Rampant speculation over the future of the Xbox brand has ensued ever since the announcement of Quantum Break going to the PC. While there have been hints that Microsoft wanted to bring console and PC gaming into one ecosystem for a few years now, the past few weeks have really cemented this vision that Microsoft has with the company revealing a plethora of games and features set to hit Windows 10 and Xbox One. In their Spring press showcase, Microsoft revealed further games coming to Windows 10 such as Forza Motorsport 6 Apex, and also shared some hints about the direction they’re taking console gaming in.
As you can see in the Newzoo graphic above, Microsoft is the only competitor out of the big 3 in the console market to effectively tap into the market of console/PC gamers and creating a new ecosystem around these people that wish to play both and to have their games, friends, achievements, captures etc. on both will have that available to them whether they’re playing on their console or on their PC. In short, it’s all about options.
Admittedly. the Xbox console was always designed to be a PC for the living room ever since the inception of the original Xbox. The Xbox console offers a PC but in the form factor that many console gamers love: plug and play, affordability, ease-of-use etc. that has made the console market such a big section of the gaming industry since it is these features that continuously appeal to tens of millions of gamers each generation. However, with each new generation the slate is wiped clean and we are forced to start anew. Now, that’s not to say that some consoles don’t offer features like backwards compatability, profile carry-over and so on but essentially these big companies like Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony are all put in a position where they have to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into research and development on a new console.
This is because with each new generation, people expect a completely redesigned box, a new controller, new specs, new features, a new OS and so on. This requires a lot of resources on the part of the 3 main players in the console industry and there are benfits and drawbacks of this model. To begin with, it’s no secret that many of enjoy that feeling of going out to get a new console as the previous generation comes to its end and we’re all excited for the next, new thing and these often serve as an instrument of hype and anticipation for many console gamers.
If we just look at Microsoft’s latest operating system Windows 10 which itself will not have a successor but will be repeatedly upgraded, it’s clear that this is the road Microsoft is heading down. It appears as if they want to do away with the transition between old consoles and new consoles and instead offer a model that allows you to have everything you own, everything you earn, everything you save stick with you at all times no matter where you are gaming.
This is where Phil Spencer’s comments at the Spring showcase showing come into play. Phil commented on the state of affairs between console and PC gaming:
“We look at these other ecosystems out there like mobile, tablet and PC and we see that they have a very continuous evolution cycle in hardware, whereas between console generations most of the evolution is making it cheaper and potentially making it smaller.
Both are meaningful but don’t make the games play any better. If you look at PC specifically and see the evolution that happens there, there’s no reason why console can’t ride that same curve.
I look at the ecosystem that a console sits in and I think that it should have the capability of more iteration on hardware capability. Sony is doing this with VR and adding VR capabilities mid-cycle to the PlayStation 4 and they are doing that by adding another box. I don’t mean that as a negative. But it’s not changing what the core console is about.
For consoles in general it’s more important now than it’s ever been, because you have so many of these other platforms that are around. It used to be that when you bought your console you were way ahead of the price performance curve by so much, relative to a PC. But now PCs are inexpensive and your phones are getting more and more capable.
I still think a console is the best price to performance deal that is out there but when you look at the evolution … I’m not going to announce our road map for hardware … but what I wanted to say on stage for people when they see this vision of ours and question our commitment to console I want to make sure that people see that what we are doing enables us to be more committed to what consoles are about than we’ve ever been and innovate more consistently than we ever have. That’s the key for me.
We can effectively feel a little bit more like what we see on PC, where I can still go back and run my old Quake and Doom games, but then I can also see the best 4K games coming out.”
Microsoft isn’t alone in this either. Konami talked about a presentation earlier. How consoles need to be ‘evolutionary’ to survive
Konami believes that consoles should transition towards evolutionary platforms rather than be static. This will allow for a higher install base and the opportunity for more games to come to console in the form of free to play or even traditional premium priced games that can create a healthy profit despite the high development cost. Rather than creating Xbox One and the Xbox Two , Microsoft should create an Xbox One.1 and have the OS and game library become the core of what defines the platform rather than the cosmetic evolution and differing ecosystems of prior generations.
This might be a similar thing to how the iPad/iPhone are such successful devices and where the old apps all carry over for the most part. You see, instead of focusing on R&D and development every couple of years, Microsoft could instead release an Xbox 1.5 (or whatever they would name it) and just replace some of the key components (GPU, RAM etc.) for better, more updated models as a cost-effective solution to keeping up with PC while simultaneously not having to start all over again with an entirely new console whereby they have to invest in buying components and manufacturing entirely new consoles. This is perhaps the greatest benefit of going the evolutionary console route as it will keep costs on hardware down and thus allowing Microsoft to invest more in software to provide gamers with more games, better games and bigger games.
Furthermore, one of the greatest benefits of following this model would be the appeal to developers. Not only would developers get the security of being able to develop for one ecosystem in an x86 architecture without having to deal with obstacles like NDA’s on new consoles etc. but there would also be a lot less worrying over the uncertainty over new generations. Even as recently as 2013 before the launch of the Xbox One and PS4 there were many analysts who predicted this generation to be much weaker than the generation previously which ended up damaging some developers outlooks on console development e.g. Konami, Square Enix and others. With a model similar to the one that Phil Spencer hinted at, that wouldn’t be an issue anymore since all you’re doing is building upon an already established user base. Quite frankly, it’s genius and Microsoft are well-suited to follow through with a model like this, especially if rumours surrounding them acquiring AMD have any weight.
It’s worth noting quickly though that Microsoft need to be on point with the execution and messaging if this is indeed the model they want to follow to ensure that they don’t shoot themselves in the foot as Microsoft have been known to do in the past. In a way, it’s just about being transparent with consumers and maybe a little bit less of the vague statements that we get from the Xbox team but if they manage to pull it off, I don’t see any significant obstacles to it being a successful and profitable venture for the Xbox. Moreover, for all we know we could be seeing a new powerful SKU of the Xbox One as soon as with the slim model heavily rumoured this year that could even include performance boosts to match or exceed the PS4.
Many have since taken to worrying about the future of the Xbox console and its place in the Microsoft ecosystem. After all, gamers have been afraid of the concept of Microsoft turning Xbox into a ‘service’ for a while now despite Phil Spencer’s comments on the Xbox teams commitment to making another console. Some fears are valid but it’s one of those things where we simply haven’t seen enough of this vision yet for people to start jumping ship and causing a shitstorm and it’s simply too early for any of that. It’s also quite vague how these upgrades would work and the best we can do now is speculate where consoles might be going but for me, as long as I’m not getting a streaming service and I’m getting a console in the form of actual hardware, then I’m on board.
Let me know how you feel about these recent rumours and leave a comment below!