With their press conference at E3 this year Microsoft signaled its intent to merge the Xbox with PCs, making all of their exclusive titles available on both platforms along with them being cross-buy titles. If you buy it digitally on one device you will have it on the other, they are calling this initiative Xbox Play Anywhere. This is all being powered by Xbox Live, which will be now be available on Xbox, PCs and mobile devices.
One thing is for sure: things are about change in a big way and there are a lot of unknowns along this path.
How Will Xbox Live Work on Other Devices?
Xbox owners currently fork over $60 a year for the privilege of playing games online with their friends. PC gamers currently pay $0 a year to do the same. Will Microsoft force PC gamers to also pay the yearly fee, which PC gamers will flatly reject, or will they have one group pay while the other is allowed to play for free?
It looks as if Microsoft is in a lose-lose position here. It’s doubtful Xbox gamers will continue to pay up when they know their PC counterparts don’t have to pay a dime. On the PC side gamers are accustomed to paying nothing, aside from MMO fees. There is no easy way out of this one for Microsoft, and they’ll have to be careful or risk angering one of their important fan bases.
Cross Platform Online Play Sounds Nice…
One of the features of this new strategy is that Xbox gamers will be able to play online alongside their PC brethren. While it sounds nice on paper this strategy could alienate a core customer for Xbox, the console FPS fan.
Halo and Call of Duty have solidified the Xbox as a great choice for competitive FPS fans. How will they feel when they are at a disadvantage when taking on PC players who will have a superior mouse and keyboard setup?
While other titles such as the MMORPG Final Fantasy XIV were able to make cross-platform play work, FPS games are a different beast because having the accuracy of a mouse and keyboard is the difference between winning and losing. Cheating on PC will also be more readily available option due to the more open nature of Windows. Will this kill the FPS communities that have grown on Xbox?
The Xbox Console as we Know May Not Survive
Microsoft announced the slimmed down Xbox One S that will see a release in August of 2016 along with their Project Scorpio hardware platform due in holiday of 2017. One of the questions uttered by a lot of gamers is, “Why should I get an Xbox if I can play this stuff on my PC?” How much longer will Microsoft continue to pour R&D cash and time into making more hardware if everyone shifts to playing their exclusives on PCs?
If this doubt bleeds over from the hardcore gamer to their mainstream gaming friends then hardware sales will plummet for Microsoft. Most people have a desktop and it’s trivial to put in a decent GPU to get some gaming going. At that point they may as well shut down their hardware division and work on making Windows with Xbox Live integration as good as they can. Being a software company first and foremost this probably wouldn’t bother Microsoft much.
There will be challenges to a full switch to PC only Xbox gaming. GPU drivers are notorious for introducing new issues such as game crashes, something console gamers have never had to worry about. There will also be a group of gamers who simply doesn’t want to open their PC to pop in a new GPU every few years.
Valve Will Certainly Make a Move
It’s easy to imagine Gabe Newell smashing his keyboard through his screen after seeing Microsoft’s plans officially unveiled. All of a sudden Microsoft will have exclusive, quality Xbox games available for PC gamers. These games will undoubtedly be sold to them through the Windows App Store and only through the Windows App Store. All of a sudden Valve would have a legitimate contender on the PC space with the capital muscle and titles to take on Steam.
Valve will certainly kick the development of Steam machines into overdrive and do everything it can to push the Vulkan API as much as possible, so that support for GPUs in Linux can finally rival that of Windows.
It’s easy to see the next version of the console wars taking place between Valve and Microsoft. Steam being powered by Linux while Windows would be powered by Xbox. Game on!