Many years ago I was invited to Microsoft in Brussels to have a talk with Guy, he was looking for gamers with a passion for Xbox to promote the brand in Belgium. Sometimes you just immediately know when someone has a true passion for a brand, Guy was/is one of those. It was definitely someone I look up too and is one of the main reasons why I throw myself into content creation for Xbox. While we couldn’t do this interview face to face, for the obvious 2020 reasons it is still an interesting read.
Dae Jim: May 2010 – June 2015, five special years for you. You launched Xbox One and countless of games for Xbox in Belgium. Could you explain how stuff like this feels? It obviously means not playing games 24/7 but I’m sure it was a hectic time for you.
Let me start by telling you what my job was, As Product Marketing Manager, you’re responsible for managing the product portfolio for a country, in my case, Belgium and Luxembourg. This means very practical stuff, such as localization of assets (posters, box art, video content, etc..), forecasting the entire product portfolio. This means that you need to be able to say to the supply chain how many units you require of any product (games for Xbox and PC, consoles, accessories) and this on a monthly basis, also back catalog. If you don’t order the units, they don’t get made, and they don’t end up on the shelves. This is also tied to targets, and budgets, but I won’t bore you with that. Then there’s also the marketing side, which I didn’t do alone. But we decided in the team where we needed to be active, how to communicate and which assets would be sent out into the world. One of the things which weren’t in my responsibilities, but I felt needed to happen – was supporting the community as much as possible. This was essentially a hobby project, but I feel it paid off. The first part of that was being active on the social channels, then I took a bigger step by recruiting a team of Xbox ambassadors who would carry out the word for us, but would be compensated for their efforts, in games, loot, events, or a simple pizza night.
I really enjoyed my time at Xbox, My very first game I launched was Alan Wake, and one of the last games I worked on for a local release was Halo 5: Guardians. The biggest launch I worked on, was without a doubt Kinect for Xbox 360. And say about that product what you will, and like it or not. But this was quite a big event at that time. I feel like my actions had an impact on the market and the community. Working behind the scenes gives you a lot of early views on projects, some of them make it in the hands of gamers, others don’t, or get released in an entirely different way than was initially presented. But yeah, feels great, knowing that you’re one of the first to get to see and play amazing games is amazing. The hard part is keeping it a secret for a long time.
Dae Jim: Would you agree with me if I say that the launch for Xbox One was a disaster for our Belgium region, even Europe? Not much you could do about it, let me make that clear. But looking back, it must have hurt to see the brand damage and online outrage.
Let me be clear on this that this was not the vision I had for the brand, but as you say, I didn’t have any say in what happened. When the big cheese in the US tells you that you can’t launch day and date, then that’s what happens. And I lobbied and protested internally quite long, but without any results, sadly. Did this impact the market? Hard to say, the people who wanted an Xbox One simply imported one, and even retailers joined that trend, Xbox was in shelves, but it wasn’t supplied by us. It probably dented the brand a bit, but that’s hard to measure.
Dae Jim: Xbox One is a much better place now, Xbox Game Pass is leading a new direction at Xbox. You could say that Phil Spencer did an excellent job with turning the ship around. Are you in the Xbox Game Pass craze or do you prefer to buy your games.
Phil is the man, I can’t stress enough how important this man is to the success of Xbox today. He’s also a veteran who has been working for the team for ages now. So yes, in Phil I trust. And yes, even though I don’t have as much time as I would like to, I have Gamepass Ultimate, still play every day, but I do still buy some games from time to time.
Dae Jim: Got any favorite moments while you were working for Microsoft?
Sure, the best moments were without a doubt the yearly internal presentations where the plan for the next year would be shown, 2 full days of games, games, games. But also the strategy. This was held by the corporate team who would present to the European countries. This was usually in December, and the earliest glimpse gamers would get was a full 6 months later at E3, or longer than that.
In terms of events, Gamescom is probably a yearly favorite, connecting with a lot of people, third party contacts, some of which I’m proud to call friends now. But also journalists, developers, etc.. Awesome! Own events, The Kinect road to launch, where we created a Kinect loft where we invited people from the press, but also retailers, community members, etc. This because we felt that feeling was believing.
Also, I organized a showcase event, where I invited third parties to show off their games next to ours for retailers and press. This was in the summer of 2012, our hero title was Halo 4, where we gave press hands-on possibilities and interview possibilities with a 343i rep. And even though Titanfall, or the Xbox One was not yet released, we held a launch event for Titanfall with a tournament, that was pretty cool.
