Microsoft’s Phil Spencer and the art of BS

Phil Spencer, Corporate VP of Microsoft Game Studios, is an expert practitioner of the art of speaking without speaking, issuing a bunch of soundbites without really saying anything at all. What can we learn from his latest masterpiece?

A few days ago, Spencer told Polygon that the Xbox’s “Games with Gold” program was going to improve.  Good thing, too, since gamers have compared it with the steady stream of high quality games offered for free with rival service PlayStation Plus and found the Xbox wanting.

Here’s what Spencer actually said, by which I mean here is the collection of words that came out of his mouth and which we will try to decipher.

“I think you’ll see at least something that feels, at least, more true to what I think Games with Gold should look like with the constraints that are there”

There are, in this quotation, no fewer than nine mitigating phrases.  Spencer would no doubt like Xbox fans to read his statement and understand it to mean “you will see Games with Gold meet your expectations”, but with the mitigations present it means no such thing.

Xbox Games with Gold
Xbox Games with Gold

What do I mean by mitigations?  I mean things that decrease the certainty that the meaning of his statement is true.  If Spencer wants us to believe that Games with Gold will get better, here are the mitigations that should make us doubt him.

  • I think (it’s just, like, his opinion, man)
  • at least (no more than)
  • something (could be anything)
  • that feels (you might not feel it)
  • at least (again)
  • more true (but not actually true)
  • I think (his opinion again)
  • should look like (but won’t necessarily)
  • with the constraints that are there (prepare to be disappointed)

So, putting Spencer’s statement back together, here’s roughly what he’s saying.

“It’s just my opinion, but you’ll see some undefined thing of undefined scope, which you might not actually see at all, if you catch my drift, but it will be closer to what you hoped for, but definitely not all you hoped for, and – just to remind you – I’m not promising that it will exist at all, what with all the difficulties that stand between us and giving you what you think you’re entitled to.”

In other words, Spencer isn’t saying anything at all, but he wants people to feel better about sticking with Xbox when the PS4 and its accompanying PlayStation Plus service is pointing to a green, green pasture just on the other side of the fence.

It’s almost certainly not Spencer’s fault.  Executives, and marketing people in particular, would all love to be able to announce real products and services that are available right now at an attractive price.  When their company doesn’t give them those things, but still expects them to speak to the media and to their customers, they do the only thing they can do: BS, and plenty of it.

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