Thinking Outside the Xbox

johnfaceSince it was first announced back in May of 2013, the Xbox One has had a very complicated existence. From it’s controversial “always on” DRM functionality to the forced implementation of the promising (but ultimately underwhelming) Kinect technology, things were tough for Microsoft’s new console from the very beginning. Negative press plagued the Xbox One all the way to launch day, and Sony saw blood in the water with the critical reaction to the Xbox One and brilliantly targeted it’s weakness to give themselves a decisive advantage. When the console race officially kicked off that fall, Sony was already halfway around the track while Microsoft was still tying it’s shoes.

To their credit, Microsoft righted the ship in many critical ways. They reversed many of the controversial policies surrounding the console’s launch and showed Don Mattrick (President of Microsoft Interactive Entertainment) the door. By bringing in Phil Spencer to take over as the new head of Xbox, they were not only handing the reigns to somebody with decades of experience at Microsoft but also somebody who had the respect of the gaming community and who obviously has a great deal of respect for them in return. And things did start to turn around for the console,  but for as terrific of a job as Spencer has done since taking over, it has become clear that Xbox is not the same market leader that it was for most of the last console generation.

IMG_2414Recently it has become apparent that Phil Spencer and Microsoft have a new vision for the Xbox brand. One that is radically different from that sloppy, confusing message delivered 3 years ago on stage at E3.  They are envisioning a future where you have the freedom to play the games you want, wherever you want, and where the lines between console and PC gaming are increasingly blurred. It’s a road map to the future that has many people excited but also has some worried about what it means for the $500 box that they purchased on launch day. Let’s take a look at some of the big changes in store for the Xbox One.

  • The first big step towards their new philosophy began last November with the release of the New Xbox Experience which brought their Windows 10 operating system to the console. Gamers could now stream Xbox games to any Windows 10 device including PCs, laptops, tablets and phones. It also introduced Backwards Compatibility to the system, allowing players to access an ever increasing library of their purchased Xbox 360 titles.
  • Another step they’re taking is making many of their biggest games available on both of their gaming platforms. They’ve already brought third party exclusives such as Dead Rising 3, Ryse: Son of Rome and Gears of War : Ultimate Edition to PC and they recently announced that Quantum Break will be coming to the Windows store on the same day as Xbox One as well as all future Forza games.
  • Later this month Microsoft plans on unveiling the first of their Universal Windows Apps. This will allow developers to design apps that work across all of their platforms from Xbox One to PC and phones. They are also planning on bringing their voice activated Cortana feature (think Siri) to the Xbox One later in the year.
  • Microsoft has also taken the first steps in making true cross platform multiplayer games a reality. They announced that Rocket League will be their first game to allow PC and Xbox users to play together and issued an open invitation to console makers that they are ready to open up multiplayer gaming to their networks as well. If Sony agrees, it might not be long before you can play Destiny or The Division on your Xbox One with friends who own a Playstation 4.
  • Perhaps the most ambitious and interesting glimpse into the future of Xbox is Phil Spencer’s recent statement that he thinks consoles should (and will) be upgradable similar to the way that you would with your PC. This means we could see the end of console generations as you could improve the graphics and performance of your console through upgrades. He also mentioned the desire to make all Xbox games forward compatible meaning that you would never have to worry about not being able to play your current games on future hardware.

So what exactly does all of this mean for the future of the Xbox? It’s hard to say really. The kinds of policies Microsoft is talking about are really breaking new ground in the console space. If they manage to pull off the things they’ve recently outlined it would do nothing short of change console gaming forever. Some Xbox owners though are worried that this means that Microsoft is abandoning console gaming to focus more heavily on the PC, but I wouldn’t trade in your system to Gamestop just yet. What I think it means is that Spencer and the team at Xbox recognize that console gaming cannot afford to stay stagnant and rely on the beginning of new console generations to introduce innovations, especially when PC gaming is evolving at such a rapid pace.

Whether or not this new vision of the future succeeds or not won’t be known for awhile. But what I can say is that under the leadership of Phil Spencer, Microsoft has transformed the way that the Xbox division does business. Their messaging is now transparent and their ambitious goals for the future are clear. And judging by the way that Spencer has managed to turn things around in the short amount of time that he’s been at the helm, I wouldn’t put it past him to pull it off.  I will gladly go along for the ride and see where he leads Xbox gamers next. In Phil we trust.


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