Ever since E3 this year, Phil Spencer and Microsoft have been teasing us with what the future of Xbox might look like. So it’s time to add up all of the sums and gaze through the crystal ball at Xbox’s long term plan. Let’s start off with what we know.
We know that, in the short term, they are wanting to blur the lines between PCs and consoles (or more namely their own console). They have introduced ‘Xbox Play Anywhere’ which means that if you own certain games on Xbox you also own it on PC and your game progress carries over. You can also now see what your Xbox friends are playing on their PCs if they have logged into the Xbox app on their computer (I thought it was weird at first that a person was on my friends list was playing World of Warcraft and another League of Legends). Why do this? a) because it’s cool and b) because your PC game purchases give you a head start on your Xbox game library, making the prospect of getting one more attractive. We also know that they want to make the Xbox a stronger gaming community by making Xbox Live service its gamers’ interests. Looking for Groups, Clans and Arena will bring gamers together, playing the games they love, and sharing mutual interests. This sets Xbox Live up as a service that not only rivals Sony’s Playstation Network but PC services like Steam and Battle.Net.
But there’s one buzz phrase that Phil kept using during the press briefing: Beyond Generations. He used it a lot. There’s something subtle about those words that speak to the future of Xbox, but in order to understand it we need to look back into Xbox’s history through to now. Xbox is in its third generation of consoles, and the original Xbox (which stood for Direct X in a Box) had a simple goal: use superior console hardware (for its time) to play games online. It did that and it did that well! But along came the Xbox 360, a new console and a new experience. Microsoft hit the reset button with their new console and that was okay. The Xbox didn’t do much and the 360 could do everything it could and more. You could rip CDs and make a custom soundtrack for your games, you could start party chats, you could download or stream movies and you could use interesting apps. Xbox was moving toward becoming a media center. Then along came the Xbox One. They hit the reset button again. Except this time there was a problem. Licences for content had to be renegotiated, certain proposed functionality was not met positively by gamers pre-release which forced Xbox to change tact, and a number of features gamers took for granted on the Xbox 360 (like party chat) were stunningly overlooked. This resulted in a console that launched as a shell of its current predecessor. Over time the Xbox One has finally caught up to the 360 but not before many a disenfranchised fan walked away. Microsoft knows that they can’t have this again, especially now they are announcing a new console; Project Scorpio.
So maybe there’s a better way to transition between console generations. A way for all licences to remain current “beyond generations”, a way for games and accessories to remain playable and usable “beyond generations”. This is the claim for Scorpio after all. Everything that you own now for your Xbox One will work on Scorpio. So how do you do it? Consider Apple Inc. and their very successful range of iPhones, iPads and iPods. Any app you buy works across all of your apple devices with few exceptions. Any song you buy, any movie or show you buy, any podcast you subscribe to can all be consumed on any Apple device you own. They also carry over from generation to generation without having to re-purchase them or without Apple having to renegotiate the licences for them. I believe this is the inevitable direction that Microsoft is heading down. Xbox Live is going to become an “iTunes” of sorts and any content you purchase through that service will be consumable on any device your Xbox Live account is linked to. Project Scorpio may quite easily be called “Xbox Two” and subsequent consoles then follow that numbering convention. New iPads and iPhones are released every year. This would be impractical for consoles but a new console every two to three years might not be so much of a stretch. Similarly to how iOS works, you have firmware that all Xbox consoles run and you update it every time a new generation rolls around. After three or four generations have passed the Xbox One phases out because new games wont be able to handle it and those consumers become forced to upgrade if they want new experiences. Doing it this way means that the Xbox Live service can continue to grow without having to reinvent the wheel every generation.
What do you think? Are we onto something? Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Leave a comment below!