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Winners in Gaming 1: Phil Spencer

Making a hit game is hard. Making a game company is hard. Really hard. It’s a moonshot. The studios who make it are winners, and a lot of the people in those studios are winners. Today, We’ll be celebrating Phil Spencer, current head of Xbox. Phil has been with Xbox since its inception, and has taken leadership to shepherd the company through tough times to its position today.

Spencer’s professional history

Spencer’s story: the American dream personified

Phil Spencer joined Microsoft in 1988 as an intern during college. He joined the software development department full time after college. Microsoft was not yet in the games business. Spencer was a gamer at the time. He joined the Microsoft Studios team in 2002, a year after the Xbox launch. He worked his way up from a junior role to a management one in 2008. He moved up again the next year to become a VP. In 2014, he became the head of all things Xbox. We’ll see later some of the changes he made in that role. Just this year, Spencer was promoted again to be the CEO of Microsoft Gaming, in line with the shift away from Xbox as the sole focus for gaming at Microsoft.

A brief history of Xbox

Microsoft waited a while to get into the console space. Before the original Xbox came out, both Sony and Nintendo, Microsoft’s modern competition for the console space, had consoles under their belt. Microsoft came up with the DirectX Box, a PC running Windows 2000 with console features. Thankfully, they settled on the name Xbox, and released it in 2001. Xbox was meant to compete with PS2 for control of the TV. Microsoft saw the PS2 as a threat to the PC as an entertainment device. The Xbox took a lot of the features of the PC and put them in a console, so that Microsoft could retain control of the living room. 

The Xbox lost that battle. They lost $4 billion on the Xbox. It outsold the Nintendo GameCube, just barely, but did not come close to the PlayStation 2. At the time, Phil Spencer was not in charge of Xbox. Microsoft still saw Xbox as being worth the investment, so they continued the Xbox line.

developing a hit game is hard enough. deploying it shouldn’t be.

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Spencer’s leadership at Xbox

Since Spencer has led at Xbox, he has pushed the platform forward, and has made some interesting choices.

The Dark Era: Xbox One

Phil Spencer took over Xbox after the disastrous launch of the Xbox One. The early part of his tenure looked like the worst period in Xbox’s history since the first Xbox. The Xbox One marked one of many turning points in the Xbox brand. After the Xbox 360 was very successful, Microsoft decided to pivot and focus the Xbox One as an overall entertainment device. Hence, calling it the all in One Xbox. Yeah. This did not work as intended, and so the previous boss, Marc Whitten left.

Spencer doesn’t see the need to focus on sales numbers.

Back in 2015, Spencer pushed for the Xbox team to stop reporting the numbers because he didn’t want his team focused on console sales, but instead on player numbers. (At the time, it seemed like it was a good way to spin a failed console). This was about six years ahead of the curve, and now Xbox is in the best position of the console makers to deal with the surge in gamers from COVID and the console shortages. 

No More Exclusives

One thing the Xbox One was widely panned for was its lack of exclusives. Xbox fell behind its competition in Sony and Nintendo. So, the pivot that Spencer had Xbox do was to get rid of exclusives. Microsoft decided to put all of their first-party games on PC as well as on Xbox, and to offer a cross-buy program where you can buy a game on Xbox and get it on PC as well. They continued moving in that direction with Xbox Game Pass. They created a subscription service, like Netflix, for games, and they offered it absurdly cheap: $10 a month. Game Pass was and is also available on PC (on the same subscription). Game subscriptions were not new, but what was new was the amount of games you could get for a low price. Game Pass now sits on roughly 25 million subscribers. Phil Spencer led the way on the push for Game Pass. He toyed with the idea as early as 2013, and he saw it as a way to reinvent the Xbox.

Spencer made Xbox a winner

The Xbox had stumbled with the Xbox One, but Phil course corrected as he took over more of the company latter into the generation. He then started the process of moving away from selling consoles to building the Xbox brand, and he moved Xbox games onto PC as well. 

He got ahead of the curve with Game Pass and Xbox Cloud Gaming, and now, Xbox is doing well again. Recently, Xbox has performed well in earnings. Xbox cloud gaming is doing quite well: they saw a 1800% increase in playtime. They have not hurt financially from moving away from traditional exclusives. According to Sarah Bond, head of gaming ecosystems at Microsoft, “Something like 75 per cent of a game’s revenue used to be made in the first two months of release. Nowadays it’s spread over two years.”

The move away from being console-focused has paid dividends for the Xbox brand. Xbox Game Pass is doing well, but not only on the Xbox. It is also doing well on PC. Xbox Cloud Gaming is also available on PC, and Logitech is working on a handheld device to use it. Spencer pushed these moves years ago, and now the other parts of the industry are following. PlayStation just moved to push PlayStation Plus as a legitimate competitor to Xbox. Individual publishers have been trying it, like EA with EA Play. Xbox is ahead of the curve.
These later decisions were all risky. They took Xbox away from where the rest of the industry was going. The outlook for Xbox was bleak just a few years ago. It was looking like they didn’t have any way to compete with Sony and Nintendo. As it turns out, Spencer doesn’t see them as his competition. Spencer and Microsoft have their eyes on much bigger competition, which I will be talking about in another article.

It takes a lot to be a winner

Phil Spencer is one of the greatest winners in gaming history. He made hard choices to move Xbox away from strictly hardware or even a focus on first-party games, to being a more holistic gaming brand. He deserves his place as one of the biggest winners in gaming.

Making that hit game is a moonshot. Deploying it shouldn’t be. Let us help with that.

