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While impressing shareholders about Xbox revenue, Microsoft avoids saying "layoffs" when talking about 1900 job losses

“Last week's announcement” still looms large in the minds of many, but it was only worth a passing mention.

The Xbox logo.
Image credit: VG247/Xbox

After laying off a small town’s worth of people from its gaming arm just last week, Microsoft has managed to host an earnings call that, in a fashion that feels wrong even if it’s predictable, saw its top execs vaguely touch on said layoffs... without actually talking about the layoffs.

Yup, after it sent 1,900 staff packing following its acquisition of Activision Blizzard, plenty of whom have thankfully received lots of support from their coworkers and communities, the company behind Xbox has held its big call to discuss how the second quarter of the 2024 fiscal year has gone. While it’s exactly the kind of setting in which you’d expect to find a lot of corpospeak and couching of things in solely number-related terms, the exact way those layoffs have been mentioned - or not really mentioned - feels noteworthy.

During the call, there was naturally plenty of discussion about where Xbox is at financially in the wake of Activision Blizzard properly becoming a part of it. In case you’re wondering, Xbox’s gaming revenue is up by 49%, having brought in just over $7 billion for the quarter that ended in December 2023.

Microsoft flagged the net impact of the Activision Blizzard deal as having been a significant contributor to that trend, but it was in reference to the other financial impacts that’ve come with the acquisition that we got some pretty disrespectful language in an attempt to sort of talk around those layoffs without actually saying the word layoffs. “Last week’s announcement” was the phrase Microsoft CFO Amy Hood used to refer to the 1,900 job losses, while neatly filing away “severance-related charges” incurred as a result as part of the “transaction-related costs” being factored into the ActiBlizz deal impact.

Further on, Hood does acknowledge that “at a total company level, headcount at the end of December was 2% lower than a year ago,” a stat which looks like its timeframe would likely exclude last week’s cuts, since they were properly enacted in the new year. Aside from that, the only other thing I can find is a mention of a need for “disciplined cost management across every team” going forwards.

To make it clear, I’m not accusing Microsoft of hiding those 1,900 layoffs or totally dodging discussing them at all, it just seems a bit disrespectful not to even mention the word layoffs here or even mirror some of the language used by Phil Spencer in his memo from last week to emphasise that there is some remorse to having made such cuts.

After all, while they’re officially intended to reassure shareholders, the comments from this earnings call and the largely positive numbers accompanying them are likely to be read by a lot of those regular people the company has just let go, many of whom will have contributed to getting Xbox into the financial spot it’s in right now, via their hard work.

One memo might be all it takes to be able to say that you’ve addressed something, but given the state of the games industry layoff-wise right now, it’d be nice to see the conciliatory language last for more than just a few days in the immediate aftermath. Especially when the companies in question are celebrating continuing to make more money than any of us will ever see, just after throwing lots of people into a generally pretty dire-looking job market.

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