Microsoft’s head of the Xbox division, Phil Spencer, is apologizing for a GDC party hosted by Xbox that he says was, “not consistent or aligned to our values.”
It’s no secret that many unsavory vestiges of 90’s game publication and marketing remain even in 2016. The Mountain Dew and Doritos “extreme” sponsorships are more meme than reality anymore, but remain part of every Call of Duty launch each fall. Gendered video game advertisements targeting solely males is rarer every year. And convention booths and parties hiring scantily clad women to represent their brand is rare, especially from major publishers – at least up until a GDC party hosted by Xbox this past week.
It’s not uncommon for Xbox to host a party after a convention’s show floor has closed. What is uncommon is for the party to have hired what some attendees described as “exotic dancers” dressed in sexy Catholic schoolgirl outfits. Several attendees expressed disappointment over Xbox hosting such a party, which led to a healthy online dialogue regarding the situation. The conversation never grew to any level of outrage, but there was a large consensus that the industry should be well past this point.
Microsoft, and specifically Xbox head Phil Spencer, agrees. Phil Spencer wrote a direct response to the situation, indirectly apologizing for the event and dedicating Xbox to maintaining a higher standard. It’s an indirect apology, as Phil’s message does not actually say the words “sorry” or “apology” anywhere in his letter. To be fair, the letter is meant to an intra-company message directed towards his employees and not the Xbox community. Also, promises to do better likely carry more wait that asking forgiveness.
Here’s a portion of Phil Spencer’s letter that directly addresses the events of the GDC party and his thoughts on the issue:
“It has come to my attention that at Xbox-hosted events at GDC this past week, we represented Xbox and Microsoft in a way that was absolutely not consistent or aligned to our values. That was unequivocally wrong and will not be tolerated. This matter is being handled internally, but let me be very clear – how we represent ourselves as individuals, who we hire and partner with and how we engage with others is a direct reflection of our brand and what we stand for. When we do the opposite, and create an environment that alienates or offends any group, we justly deserve the criticism.”
It’s interesting that Phil never specifically addresses the exact events or issues from the GDC party that he sees as, “deserving criticism.” Interesting in that it likely means Phil was aware that this letter would be released to the public and thus needed to be PR clean. That is to say, it needed to avoid specific details that could be used to create new controversies, as some online communities are wont to do. This reasoning also explains the lack of the words “sorry” and “apology,” which are often treated as curse words in PR, similar to the word “delay.”
Ultimately what matters is that Xbox, and Phil Spencer at its head, recognize that the modern industry has no room for “booth babes” or exotic dancers. They, along with the industry, are supporters of the efforts to increase inclusiveness and cast away perceived sexism wherever it’s found. In all likelihood, no one working for Xbox was directly responsible for the events of the party. These parties are often contracted out, often to companies who don’t understand the stigma associated with models and dancers.
Judging from Phil’s letter, someone at Microsoft will take responsibility nevertheless. Phil makes it clear that he’s willing to share a part of that responsibility, which is really all anyone can ask for given the situation at hand.