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Electric Pipelines Demo

Introduction

Unity has a reputation for being a beginner friendly engine. It does a lot of things out of the box for you. Building and deploying your app is pretty simple if you’re a solo dev just trying to get your game onto a device. However, Unity doesn’t make it easy to set up more professional build and deployment workflows, like multi-platform builds, command line building, or CI/CD pipelines. Here you will find a demo of the tooling that Electric Pipelines can set up to make your builds easier. We offer hand crafted dev ops for game companies.

This demo can be found in video form.

Setup

For this demo, we have a Unity game. We will be deploying it Android, and building the backend server on Linux and Windows. We will be building and deploying these both manually in the editor and through a build pipeline we’ve set up on Jenkins.

Manual Builds

For multiplatform games, Unity require you to switch configuration before you build another platform. This eats up a lot of time for larger projects.

An example of waiting around for configuration switching

To get around that, you can write your own scripts to build your project for different configurations. We have set up scripts to build each individual platform, and a few for combinations.

An example of a build script

Now, you can use menu options in the editor to build each individual platform.

The build option that we added can be used from the editor.

Building from the command line

Unity lets you do almost anything you can do in the editor from the command line. There is a catch: you have to write scripts for all of it. With the scripts we set up earlier, we can build our game from the command line. In the example below, we will call Unity from the command line and tell it to run our build method, BuildPlayerExample.AndroidBuild, on the project found in the folder BomberPrototypeUnity. You can find the full documentation on Unity command line builds here.

An example of building from the command line. Underlined is the call to the specific method (Android Build) we wrote earlier.

CI/CD pipeline in Jenkins tour

Now that we have command line building working, we have all of the tools we need for setting up a CI/CI pipeline.
We’ve set up a CI/CD pipeline in Jenkins that can build each platform. Jenkins will set up build agents that will use something similar to the command line option above to build on each platform.

Jenkins dashboard

We can trigger builds for each platform using git tags. You can tag each commit in git with different build actions. In the example below, you can see that we’ve tagged our commits to build Android, Linux, Windows, Headless servers, and iOS. You have a lot of flexibilty on what platforms you build and how long your build is going to take.

Jenkins dashboard showing different tagged builds
Example of how you tag a commit pt 1
Example of how you tag a commit pt 2

Once you kick off a build, you can track the build progress in Jenkins. In this demo, we set up a build that would publish to AppCenter at the end, so that beta-testers would have access.

Jenkins build in progress
After the build is complete, it gets pushed to beta testers using AppCenter


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Get the most out of your free $100 Azure Credit

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You might be leaving $100 on the table. Every. Single. Month.

Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

Microsoft offers a whopping $100 in free credit to some of its Office 365 subscribers. Use it to try out all sorts of cool cloud stuff. Whether you’re a developer, a data scientist, an IT professional, or just someone who loves to tinker, Azure has something for you. And if you need some extra guidance, our consulting firm is always happy to lend a hand. Or a shoulder to cry on. Whatever works.

In this blog post, we’ll show you how to set up your free subscription. We’ll also give you some ideas for how to spend your credit and offer some tips for keeping track of your usage and costs. Let’s get started!

Need some help setting up and managing your Azure subscription?

Our devops experts are here to lend a hand. We’ll guide you through the process and make sure you get the most out of your free credit. Don’t be shy, give us a shout today and let’s get you Azure-ready!

Setting up your free Azure subscription

Getting started with Azure is easy. Simply follow these steps:

  1. Visit the Azure homepage and click the “Free account” button.
  2. Sign in with your Microsoft account, or create a new one if you don’t already have one.
  3. Provide your contact and billing information and read and accept the terms of service.
  4. Once your account is set up, you’ll be taken to the Azure portal, where you can start exploring and creating resources.
  5. To make the most of your free credit, be sure to activate it as soon as possible. You can do this by going to the “Billing” section of the portal and following the prompts to apply your credit. You can also opt out of spending limits to ensure that you can fully utilize your credit.
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Examples of what you can do with your free Azure credit

With $100 in free credit, you have plenty of opportunities to try out Azure resources and see what works best for your business. Some ideas to consider include:

  • Setting up a virtual machine: Azure Virtual Machines lets you create and manage all sorts of virtualized environments, from Windows and Linux servers to custom-built VMs. With your free credit, you can spin up a VM and test out different configurations until you find the perfect fit.
  • Creating a web app or a mobile app: Azure App Service makes it super easy to build, deploy, and scale web and mobile apps. Use your free credit to create an app and give it a test drive, or even launch it for real users.
  • Analyzing data with Azure Machine Learning: Azure Machine Learning is a wicked-cool tool for analyzing and predicting outcomes based on data. Use your free credit to set up a machine learning model and play around with different algorithms and data sets.
  • Storing and backing up data with Azure Storage: Azure Storage offers a bunch of options for storing and backing up data, like blobs, files, tables, and queues. With your free credit, you can try out different storage options and see which one works best for your needs.
  • Monitoring and managing resources with Azure Monitor: Azure Monitor helps you keep an eye on the performance and availability of your resources, and sends you alerts when things go wrong. Use your free credit to set up monitoring and test out different alerting options.

Tips for managing your free Azure credit

Alright, so you’ve got your free Azure subscription and you want to make the most of that sweet, sweet free credit. Here are some tips to help you keep track of your spending and plan your usage:

  • Use the Azure portal to view your current usage and charges, and get a breakdown of your costs by resource.
  • Set up alerts to notify you when you are approaching your credit limit, so you can adjust your usage

And if you’re feeling a little overwhelmed by all the options and want some help optimizing your usage and costs, our devops consultants are here for you. These guys are experts at managing Azure subscriptions and maximizing ROI. Give us a shout and let’s chat about how we can help you get the most out of your free credit.

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