Gaming At The Windows 10 Briefing: Xbox vs Windows (Updated)

Microsoft-Windows-10-Live-Event-45

Another Windows presentation, another round of promises from Microsoft to PC gamers. Some of what they announced at the Windows 10 briefing is surprising, but they’re still very much taking a light-touch approach to the interaction between Windows and Xbox.

I think Microsoft knows they have to do this if they want to maintain Xbox as a wholly separate product aside from Windows. It sets up an interesting irony as they talk more and more about integrating Windows across devices.

Update: Microsoft’s Phil Spencer has just given us some more details on their plans for Xbox/Windows gaming interaction according to Polygon. Basically it seems like in the future they plan to give developers the tools to make games cross-platform at their own discretion, and take things on a game-by-game basis with Microsoft’s own titles. I guess that makes sense, but who knows how much developers will actually take advantage of the option.

I imagine indies and non-gaming Windows Store developers will take the most advantage of any cross-buy or cross-play option. That’s how it is with Steam’s SteamPlay, with a handful of AAA developers supporting the feature. Taking caution with cross-platform multiplayer is an obvious challenge. Microsoft would need to reconcile the fact that Xbox owners pay for online gaming and PC owners don’t, not to mention the differences between controllers and mouses.

Still, there’s no tech-related reason Halo and Forza shouldn’t be on PC, forget about cross-platform multiplayer. They’re going to remain on Xbox for no other reason than Microsoft’s need to sell Xboxes. Quantum Break probably will end up on PC.

Original Post: Ever since around the introduction and entire life of Games For Windows Live, Microsoft has made promise after promise to heavily focus on PC gaming, and basically all those promises have come up hollow. Microsoft has basically dropped all its PC franchises and allowed GFWL to die while relinquishing the future of PC game distribution to Valve. All they really do anymore to shepherd PC gaming is DirectX. The reason is obvious: Microsoft has Xbox, a platform that let’s it make money off hardware and get a cut from game sales. It has a closed gaming platform (which people are afraid they’re trying to turn Windows into).

This briefing made it seem like Microsoft still wants to treat gaming on Windows as an extension of Xbox. Streaming Xbox One games on PC is the biggest announcement here but it was also a predictable one. Depending on how it works it’s a great counter to Sony’s Remote Play and maybe even Nintendo’s Off-TV Play. It makes sense for the majority of Windows users out there who just have laptops or integrated graphics and do their gaming on Xbox, but it’s almost useless to the guy with a GTX 980.

The baby step forward for PC gaming we’re seeing here is Microsoft allowing people to record footage from what looks like any PC game into Xbox Game DVR. I think it’ll be nice to have that integrated right into Windows for people not experienced with FRAPS. Here Microsoft is at least acknowledging that traditional PC gaming exists. It looks like in general it wants PC games to be able to interact with Xbox Live with all the Live features. I think that might just cause conflict with Steam both in terms of my attention and my computer’s memory, but we’ll see. Other than DirectX 12, Game DVR for PC games is the only thing I see from the briefing that means much for the PC audience.

Ever since Microsoft introduced Windows 8 and its Windows Store, a big missed opportunity in my opinion has been the prospect of selling traditional PC games through it. Sure Microsoft already once screwed up the task of making its own PC gaming network with GFWL, but I always thought the Windows Store was a pretty good foundation for a new attempt. If Microsoft had a deft enough touch to bring in the right features from Xbox and Steam and then convince traditional PC developers to publish on the Windows Store, it could be an interesting competitor to Steam. More importantly, Microsoft would actually start getting money from PC game sales again. Let’s not even start with the idea of Microsoft actually developing PC games again (other than Fable).

Microsoft could at least leave it there — running two parallel gaming ecosystems. But let’s face it, most of the games on Xbox One are also on Windows. The prospect of cross-buy between Xbox and Windows would quickly come up. Microsoft already tried this with at least one game — Skulls of the Shogun. I wouldn’t be surprised if this happened with indie games in the future. Universal Windows apps on Xbox is the other big announcement people pretty much anticipated, and I imagine that’ll include some small games (along with greatly expanding Xbox’s library of apps compared to PlayStation). That’s the light-touch we’re getting from Microsoft.

And of course, Microsoft will keep many of its own games exclusive to Xbox. I guess some people got optimistic about seeing more Microsoft games on PC since supposed exclusives like Dead Rising 3 and Ryse ended up on PC. We still have a whole year of announcements to go, but I suspect Microsoft’s crown jewels like Forza and Halo will remain on Xbox. Again, just releasing them on the Windows Store would still give Microsoft the software sales revenue. I guess that would bring us into a conversation about what’s more important to the company: hardware revenue from Xbox or OS revenue from Windows.

The reason I’m a bit disappointed (but not surprised) with Microsoft’s timidness with the relationship between Xbox and PC is because I’m tired of platforms being tied to singular pieces of hardware. Microsoft is trying to promote Windows as a thing that runs on a whole family of devices since Apple and Google popularized that path forward for operating systems. Amidst this, Xbox kinda looks like an island with a bridge to Windows. You’ll be able to stream Xbox games to Windows 10, but you still need an Xbox to buy and play those games (well, a few of them anyway). Xbox will run Windows, but only a part of it — the part that won’t start to make Xbox look redundant.

The logical conclusion here is that Xbox becomes a beefy HDMI box that just runs Windows 10 while Microsoft tries really hard to get people to buy games from the Windows Store which run on any Windows 10 device (that’s powerful enough). But that won’t happen because Microsoft still wants gamers to buy that one piece of hardware and remain tethered to it until they reboot it in five years. All I’m saying is, the way Xbox, PlayStation, and Nintendo consoles are solitary systems and not hardware-agnostic ecosystems is starting to look like the past.

Anyway, making Windows 10 free for a year for existing users all the way back to Windows 7 is a smart idea, seeing as getting 7 users to upgrade is Microsoft’s main challenge. The presentation’s emphasis on keyboard and mouse control gives me some hope 10 will feel like a real desktop OS, which is all I need.

BULLETS:

  • That Ultima Underworld spiritual successor is getting a Kickstarter next month. http://t.co/psJp5aknJB
  • A mysterious Japanese-only RPG on Steam already has a community laying the groundwork for a translation. http://t.co/cAkE8NFNQ5
  • The Reconstructor weapon from Red Faction Guerrilla’s multiplayer has been added to its singleplayer on PC. http://t.co/4llfDYNcUm
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