Phil Spencer Says Xbox Is ‘Not a Free Speech Platform’ for Politics – IGN
In a new, in-depth interview with The New York Times, Xbox Executive Vice President Phil Spencer was asked about the connection between gaming and the polarization of American politics. To which Spencer said that Xbox is “not a free speech platform” and is designed first and foremost for games and entertainment.
Spencer discussed the idea of political and social radicalization with the New York Times on Kara Swisher’s Sway podcast. During the multi-topic chat focused largely on the emergence of the “metaverse” concept, Swisher brought up former Trump administration chief strategist and Breitbart founder Steve Bannon who talked about utilizing Gamergate as a political army.
“We see all positives and negatives of the human condition. We have people who propose to each other and get married on Xbox Live,” Spencer says about Xbox’s online services. “We also have conversations about politics and other things that happen. One of the things we’ve stated about our social network is we’re not a free speech platform. We’re a platform around interactive entertainment and video games. And we’re not there to allow all kinds of social discourse to happen on our platform. That’s not why we exist.”
“We’re not there to allow any conversation to happen on our platform,” Spencer says, and more than that Xbox Live is simply not designed for that kind of politicization. “It’s very difficult to come to Xbox Live and say, Okay, I want to go create a political party on the platform.'”
“You could kind of twist the tools and try to get there, but it’s just not set up for general-purpose conversations or community,” Spencer says but, “It’s really set up for community around interactive entertainment and the games that run on our platform. And that’s the way we invest.”
In 2017 Bannon specifically cited Gamergate, a harassment campaign against women and progressive figures in the video game industry, and said “You can activate that army. They come in through Gamergate or whatever and then get turned onto politics and Trump.”
Swisher referenced social media companies like Facebook and Twitter, driven by ad revenue and other murky monetization models, that are regarded as poorly moderated platforms for hate speech and other types of harassment, and asked Spencer if he thought game companies moderated their communities more effectively.
“I think we all have a long way to go. You could tell me that’s a lame answer. That’s all right,” Spencer said.
Spencer later added that he loves the modern video game business model for its “transparency.” Simply put, if a customer likes what Xbox or another video game studio is doing, they purchase the product, continue subscribing, or invest in some other aspect of the platform.
“That’s very different if I have a passive business model that maybe my customer doesn’t even understand,” Spencer said. “And I think some [of] the pure ad-driven platforms that are out there, they get themselves stuck in this model. Because some of the most tumultuous topics that they can put out there are the things that drive the most clicks.
It’s a relatively firm political statement for the chief of a multi-billion dollar video game industry giant. Spencer previously commented on the allegations of harassment and sexual discrimination at Activision-Blizzard, makers of World of Warcraft, Diablo, and Overwatch, saying that Xbox was “evaluating all aspects” of their relationship with the studio.
The full podcast is worth a listen as Spencer touches on Activision, as well as regulations on games, and Netflix’s arrival into the games industry as well.
Joseph Knoop is a writer/producer for IGN.