Microsoft’s purchase of Activision Blizzard still has the internet abuzz with speculation, and many fans are already wondering if Microsoft will choose to bring some select Activision Blizzard titles back from the dead. Sony is feeling the impact of the announcement, with its stock taking a dip after the news broke — and much like Sony, much of the gaming community seemed blindsided by the deal. That being said, it’s possible that Xbox CEO Phil Spencer has been dropping hints for a while now.
For instance, many leaders in the gaming community have felt compelled to speak out regarding Activision Blizzard’s recent legal trouble. Jim Ryan from PlayStation slammed Activision Blizzard’s response to its ongoing investigation, criticizing the company for not doing enough to change its problematic office culture. Phil Spencer also spoke up, and for a time fans thought things weren’t looking good between Xbox and Activision Blizzard.
In an email sent to employees, Spencer spent some time affirming that the leaders at Xbox — like many others — were "disturbed and deeply troubled" by the allegations against Activision Blizzard, but he also dropped an important hint at the changing relationship between the two companies. Spencer said that Xbox would be "evaluating all aspects of [Xbox’s] relationship with Activision Blizzard and making ongoing proactive adjustments." At the time, that statement seemed like a comment on Xbox’s continued willingness to host games by Activision Blizzard, but now the promise feels more suspect. Did Spencer drop the biggest hint at the acquisition months in advance?
Spencer hints at continued improvement
Looking at it in hindsight, Spencer seems to have been gearing up to go forward with Microsoft’s big purchase of Activision Blizzard by affirming Xbox’s commitment to doing better by its fans and employees in the future. Not only did Spencer directly state that the company would be reassessing its "relationship" with Activision Blizzard, but he’s also noted in recent weeks that Xbox itself would try to avoid its past mistakes.
In early 2022, before the acquisition was announced, Spencer addressed a notorious 2016 Xbox Party at the Game Developers Conference. Many fans and conference attendees criticized the event because Xbox employed women to dance – partially clothed – to entertain guests. Spencer admitted that the party was misguided, but that the experience ultimately taught the company a lot about what not to do. In an appearance on the "Sway" podcast, Spencer said that he was proud of how the company worked as a team after the event and that the controversy ultimately led to an effort to strengthen and diversity Xbox as a company.
The Sway podcast also helped reveal that Spencer thinks it’s bad practice to criticize other companies’ shortcomings, including Activision Blizzard. In the interview, Spencer said that it’s fruitless to engage in "virtue shaming" other companies, and leaders should instead focus on making their own teams more effective. While those words aren’t bad advice, it’s possible that Spencer hinted at the upcoming announcement of Microsoft’s big purchase, which he must have known was on the horizon.
Spencer assured the public before the deal was announced
After his initial statement about Microsoft’s relationship with Activision Blizzard, Spencer issued a comment to IGN, saying, "I personally have strong values for a welcoming and inclusive environment for all of our employees at Xbox. … The leadership at Xbox and Microsoft stand by our teams and support them in building a safer environment for all." Spencer also said that the process of creating an inclusive environment was a "journey" that companies must stay on forever, always striving to be better.
Looking back at those comments now, it seems that Spencer carefully chose his words to address both current Xbox employees and future Microsoft employees at Activision Blizzard. Spencer continues to selectively speak about the two companies and their soon-to-be unification. He spoke to the Washington Post about Activision Blizzard’s plans to change its company culture, saying, "I believe the leaders there believe in the opportunity they have in their plan." While he didn’t speak about any plans to intervene in Activision Blizzard’s leadership, it’s clear that Spencer is keeping quiet on things for now, just as he had in the months leading up to the deal’s announcement.
While it wouldn’t be fair to say that Spencer has been dropping hints at Microsoft’s purchase of Activision Blizzard, his selective comments to various press outlets indicate a commitment to keeping some things out of the public eye. While fans will have to wait and see how Microsoft’s purchase of Activision Blizzard plays out in the long run, it’s clear that Spencer is committed to holding both divisions to high standards, just as he’s been telling fans the entire time.