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An Era of Inclusivity at Xbox - "We Live and Work by our Core Values"

Sponsored: Our GDC contribution this year includes three different virtual sessions focused on key topics of inclusivity and team building.

Presented by Xbox

Xbox is opening the doors to its core values at GDC this year. The last several years at Xbox have been as unusual and challenging as for everyone else in our business, dealing with increasing complexities of hiring and retaining valuable talent during the COVID-19 pandemic, while adapting to a dynamic change in attitudes and practices across the global game industry when building diverse teams and creating game products for all types and levels of player communities.

During the pandemic, shifts in our talent acquisition business have been both significant and unwavering – learning to support employees working from home, offering flexibility where possible to employees and teams, managing widely distributed remote teams, navigating the tricky waters of health and safety standards, and continually checking on the realities of eventually bring teams back together under one roof, whether physical, virtual or hybrid.

Throughout this period, production teams throughout the industry have struggled with issues of creating an inclusive workplace, building diverse teams and stretching the business norm to be increasingly accepting of potential employees hailing from varying walks of life and non-traditional backgrounds – all while shipping major game products. Xbox has been more fortunate than most – primarily due to our core business values.

As part of Microsoft, Xbox consistently adopts and applies these primary values: mutual respect, high levels of transparency, commitment to integrity and personal accountability. A favorite mantra among Xbox managers is that each team leader should “model, coach and care” when it comes to their team members. These leadership principles are not just lip service – they have real meaning, particularly at the core of the Xbox machine, where development teams create and support Xbox products and services.

To demonstrate our dedication to these guiding business values, Xbox team leaders organized and got ready for the first hybrid Game Developers Conference in three years, with a strong collective interest in talking about how Xbox teams keep delivering on these principles, in an interesting new era of game product development. Our GDC contribution this year includes three different virtual sessions focused on key topics of inclusivity and team building.

Bonnie Ross, studio head for 343 Industries, suggests, “The way we make games and collaborate has forever changed and as we now fully embrace workplace flexibility, it is paramount that we hold ourselves accountable for how we support our team. We need to try all-new approaches to game development that support in-office, hybrid and remote staff, and quickly learn what works and what doesn’t. We need to embrace failure and adapt to meet the needs of our creators so they can craft amazing games for our players. This will be a long journey that requires a growth mindset from everyone involved.”

Kim Swift, senior director of Cloud Gaming for Xbox Game Studios Publishing, adds, “Though I’ve been at Xbox Game Studios for a short amount of time, I’ve noticed a concerted effort to build trust and create safe spaces for folks to bring concerns to the table, express their feelings, and spot potential opportunities for growth. As a leader working in the rapidly evolving Cloud Gaming space, I’ve felt comfortable and secure in driving initiatives forward, as well as openly admitting when I might not know something. I’ve felt supported by my manager and other leaders here to make decisions and have a multitude of resources to learn from. I think approaching how we make games here at Xbox Game Studios with more empathy and thoughtfulness not only allows for us to have a more pleasant and diverse workplace, but also helps us tap into other game markets as we think more globally, diversely and inclusively.”

Mary McGuane, Xbox studio manager for Obsidian, Double Fine and inXile, offers, “Every day I see leaders modeling our values, creating inclusive environments by ensuring all voices are heard and welcoming authenticity. We hold ourselves accountable. When we make mistakes, we are open and honest about it and ask for feedback. In Xbox Game Studios, people go out of their way to be helpful to each other, to share and learn. There is a real sense of belonging and support. Our values affirm how I choose to lead, which is with empathy, curiosity and optimism. It’s important that people feel they can speak up and contribute their ideas. I’ve seen projects that have not gone to plan be met with praise, due to the valuable knowledge we gained from trying something new and taking a risk. There is encouragement to learn from something that hasn’t gone well and apply the experience to other projects. That sense of support and encouragement is where creativity and growth flourish at Xbox.”

Bonnie, Kim and Mary will be joined by their Xbox Game Studios colleagues Kate Rayner, head of technology for The Coalition; Shannon Loftis, exiting studio head for World’s Edge; and Helen Chiang, corporate vice president, studio head of Mojang Studios, to participate in the virtual GDC session, “Inclusive Leadership at Xbox Game Studios” on Thursday, March 24 at 11:30 am PT to share their unique perspectives on the evolution of game development teams, and what is expected on the horizon for Xbox Game Studios teams.

Annette Gonzalez, Creative Partner Program Manager for Xbox, is also struck by how Xbox principles have impacted her approach. “Part of what drew me to Microsoft and Team Xbox is how the organization’s core values aligned so closely to my own. I see our mission in action every day on the Gaming Ecosystem Organization team through the innovations we’re investing in to share the joy of gaming with as many players as possible around the globe. We’re lowering barriers and giving players choice on how they engage with Xbox titles across devices and services. We’re working with global game creators on delivering diverse gaming experiences so everyone can find something they’ll enjoy. And we’re continually making strides in making these experiences as accessible as possible through inclusive design. This is all only possible thanks to the amazing work of so many teams within Xbox, who are passionate about player and game creator experiences. We often say ‘when everybody plays, we all win’– and we mean it.”

Annette will moderate a virtual fireside chat with Jen MacLean, GM of Creator Partnerships for Xbox on Wednesday, March 23 at 11 am PT, entitled "Developing and Retaining Diverse Talent." Jen will discuss why the talent pipeline isn’t enough to make meaningful and lasting change in the games industry. In this fireside chat, she’ll talk about strategies for developing and retaining mid-career and senior diverse talent.

Brittney Pettway, senior talent pipeline program manager at Mojang Studios, provided her insights on business values at Xbox, “I first noticed the application of our core values when applying to my role. The business recognized they had a need to bring someone in who could focus on and build an inclusive hiring program, they also understood that bringing in someone with experience outside of Xbox Game Studios with a different point of view and lived experience would be a contribution to the studio. My manager and CVP believe strongly in operating with autonomy, as this allows all who work for the studio to grow and stretch our thinking, enabling us all to do our best work. The thing I appreciate most about the leadership at XGS is that they don’t just repeat our core values, but live them. This has showed me two things, I have total autonomy to do my job how I see fit and my boss trusts me in the direction I want to take.”

Brittney will moderate the virtual GDC session, “The New Face of Gaming” on Thursday, March 24 at 2 pm PT, featuring Xbox panelists Calicia Johnson, senior program manager at Xbox, Keirten Nivol, software engineer in Gaming Publisher eXperience, Ron Brown, Studio Quality of Life Program Manager at 343 Industries and Xbox marketing manager Austin Joseph, sharing their experiences in gaming and exploring how diverse voices are contributing to the evolution of the gaming industry. Our GDC session will also touch on how the evolution of gaming is making the industry a more inclusive place where all gamers can see themselves in the games they play.

To learn more about the Xbox schedule of sessions at GDC, and to sign up to speak with Xbox hiring teams during GDC, please visit: Meet Xbox at GDC 2022 (office.com). To learn more about open Xbox roles, please visit: Gaming Jobs | Microsoft Careers.

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