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No, Phil Spencer’s shirt isn’t teasing a big game reboot — yet

The CEO of Microsoft Gaming wouldn’t mind a reboot of id’s classic first-person shooter

Phil Spencer wears a T-shirt with the Hexen box art during the Xbox Games Showcase 2023. Image: Microsoft
Chris Plante co-founded Polygon in 2012 as editor-at-large and is now editor-in-chief. He also created and occasionally teaches NYU’s Introduction to Games Journalism course.

Phil Spencer, the head of Xbox and the CEO of Microsoft Gaming, has once again pandered to conspiracy-minded video game fans with a cheeky fashion choice. To close the Xbox Games Showcase stream, Spencer wore a black T-shirt with a print of the box art for Hexen, a long-dormant series that was co-published in the 1990s by id Software and created by Activision developer Raven Software.

Xbox acquired id Software as part of its Bethesda acquisition and would acquire Raven Software if the planned acquisition of Activision Blizzard goes through, clearing the runway for Hexen’s return. So was he teasing the announcement of the company’s next big first-person shooter reboot?

“That wasn’t me trying to pre-announce it,” Spencer told Polygon in an interview following the stream. “But it was me recognizing the importance of some of the games in our portfolio.”

You’re forgiven for expecting something more official. The exec has a long history of using T-shirts as playful marketing, whether it’s supporting an indie, announcing a new release, or yes, even hinting at a reboot of a long-dormant franchise — looking at you Battletoads.

Spencer offered an origin story for his T-shirt tradition: “The first time I wore a T-shirt on stage, in this way, was a game called Jumpman that I used to play with my dad on the Commodore 64. Epic’s Jumpman. I wore a Jumpman shirt thinking nobody would know what it was except my dad because he was watching. And it was right around Father’s Day, which is when E3 always is.”

For Spencer, the Hexen shirt is just a continuation of that tradition. “To be truthful,” he said, “I didn’t really communicate it much internally. And then I’m on camera recording that and people are like, ‘What is that?’ And I was like, ‘Oh, don’t worry about it.’

“So for me, wearing the [Hexen] shirt wasn’t as much about a tease forward as it was just about nostalgia. I recognize that as our portfolio grows, we’ve got important [games] that we have to kind of protect and nurture and maybe bring back at some point.”

Of course, Spencer wouldn’t mind if fans wanted a Hexen revival.

“Hexen was a game that I loved,” said Spencer. “If you know anything about, like, where that game was built, or where it was published... There’s just these games that kind of come together — or that have the potential to come together — that I get excited about. [...] If you think about where our future could go, there’s kind of some interesting intersection.”

Spencer seems to be winking at the possibility of the Activision Blizzard acquisition, which would make a game like Hexen possible. With that in mind, maybe we should take Spencer’s denial of more Hexen on the way with a grain of salt. In 2015, Spencer said the following to Polygon when asked about wearing a T-shirt for the then-unannounced Battletoads: “I don’t think I’ve ever worn a T-shirt that’s been a complete head fake. I don’t think I have... have I? I wouldn’t do that.”

Correction: The story has been updated to include Activision’s involvement in originally developing and publishing Hexen. Thanks to Stephen Totilo, who publishes Axios’ gaming newsletter, for the note!

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