joys of gaming.
  • However, Spencer controversially praised developers for releasing their games amid the "current culture of criticism and cancellation."

On Wednesday, the New York Videogames Critics Circle hosted the 12th Annual New York Game Awards to celebrate not only the best video games of 2022, but also the most influential people and organizations. Many games were given awards (opens in new tab) throughout the show, and there were appearances from a multitude of prominent members, including Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer.

The head of Xbox, Spencer was awarded the prestigious Andrew Yoon Legend Award during the show, which aims to "recognize people and organizations that have exhibited a significant, sustained body of work that shows exceptional artistic achievement and innovation," according to the NYVCC. Spencer's acceptance speech of the award discussed his origins as a gamer during childhood, and had a consistent theme surrounding the "joys of gaming." However, a handful of comments during the speech have attracted controversy from the gaming community.

"It can feel like there is more despair in the world, a steady stream of bad news," Spencer stated at one point in his speech. "With the ongoing leapfrogging from crisis to crisis, it feels to me that the joy I experienced as a child has become much more elusive for us all to find... It feels like today, seeking joy is an act of defiance." Some community members have pointed out that this final statement is the same mentality used by many bad actors to justify their actions as a form of "defiance against the mob", although this isn't the line that has attracted the most attention.

Our creators who bravely and intentionally release their visions to the world, particularly in the current culture of criticism and cancellation.

Phil Spencer, Microsoft Gaming CEO

"Today, as creators, as leaders, as world builders, our greatest responsibility is to inspire and invite joy," Spencer continued. "We, all of us here today, all of our teams around the globe, we are all a part of creating this echo effect of joy. Our creators who bravely and intentionally release their visions to the world, particularly in the current culture of criticism and cancellation; our players who bravely and intentionally carve out time for our games to invite, rest, and rejuvenate their lives; and business leaders. We are called upon to have the courage to protect and nurture this collective joy."

Spencer's comment on the "current culture of criticism and cancellation" has understandably drawn its own fair share of criticism, as Spencer's choice of words suggests an "anti-woke" mentality that shies away from developers and people behind held accountable for their actions and behavior. Some have surmised that Spencer was referring to the rate at which developers can be unfairly or even cruelly harassed by players and community members on the internet for game delays, flaws and bugs, or even because of their personal lives and identities. Still, many others are concerned that Spencer's words are fighting back against a growing movement to make gaming healthier and more accessible to all players.

Without additional context, it's difficult to know for certain the true meaning behind Spencer's comments, although discussions are continuing to ramp up on Twitter. Still, the timing is unfortunate given recent events. High on Life, which enjoyed the largest third-party launch in Xbox Game Pass history, is drawing criticism after its creator, Justin Roiland of Rick and Morty fame, is being charged with felony domestic violence. Upcoming title Hogwarts Legacy is being boycotted by sizeable groups of gamers due to Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling's transphobic views and some of the questionable content and themes of the game itself.

In case you missed it, the Xbox community has been hit with more controversial news recently, as multiple Xbox studios have been impacted by Microsoft's mass layoffs, including over 60 employees at Halo Infinite developer 343 Industries. Windows Central's Jez Corden discussed the layoffs at Microsoft and the impacts they could have, highlighting the ever-changing economic climate and the difficulties of maintaining Microsoft's "good guy" image. While not related to Spencer's comments, many have still drawn the connection between the Xbox head praising devs for their bravery releasing games in the "culture of criticism and cancellation" shortly after so many Xbox developers have been negatively impacted by an impartial decision to terminate their employment.

Windows Central's take

Video games are a form of entertainment media, and as such have always been exposed to criticism from players, industry insiders, and critics alike. Presenting this criticism in a healthy and reasonable format is vital to encourage growth and improvement in the industry, but there's undoubtedly a problem with bad actors in the community taking their criticism too far and needlessly, harmfully harassing innocenct, hardworking people.

However, it's also crucial that people and businesses are held accountable for the politics and ethics they hold that directly or indirectly hurt people and negatively impact lives. For such a prominent member of the video games world to openly praise developers for "bravely and intentionally" releasing "their visions to the world" in the "current culture of criticism and cancellation" isn't a good look, even if it wasn't Spencer's intention to appear to be supporting bad or harmful practices to continue without accountability.

Either Spencer's choice of words was unfortunately poor, and he meant to refer specifically to the bravery developers have releasing their games even knowing there may be negative backlash from aggressive, toxic bad actors in the community seeking to harass or harm, or his comment on the culture of "cancellation" is deeply troubling and perpetuates the idea that if you obtain enough power and riches, you aren't responsible for the ways your biases and prejudices hurt people — a culture that's deeply rooted in games development rife with sexual harassment and misogyny, terrible working conditions and crunch culture, and difficulties embracing diversity during a time when more people than ever are playing video games.

Zachary Boddy
Staff Writer

Zachary Boddy (They / Them) is a Staff Writer for Windows Central, primarily focused on covering the latest news in tech and gaming, the best Xbox and PC games, and the most interesting Windows and Xbox hardware. They have been gaming and writing for most of their life starting with the original Xbox, and started out as a freelancer for Windows Central and its sister sites in 2019. Now a full-fledged Staff Writer, Zachary has expanded from only writing about all things Minecraft to covering practically everything on which Windows Central is an expert, especially when it comes to Microsoft. You can find Zachary on Twitter @BoddyZachary.