Imagine a future where the Xbox isn’t a console.
Five years ago, you’d think I was crazy. The Xbox 360 was a runaway success and even greater things seemed to be on the horizon for its successor, the “Xbox 720/Durango.” Of course, that’s not how things played out. Microsoft had a vision for the Xbox One, they did a piss poor job of explaining that vision, and their President of Interactive Entertainment and Chief Product Officer of Xbox at the time of the Xbox One’s launch are no longer with the company. Sony’s lead up to the PlayStation 4, the Xbox One’s main competitor, was filled with an E3 press conference that wasn’t afraid to pull punches at Microsoft’s missteps. Combined with an impressive and successful launch, it’s the PS4 that’s the best-selling system on the market, not the Xbox One, and it’s not even close.
Lost in all of the controversy, criticisms, and short comings was their original vision. Imagine, if you will, that your Xbox isn’t a gaming console, but instead a media device. Ironically this was their original pitch for the system, but people don’t want to overpay for features they don’t exactly need. Enter the upcoming line-up of Xbox One SKUs: the original, Xbox One S, and Project Scorpio. People are thinking of them as various console iterations, but they shouldn’t. Think of them instead as Steam Machines. You remember those, right? Pre-made computers built to play Steam games on your television, built to your desired specifications and bundled with the Steam controller. Imagine that, but instead of just titles you can find on Steam, you’re playing Xbox games.
Enter the Xbox Play Anywhere initiative. Detailed last month at E3, Microsoft is giving people the ability to own a game on both Windows 10 and Xbox One if they buy it digitally. Games like Gears of War, (presumably) Halo 6, and Halo Wars 2 will be a part of the program, meaning you can buy it for Xbox and be able to play it on PC, or vice versa. No more having to figure out if you want to play shooters on a console instead of a PC to stick with friends. No more being a PC gamer and picking up an Xbox just for the console exclusive titles. Microsoft has found an effective way to offer their games to people without them needing to spend unnecessary money. It may sound like a loss (people won’t be picking up consoles so they can play Halo and Forza, for example), but think the avenues this could open up:
- All of the people who didn’t buy Microsoft published games because they didn’t want to buy an Xbox are now able to play them.
- The ability to cross-play with friends across multiple platforms should the feature be implemented; there are balancing issues to consider, i.e. mouse/keyboard vs controller set-ups for shooters and strategy games.
- If third party publishers join Xbox Play Anywhere.
That last one is something that’s incredibly exciting. Electronic Arts is already partnering with Microsoft for EA Access. Sure, they still have Origin as a PC service, but could you imagine what would happen if EA said “all of our Xbox games are a part of Xbox Play Anywhere.” EA Sports titles on PC. EA Access combined to include titles offered on both the PC and Xbox versions of the service. People haven’t been able to play Madden on PC since 2008. Say what you want about the franchise, but it has its following and this would be a really big deal.
A world where Xbox is a storefront instead of a console may not be far off. People can pick up their Xbox games on PC, Scorpio to enjoy 4K gaming on their television, or their Xbox One S for a more compact and affordable package. Maybe they still track down the original models with Kinect because they enjoy voice commands? Perhaps they’re simply more comfortable with a console over PC. Whatever the reason, if Xbox Play Anywhere takes off, it could be a game changer for the future of Xbox and it’s one that I’m quite excited to see unfold.
If anything, I’d be happy that I could play Xbox games without messing with my Day One hard drive.