Every month an industry leader wraps up MCV/DEVELOP with their unique insight This month we talk to James Butcher, Xbox UK and Ireland Category Director
You’ve worked across a lot of different segments at Microsoft, how has the company changed since you started there?
I’ve worked at Microsoft for over ten years now and over that time we have become increasingly customer-focussed. We’ve moved away from a more closed-off approach to a place where our services are accessible and specifically designed for multiple platforms. Within gaming at Microsoft, our vision has evolved to building our offering around the gamer – which means instead of just selling Xbox consoles and games to go with those consoles, it’s about meeting gamers where they play, across console, PC and mobile in the most convenient way possible. That’s been a big shift going into the next generation especially.
Do you feel the games industry is headed in the right direction?
While entertainment value is at the core of the industry I think what has become more prominent and ever more important, especially at this time, is the ability for gaming to act as a source of social connection. During lockdown, we saw huge demand for our services, and we saw millions of new connections being made over Xbox Live which was indicative of the desire for social interaction. I also think that innovation has resulted in the gaming industry being more accessible, more inclusive and ultimately safer and more secure than it’s ever been before. Consequently, while there’s certainly work to be done in that area, we are heading down a positive path – one where ultimately more people get to play great games.
What are some of the biggest marketing challenges today in the games industry?
Gamers know where to get the latest and greatest on product releases; specific influencers and media outlets that resonate with fans are regularly used as a source of information to help make purchase decisions. So I think the challenge has largely moved on from identifying the right channels to using them more efficiently, creatively and transparently. We’re constantly evolving our approach as platforms mature and change over time; I think it’s important too that we nurture talent on those platforms where we can. I see one of our challenges as effectively engaging with parents, who likely haven’t grown up playing games or have less of an understanding of online safety and the family settings available to them, and may not know where to look for information
What was the funniest single moment of your career to date?
Earlier in my career, I worked within the Marketing Communications team at Microsoft, responsible for Bing brand marketing. I led a campaign that worked with Kayvan Novak from FaceJacker to release a web series with his eccentric character ‘Brian Badonde’. This was pretty new and slightly risky ground for Microsoft given the nature of the content, and I was proud of what the team created. I really learnt the importance of challenger brands taking risks and having a unique tone of voice and brand personality.
Can the games industry possibly change as much over the next few years as it has over the last few?
Certainly – firstly, I can’t wait to see how studios embrace the true power and capabilities of both the Xbox Serie–s X|S and PS5. I also think the advent of 5G will be significant; with game streaming becoming more widely adopted, mobile gaming experiences will ultimately become more diverse. Also I think the landscape will change as new business models are broadly adopted, particularly subscription services; customers being able to instantly choose from a broad library of titles will see more variety in games played. We’re seeing this with Xbox Game Pass: gamers can and do discover new games they may never have come across before, which is encouraging for the industry.