Dae Jim: Yeah, I have been to quite a few of those events you mention and it was a blast! Moving on, we’re days away from Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S launch. How do you feel about the upcoming new consoles? Microsoft seems to have executed the perfect plan, most powerful hardware, lots of developer acquisitions and with Xbox Game Pass newcomers never had so many games to play. Almost perfect… as the delay for Halo Infinite remains painful.
Phil got it right, this is exactly where Xbox needs to be. They’re doing all the right things when it comes to the console. But I feel that putting everything on Halo was a mistake. And this is not in retrospect, I knew ahead that they would opt to only have Halo as a launch title and didn’t think it was a great idea then. The line-up is weak, let’s be honest. No killer app and not even something that can fill the void. I launched the Xbox One with Ryse, Forza 5, Kinect Sports Rivals, and Dead Rising 3. Think about that! Something for a broad audience, a racing game, and two action games. And that was just the first party. Now there’s nothing, and that’s a missed opportunity. I firmly believe that this generation, Xbox will be the strongest player, they have the studios, the games (just not now), and the money, but most importantly, they have a strategic plan, and they’ve been working hard to get where they are now. They’re not done yet, and the future is bright, believe me 😉
Dae Jim: Time for something that pops up everytime I ask for feedback from the Belgium Xbox gamers. Language support… we go way back you and me, I know for a fact that you did your best fixing French Achievements for example. WHY IS THIS STILL AN ISSUE? Could you explain the issue so people can understand why it happens?
This is so hard to get right, and I know why. It’s very complicated to explain, but again, even here, improvements have been made. It was worse once, I know, hard to believe. It’s very technical and if you don’t have anyone who’s on a mission to get that right (as I did, sure, baby steps, but I saw progress), it won’t improve. Seeing that Xbox for Belgium is now run from The Netherland won’t help this situation as their dedication is in other fields. Yes, it’s frustrating, but I don’t see this getting better. Sorry!
Dae Jim: In your time we still had Lionhead Studios, we still had Ensemble, we still had Press Play. Microsoft Game Studios is a completely different beast now, they have Bethesda and famous franchises like Fallout, The Elder Scrolls, Doom and more. They have freaking Tim Schafer’s Double Fine Productions. This Xbox team is far from how it was when you worked for Microsoft. How do you look at all these acquisitions? Was this something that you considered possible in your time? Was there a studio in Microsoft’s spotlight?
Short answer, no. But we weren’t informed of what happened on these levels. But this change all started with Satya Nadella, the current CEO of Microsoft. His first steps have been controversial, you might remember that many people were let go when he started in his role. What he did, basically – was eliminate layers in the organization. And this even impacted me, I saw people leave who were very competent. But Satya’s goal was to make the business more effective by cutting middle-men from the decision tree. And this was hard, but it worked. Microsoft became a healthier company, Phil entering in his position and getting a chair at the highest level was no accident as well. They are now playing a long term game where Phil gets the support he needs to do what’s required to profit Microsoft. This is not the same company anymore.
Dae Jim: Silly that I didn’t ask this before but are you still active in the gaming scene? Do you still play on Xbox? What were the last five games you played?
Oh, come-on! Yes, what did you expect..? I don’t have as much time as I once did with 2 kids and very busy life, but yeah. I still turn on my Xbox every day.
I’m still hooked on Halo 5, that multiplayer is awesome! Other than that, I’m on a nostalgia trip right now, and I replayed Inside, Bioshock, Portal: Still alive, and Portal 2.
Dae Jim: Thanks for your time Guy. LifeisXbox readers should know that you were one of the main reasons why I started LifeisXbox, I am really grateful for that. It might be a little weird to list everything you personally did for me but that list is pretty big, not only for me but many others too. It shows one thing, your passion for Xbox was big and personally speaking we miss someone like you in Belgium now. Microsoft works differently now for our region, we have a PR agency doing limited stuff but it isn’t the same. I am sure everyone in the Belgian gaming world would agree that we miss you.
I miss it too, it sure was a blast. Happy to have been a part of team Xbox, I won’t forget my time there. I’m also happy of the time we spent together and the projects we’ve shared. Also happy to see that you’re still an active member of the community, I would be too, if I only had more time J